Last night I watched a wonderful short video that Bliss has produced with the advertising agency Langland to mark World Prematurity Day on Sunday 17 November. It’s called The Impossible Hug and you can watch it here.
Please watch it. Because in 42 seconds you will get a glimpse into the world of heartache experienced by the parents and families of the some 15 million babies born prematurely every year who can’t hug their children for days, weeks or even months.
Before I had Sissyboo, almost 6 years ago, I was worried about holding babies. They all looked so fragile. What if I dropped them? What if they smelled my fear and wriggled away? What if they screamed? What if I did? Well I could always give them back to their folks, I reasoned. But not when they were mine…
Before having my daughter I was apprehensive about holding her, of looking like a novice in front of midwives. And then I went into labour, she stopped breathing and all I wanted was for her to be out, to be safe, to be with me where she belonged. Our first cuddle was nothing like I’d imagined. I only had feeling in part of my body from the spinal epidural I’d had for the c-section and she looked like she’d been in a vicious rugby scrum. But the apprehension had gone. It was wonderful.
When Boo was born, I soon realised that my initial apprehensions about hugging his sister were a luxury: the kind of nervousness you feel knowing it’s only going to be temporary and you will take the plunge and it will all be OK. There was no room for luxury or emotional self-indulgence with Boo.
Seconds after he was initially put on my chest post delivery, bloody, translucent and spindly, he was intubated and taken away from me. I wouldn’t see him again for more than half a day. What I didn’t know then was that I wouldn’t be able to hug him for days. And the ache of loneliness and uselessness I felt as I longed to cuddle my boy, to tell him we loved him, that all we wanted was for him to come home and for us all to be together as a family was excruciating.
The NICU encourages physical contact from parents early on. From the day after his arrival I did his cares and had to learn how to clean a baby’s eyes around hats and ventilators, how to change nappies around lines, how to touch downy skin so fragile it wasn’t ready to be touched and all through two little holes in the side of a box. It felt like bomb disposal work.
But on day 2 I left the NICU having been told our first hug could be on the agenda soon. I left elated and sped the 55 miles to the NICU the next day only to find that Boo was dangerously ill. He was having a septic episode. He might not make it. This blog is about that journey from prematurity and meningitis to cerebral palsy and epilepsy, so I won’t rehearse it here.
Suffice it to say that his recovery was a miracle. He fought and fought and with excellent medical support and a heap of luck he won. There were prices to pay but the reward – my beautiful, cheeky, amazing boy – was beyond value.
And one day, day 10, I got a taste of how good our new life would be. Because what seemed impossible the day before became possible. This happened:
Kangaroo cuddles were still some way off (you can read about them here) but this was one magic moment I will never forget. No apprehension. No fear. Just love.
Please get involved in Bliss’s Impossible Hug campaign for World Prematurity Day by sharing a photo of you, your friends and family and little ones giving a hug with them on Facebook, twitter and Pinterest, or email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ll post them on their special World Prematurity Day Flickr page.