Life After…The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Raising awareness of issues affecting premature babies and their families is something I am very passionate about. I am pleased that today’s Life After comes from wonderful Catriona of the brilliant Smallest Things, which is focused on campaigning for babies born too soon. Here, Catriona writes about what happened after her first son was born much earlier than expected, and his stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Thank you, Catriona, for sharing your story and helping shed light on the life of premature babies and their parents.


I was just six and a half months pregnant (exactly 30 weeks) when my first son was born. I hadn’t got the crib in which he would sleep, no baby grows or snuggly toys and my maternity leave was still weeks away. I wasn’t ready, but he was in a hurry!

My waters had broken at home and I had calmly taken a taxi to the hospital. I was in a state of shock, perhaps also in denial – this couldn’t really be happening, could it?

When the midwife told me my baby would be born very soon I still remember my words – ‘But I don’t have anything to dress him in’. My first instinct was to care and provide for him. I reached out to him when he was born, but he was whisked away to neonatal intensive care where a machine would breathe for him and an incubator would shield him from the outside world into which he was born so early.

He spent eight long weeks in neonatal care; but for those eight weeks, time and the world seemed to stand still.

Our life became the neonatal unit. The monitors, machines, incubators and tubes. The nurses and doctors, expressing and sterilising. Bottles and boobs, numbers and charts. Eight long weeks and the outside world ceased to exist. Our world was in the hospital fighting and growing.

The relief of ‘making it through’, of finally getting there and making it home was damped by the growing realisation that I was a NICU mum.

It seems strange to write about life after neonatal care, when in reality the journey continues.

I struggled to reconcile what should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, the joy of a new baby, with the reality of trauma, resuscitation, life support machines and emptiness. Pangs of jealousy crept in seeing heavily pregnant women and new baby photos were suddenly everywhere I looked. Sometimes I was consumed with grief and anger at my lost months of pregnancy, the lost time to prepare and the lost time with my baby. For a long time I was haunted by a dull ache on my chest where my baby should have laid his head.

As time went by the anger and grief settled, helped in part by learning that I was not alone in these thoughts; indeed they are common to many women following birth trauma or time spent in NICU. The dull ache on my chest no longer plagues me, although sometimes I wish it did. Instead it has been replaced by something much more unpredictable and invasive – anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

For parents of babies born too soon the slightest cough or cold can cause untold worry. For me, coughs and colds are synonyms with repeat hospital admissions and breathing difficulties; all contributing to vivid flash backs of alarming monitors, breathing tubes and the mechanical rise and fall of tiny chests. This is the untold story of neonatal care and this is how life after NICU can seem for many women. This is why I created and set up the Smallest Things Campaign last year. I didn’t want other mothers like me to happen to stumble across a website in order to discover that the feelings they were experiencing were completely normal and shared by many others. Instead mums should be supported throughout their NICU journey and yes, this means following discharge home.

For me life after NICU isn’t really life after NICU; it is a life-long membership to the Preemie Club, a former NICU mum through and through. I am fiercely proud of my boys, both born early, and am in awe of what I have seen them achieve. Yet even when they are well anxiety and PTSD is always lurking in the background. The journey and life after NICU continues…..



If you would like to share your Life After…story, please get in touch:



7 Comments on Life After…The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

  1. Jenny
    May 20, 2015 at 8:45 am (5 years ago)

    It’s so nice to read that other mums feel the same, my son was a 26weeker and although life in NICU was really tough the home part is harder. My son has chest infection every month and in hospital the hardest part is how alone you are! I returned back to work last week and by Friday my son was in hospital, it’s never ending! Lovely to see the trauma is being recognised xx

  2. oddsocksandlollipops
    May 19, 2015 at 7:08 pm (5 years ago)

    Oh I had tears in my eyes all the way through this, I cannot imagine what it must have been like (I was in pieces when Boo had to spend 1 night in hospital when she was 11 months old) so I can’t imagine how much strength it takes to get through this.
    It’s so very important to raise awareness and it’s so amazing that you are helping and supporting other woman who are going through similar experiences.

  3. Catriona Ogilvy
    May 19, 2015 at 12:10 pm (5 years ago)

    Thank you for sharing my story Leigh.
    It’s so important to be raising awareness of mothers experiences following birth and I thank you for giving me and other mothers a platform to do just that x

    • Leigh Kendall
      May 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm (5 years ago)

      You’re so welcome, thank you for being part of Life After, Catriona. The experience of neonatal mummies isn’t well known, and it’s great to be helping raise awareness of the needs of mums like us xxx

  4. Mummy Writes
    May 19, 2015 at 8:11 am (5 years ago)

    Such a heartbreaking story but yet so full of hope and positivity. I’s people like Catriona and you, Leigh, who give so much to people going through similar experiences.


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  1. […] First published as part of Leigh Kendall’s ‘Life After’ series, posted on her wonderful site – Headspace Perspective: Celebrating Hugo, Surviving Baby Loss, Creating #HugosLegacy. […]

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