How To Survive The Special Care Baby Unit – Part 1

It has taken me several months to feel like I can write this post.  After Rosa spent 3 weeks in SCBU after birth, with a mystery infection that didn’t respond to the first lot of antibiotics, it felt too raw to write about it for a long time.  However, our little munchkin is seven months old now and has thrived ever since her discharge from hospital so there is enough emotional distance now. I thought it might be of use to other mums and dads with a newborn in SCBU to share our experiences and how we coped.

I won’t lie.  After the euphoria of the birth, the 3 weeks that Rosa was ill in SCBU were the worst experience of our lives. We hadn’t expected that she would be ill and we certainly never thought that she would be in SCBU for 19 days.

Here’s our story:

I developed a temperature during labour, after my waters had broken a few days earlier. We had declined augmentation of labour because I was having contractions and was dilating, and the baby and I were fine when monitored. But the contractions kept stopping. In the end, because of the temperature I did agree to go on the hormone drip and I had IV antibiotics during labour. When Rosa was born she was whisked away by the paediatricians and her blood was tested. The level of a protein which indicates infection, CRP, was abnormally high and she was started on IV antibiotics.  It broke my heart to see my newborn with a cannula in her hand within 2 hours of birth.

Rosa seemed to be doing ok until 2 days later, when we had the scariest day ever.  I had gone over to SCBU from the post-natal ward to feed Rosa at about 6am and then went back to have breakfast and shower at about 7.30am. When I left Rosa she seemed really well and I was feeling optimistic about getting her home soon.  I went back to SCBU at 9am to find that Rosa was no longer in the main nursery.  One of the nurses told me she had been moved into the intensive care room and had a tube in her nose, because she had started vomiting bile.  I was really upset and Richard wasn’t due to arrive for another hour. When the doctors came and did their ward rounds at 10am they spoke to us and said they wanted to perform a lumbar puncture on Rosa to determine whether she had any infection in her brain i.e. meningitis.  We were horrified. They also said that the results of a lumbar puncture would not change their course of action at that stage.  Therefore, we declined the lumbar puncture and asked the doctors to proceed with the next stage of treatment.  This turned out to be IV antibiotics five times a day for 14 days.  After this, it was a waiting game.  Our poor baby had to have a new cannula inserted every couple of days because babies’ blood vessels are so tiny cannulas blow very quickly. It was all very scary, and we found the doctors to be very uncommunicative.  This may have been because she was a bit of a mystery to them.  All the tests performed on her and me came back negative.

Another of the worst times came after 10 days when the post-natal ward wanted to chuck me out. There would have been nowhere else for me to go within the hospital, so I would have to have returned home. For me this was simply not possible. My baby had a severe infection, was on her second lot of IV antibiotics and we didn’t know at that stage if she was getting better. The best thing for her was my breast milk on demand, as the doctors had told me. How could I possibly achieve this, feeding every 3-5 hours in a crazy cycle (more of that in part 2) that took 2 hours, if Rosa was in hospital and I was at home? We live a 10-minute drive from hospital, but that would have been completely unsustainable. Unfortunately, at that point, I wasn’t my usual assertive self.  I had just given birth and my baby was dangerously ill.  I could pretty much only make milk and cry during our period in SCBU.  Thankfully I have an amazing partner who was able to stand up for Rosa and me. The Ward Manager was awful to us when we said that we felt that I couldn’t leave. She said that we were selfish and unreasonable and should be paying £250 per night to stay there. He told the Ward Manager on the post-natal ward that I wasn’t going anywhere and they would have to get security to throw me out.  I would have stayed anywhere in the hospital – a broom cupboard with a blow-up mattress, nurses’ accommodation, anything!  The NHS website says that parents of babies in SCBU should be offered accommodation, so I really do not feel that we were being unreasonable. I’d rather feel like a slightly bad person than a bad mother any day, that’s for sure.  Thankfully, the one room for parents attached to SCBU became available and we were able to stay there for the last week of Rosa’s time in the unit. This was wonderful, as I had been on my own at night in hospital for 2 weeks by this point and some of my loneliest and most vulnerable times were feeding Rosa in the wee hours.

When we were over the accommodation hurdle, things got better. Rosa seemed to be doing well and we just had to get through the 14 days of the second course of antibiotics. Life in SCBU became a routine of feeding, nappy changes and cuddles, interspersed with desperately trying to fit meals, sleep and personal hygiene in!  With Rich in hospital with us for the last week, the situation was a lot brighter.  After what felt like a very long time, we were finally allowed to take Rosa home.  I am very happy to say that although Rosa’s time in SCBU was extraordinarily stressful, she received excellent care and now it seems like it was all a very long time ago.  It did take a few months for me to be able to relax enough to fully enjoy being a mum without worrying constantly though and I’m sure that was a legacy from our time in SCBU.


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