An open letter to the neonatal unit staff who cared for Hugo

Dear Neonatal Unit Staff at St George’s Hospital

I cannot name you all, but you know who you are. You looked after my son Hugo, born at just 24+4 and weighing just 420 grams.

You also looked after me, Hugo’s mummy and Martin, his daddy.

There is no way we can ever thank you for everything you did for Hugo, and us. There is no way that any letter can ever fully articulate everything you did for Hugo and for us – but I am going to try.

I shrieked the first time I saw Hugo. I couldn’t believe it was possible for a live baby to be so small, and so red. I was afraid I would break him. You encouraged me to open the incubator doors, put my hands in and touch my baby. I did, and Hugo instantly gripped my finger. It was the most amazing moment, one I shall remember as long as I live. I loved that Hugo knew I was his mummy, even though we had been separated for more than 30 hours.

Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss

Hugo could be a right little monkey. I couldn’t believe how much mischief a baby who weighed the same as a tin of baked beans could create. Hugo knew wanted what he wanted, and when he wanted it. Whether it was to be placed on his tummy (his favourite position), his feed, or a clean bum he wanted it now, thank you.

You called him Hugo Boss. He was the boss. I loved that you gave him a nickname.

You knew all his ways, what he wanted and how he liked it. We were all happier when he was happy.

Hugo was small, and very premature. His outcome was always uncertain. You were honest yet hopeful, while never giving us false hope.

You taught us to make the most of every day with Hugo. To take photos, to sing and to read to him. To touch him as much as possible.

You helped us to feel like a ‘proper’ mummy and daddy as much as possible. You were patient when showing us how to change a nappy through the portholes and not getting tangled in all the wires. You let us help give Hugo his milk. You let us help give Hugo a wash – I loved the way he would screw up his face when it was wiped over.

You always took time to explain things, and there was never such a thing as a silly question.

You encouraged me to keep expressing my breast milk – the breast milk that Hugo loved so much.

You did everything you could to help us, especially as we were in a hospital far away from home. We knew you were always there for all of us.

We knew you loved Hugo nearly as much as we did. We knew you wanted us to be able to take Hugo home as much as we did.

We knew that if Hugo Boss hadn’t been so likely to have had a complete meltdown, you would have given him a cuddle when we weren’t there.

You knew that once Hugo settled in to his skin-to-skin cuddles, he loved them. You left us to cuddle for as long as we liked. They were our favourite moments. Our skin against his skin, feeling his little feet kick our chests, his little hands tracing our skin (or grabbing his dad’s chest hair).

The three of us

The three of us

You encouraged us to rest, to take care of ourselves, so we could look after Hugo.

You tried every possible treatment for Hugo. You knew Hugo had a lot of fighting spirit.

The results of his blood gas tests were always met with great interest, and you always hoped Hugo would give a good number. A good number was greeted with joy.

When it came to the end, you were frank and honest. There are certain things I would rather not remember, to erase from my mind.

There were decisions we did not want to have to make. But we are glad if this had to happen, we were able to be good parents to Hugo, to help him pass peacefully. To let him do what he wanted when he wanted to do it in death as well as in life. For him to die in his favourite place, skin-to-skin on my chest, listening to my heart beat.

Thank you for letting me change his nappy for the last time. To let me dress him in a little babygro for the first – and last – time. They are treasured memories.

We knew how much you cared for Hugo when you came in to the room to say goodbye to him. Many of you had tears in your eyes. It touched us to know that Hugo Boss had touched you, and that you were sorry his fight was over.

You have your favourite Hugo stories – this was a tiny boy with a huge personality. Stories of when he would ding his alarms to get what he wanted; how you would never forget how his blood pressure magically increased when I appeared on that terrifying night we first met; saying how astonished you were at how his saturations would increase when I sang to him; when he would open his eyes to peek at you.

So few people were able to meet Hugo in person, and it means the world to me that you cared for him so much.

With love and everlasting gratitude,

Hugo’s Mummy and Daddy

28 Comments on An open letter to the neonatal unit staff who cared for Hugo

  1. Lucy Bishop
    May 12, 2015 at 6:59 pm (5 years ago)

    Such an incredibly beautiful and moving post – I’ve read it a number of times, and every time I am amazed at how brave you are, and am touched by what a wonderful baby Hugo was – such spirit for one so small. I saw this post in my news feed this morning & came back to read again just now – again, I shed tears for what you guys have been through, and I just wanted to say that i think you’re incredible Leigh. Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday xxx

    • Leigh Kendall
      May 13, 2015 at 7:38 am (5 years ago)

      Thank you Lucy, Hugo really was the most incredible little boy. I am so proud – I want to do his life and his memory justice.

      Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday too xxx

  2. MC
    December 18, 2014 at 12:29 am (6 years ago)

    What a beautiful post Leigh. I’m a Student Midwife and have spent a placement working in neonatal intensive care. The staff in these units really are amazing. It was a pleasure to work with them and an absolute privilege to be able to care for the babies in the unit. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss.

    With love xx

    • Leigh Kendall
      December 18, 2014 at 8:31 am (6 years ago)

      Thank you for your kind words. The staff in the NNUs really are incredible, I’ll be eternally grateful to them. Thanks for your comment, and all the best for your future career xxx

  3. Nancy Chambers
    November 18, 2014 at 10:30 pm (6 years ago)

    What a beautiful but sad story. I so wanted it to have a happy ending but unfortunately not. A story told with such love and tenderness. The staff who care for these babies are so dedicated in the work they do, how difficult it must be for them. I cannot begin to imagine the heartache you both have been through, but hope the love you have for each other and your precious baby Hugo will help you through the difficult times ahead xxx

    • Leigh Kendall
      November 19, 2014 at 1:56 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you for your kind words, and for reading about my Hugo xxx

  4. Susanne Remic
    November 17, 2014 at 6:07 pm (6 years ago)

    In floods of tears reading this. What an amazing little boy. amazing nurses, amazing parents. And amazing what medicine can do, to deliver him and care for him at such an early gestation and such a low weight. I know that you are thankful for the brief time you had together and I truly wish you had been one of the families that got to take their baby home. Lots of love to you xxx x x

    • Leigh Kendall
      November 17, 2014 at 6:14 pm (6 years ago)

      Thank you Susanne. Hugo really was such an amazing little boy, and I am so glad so many people know that. While I remain heartbroken Hugo is not here now having a cuddle from me, I will be forever grateful to the staff for the 35 precious days we had together xxx

  5. L H
    October 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm (6 years ago)

    Thank you Leigh for sharing your short but special time with Hugo. I am a neonatal nurse & it is so nice to see that despite your loss you are grateful for the care given to Hugo by the nurses & doctors. We do feel very sad when a baby dies as we all try so hard to give them the best chance but sadly not all babies are able to be saved. RIP little Hugo x

    • Leigh Kendall
      October 4, 2014 at 1:47 pm (6 years ago)

      It is a small comfort to know that everything possible was done to save Hugo. It was clear how fond the staff were of Hugo, and wanted him to go home with us. Hugo was just too small, and premature. My heart is broken of course, but he lives on in all our hearts. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment xxx

  6. Amy Cossins
    October 2, 2014 at 7:32 pm (6 years ago)

    What a heartfelt letter and Hugo does sound so special. Everything you say is so true. I was in Kings neo natal intensive care for 5 weeks with my daughter. The staff are utterly amazing and I couldn’t of got through it without them. They share the good times and the bad and go through every moment with you. Amazing people! Just having a look through your site it’s very good well done.

    • Leigh Kendall
      October 2, 2014 at 8:10 pm (6 years ago)

      Hugo was such a special baby. All neonatal staff are incredible. Thank you for your kind words xxx

  7. Ron
    October 2, 2014 at 10:12 am (6 years ago)

    Amazing story! Thanks for believing on us nurses and doctors. Thanks for the appreciation on what we do. I am sure Hugo felt the love and care from you as parents and from the doctors and nurses and I’m sure that where ever he is, he’s happy ….

    • Leigh Kendall
      October 2, 2014 at 10:38 am (6 years ago)

      Thank you for taking the time to read our story. The doctors and nurses did an amazing job. Hugo was a special baby.

  8. Hayley
    September 30, 2014 at 5:19 pm (6 years ago)

    Such a touching and lovely letter. I’m sorry for the loss of Hugo to you and your husband. Hugo sounds like he was such a character and I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you all. My love and thoughts to you and your family xxx

  9. Vickt
    September 29, 2014 at 8:04 pm (6 years ago)

    Crying but so honest. My thoughts are with you xx

  10. Emma Montier
    September 29, 2014 at 6:56 pm (6 years ago)

    All the neonatal staff at St George’s are amazing. My daughter was there for 10 days and had the most amazing care.

    • Leigh Kendall
      September 29, 2014 at 8:39 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m pleased to hear it. Thanks for your comment xxx

  11. Sharon Wakefield
    September 28, 2014 at 1:29 pm (6 years ago)

    i know they are fantastic at St George’s they did amazing job looking after my son olly for the 7wks he was there.

    • Leigh Kendall
      September 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm (6 years ago)

      That’s great to hear. They really are a fantastic team xxx

  12. Tim
    September 28, 2014 at 10:29 am (6 years ago)

    Beautiful. Nursing staff and doctors are often taken for granted, but they do so much to make our lives better, especially when we need them the most.

    • Leigh Kendall
      September 28, 2014 at 11:19 am (6 years ago)

      Thanks Tim. You are so right. Doctors and nurses do an amazing job, and we should definitely appreciate them more. xxx


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  1. For Your Consideration: Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2015 | Headspace Perspective says:

    […] ALL Preemies are Completely Inspiring; Creating Precious Memories: Baby Bereavement Photography; An Open Letter to the Neonatal Unit Staff Who Cared for Hugo; Start a Conversation About Baby […]

  2. […] An open letter to the staff who cared for Hugo. The staff who work in a neonatal unit are very special indeed. Everything possible was done to save Hugo’s life, and I will be immensely grateful always. Most stories about premature babies in the media feature babies who make it home, and I felt it was important to show the other side to the story. […]

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