Interview with a Bliss Champion

Linda is a Bliss volunteer on the neonatal unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. We spoke to her to find out more about how she helps families of babies born premature or sick and why being a Bliss Champion is so important to her.

Bliss Champions are people who volunteer for Bliss on the neonatal unit. They provide vital information and emotional support to families with premature and sick babies on the unit.

Why did you become a Bliss volunteer?

2018 marked 10 years since my niece sadly passed away after battling a heart condition for the first six weeks of her life. I wanted to mark the occasion by giving some time instead of money so became a Bliss Champion. I remember how heartbreaking that experience was for my sister and her husband and how it affected everyone in the family.

What does a typical shift on the neonatal unit look like for you?

I do one shift at the hospital a week which usually lasts around two or three hours. Shifts vary as it depends on how many babies and parents there are and who want to talk. People have a range of questions and concerns so you never really know what you’ll be asked until you get there.

What difference do you think having a Champion on the neonatal unit makes to babies and their families?

I’m a relatively new volunteer so it’s hard to say what impact I’m having at the moment. It is special when you begin to get to know some of the families, even if you’ve only met them once or twice they remember you and want to chat and that is a lovely feeling.

What is the most difficult thing about being a Champion and how has Bliss helped you deal with this?

For me the most difficult thing has been some of the sounds and smells and medical language. It’s been a decade since we lost my niece and I thought it wouldn’t have affected me the same way. After my first shift on my own, I went home and cried purely because of the intensity in the unit and the sadness of what you see. My Volunteer Support Officer has been very approachable and allowed me to offload by email. I’ve been very honest with her about how I’ve felt and she’s been very encouraging.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a Champion?

It is so rewarding to make someone smile or laugh. They may be in tears or not want to chat at first but once they realise I’m only there to hear their story and support them as best I can then they are much more receptive.

What is your favourite memory of your time volunteering with Bliss?

My favourite memory is the first family I met on my own. The mum looked really ill after having a traumatic time and I sat down beside her and her partner and explained who I was and asked their story. They offloaded at length and I could tell they were more at ease and felt heard by the end of the conversation. I got to see them each week until their baby went home. I saw the mum improve in health and the dad come in after work desperate for his cuddles. I talked to them as they processed so many emotions about their baby, their families and each other and it meant so much to be such a tiny part of their story.

What difference has being a Bliss volunteer made to your life?

Being a volunteer has helped me grow in confidence. It’s shown me that I do not need to feel inferior to any medical staff as I bring who I am to the role and that can be just what a parent needs that day.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a Champion?

At first I felt maybe I couldn’t volunteer as I hadn’t had a premature baby or because neither of my sons had spent time in neonatal. I have realised those things can actually be a positive thing as it stops me from focusing on my own story and gives the parents the space to speak about theirs.

If you can listen and empathise with others then becoming a Champion is an excellent opportunity. Bliss have been brilliant all the way through at making sure this role is right for me. I speak with someone from Bliss every week and they always provide positive feedback which is really helpful to my development in this role and is a wonderful feeling.

Interested?

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