‘I don’t think I will ever forget the Christmas we spent on the Special Care Baby Unit’

Karen Jones tells us about her daughter Elinor’s first Christmas, spent in hospital after she was born at 29 weeks.

Tommy's guest blog, 13/12/2017, by Karen Jones

Christmas is not always an easy time of year for new parents, particularly for those whose babies are born too soon.

If your baby was born preterm around the festive season then there is a chance they may be spending the big day in hospital. This can be a difficult experience, particularly if you have other children who need your attention at home.

Tommy’s supporter Karen Jones spent one Christmas in the Special Care Baby Unit with her youngest daughter Elinor who was born at 29 weeks gestation.

Although Elinor has recently celebrated her 18th birthday and is thriving, both academically and sportingly, Karen says she will never forget that first Christmas.

Here is her story

Although 18 years ago now, I don’t think I will ever forget the Christmas we spent on the Special Care Baby Unit at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, following the birth in November 1998 of our third child, Elinor, at 29 weeks.

It’s easy to lose track of the days and the weeks when you have a baby on SCBU.  The routine of spending time with your new baby, caring for her and expressing milk for feeds, meeting with the team looking after your child, plus, in my case, splitting my time between hospital and home, to see older children before and after school, means you rather lose touch with what’s going on in the outside world.

The run up to Christmas, or rather, the commercial hype and the usual ‘are you ready for Christmas’ questions all seem so trivial, when you are watching your baby face daily challenges that really are important. This makes it sometimes hard to relate to friends and family who only mean well.

All that said, I remember Christmas on SCBU for positive reasons too; the kindness and generosity of staff and volunteers who work hard to make the time special in its own way and it has certainly taught me a thing or two about priorities (how you can get all your Christmas shopping done in under an hour in one shop if you have to!)

I also will never receive a better Christmas present from anyone than that of Elinor being allowed to finally come home with us on New Year’s Eve!

So what is it really like being on SCBU over Christmas?  Here are just a few of my memories (plus a couple of tips) for anyone faced with this prospect this year:

Gifts & Cards

Keep to the absolute minimum (if people don’t understand how difficult it is for you to get to the shops, they probably don’t deserve a present!) I went to the Boots close to the hospital for an hour and everyone had ‘smellies’ that year!

If you have small children who wouldn’t understand the lack of gifts from Santa, enlist the help of friends and relatives. Buying a small gift from the new baby to their siblings (and vice versa) is a great way of helping the bonding process - my two still remember their first present ‘from’ Elinor (a football for Sam, then 5, and clothes for 4 year old Alice’s baby doll).

If you have the inclination, writing Christmas cards actually gives you something to occupy yourself next to the incubator – it took me several days, but we also combined them with a birth announcement/update on Elinor’s progress.

Nativity Plays, Parties & Decorations

It’s very hard to act ‘normally’ and go to anything Christmassy when your baby is in SCBU.

I really couldn’t, however, miss Alice’s nursery class nativity play and the nurses encouraged me to go along – my emotions were ‘all over the place’! If you have to go to something, take someone along with you, if you can, and be prepared for lots of well-meaning questions plus take lots of tissues!

Christmas decorations, Santa (with a sack full of tiny knitted hats and cardigans, plus other useful gifts) and festive snacks were all part of our experience on SCBU.

Don’t beat yourself up about hospital visits on Christmas Day!

This is easier said than done, and not advice I found easy to take!

My parents had taken our older children, Sam and Alice, to their home, two and a half hours away, for the school holidays to make things easier for us which was wonderful but we obviously wanted to see both them and our new baby over Christmas. 

I agonised over how we could do this until a nurse told me bluntly that Elinor would have no idea that I wasn’t there on Christmas Day! I expressed milk in advance, fed her on Christmas Eve teatime, when we received an early very special ‘present’ – the news that Elinor was well enough to transfer from an incubator into an open cot - and we then dashed down the motorway, in time to tuck Sam and Alice up in bed.

It was difficult to be away from Elinor (and I called up regularly!) but the children’s delight in seeing us made it the right thing to do for us all at the time. We spent Christmas morning helping the children unwrap their presents (friends and family had done a fantastic job to help with this), had an early lunch and then drove back up the motorway to feed Elinor late afternoon.

A challenging day and I was quite overwhelmed and emotional to discover a tiny stocking filled with very thoughtful gifts waiting for us to open with Elinor on SCBU!

Elinor was considered well enough (and just about big enough, at just under 4 lbs) to come home with us finally on New Year’s Eve.

Each Christmas we have sent SCBU a Christmas card, with pictures and news of Elinor as she has been growing up, and a small donation to buy some cakes or chocolates for the unit at Christmas.  It’s fantastic that several of the staff still remember us!

Hopefully those spending Christmas on SCBU this Christmas will gain some comfort from knowing others have been through similar experiences. 

Good luck and best wishes to you all.

If your baby was born too soon and you want more information or advice on looking after them and what to expect, you can read all of our prematurity information here.

Our prematurity app is for parents of babies born too soon to make life that little bit easier for parents. It has a feeding diary, a growth and development tracker and the ability to share exciting milestones with friends and family. You can download it for free here.

If your premature baby is in SCBU or the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) you can read our information pages about your little one’s time in hospital here.

You can read Karen’s story, shared for World Prematurity Day, here.

Read more information about premature birth here

Read more information about premature birth here

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