Released On 4th Nov 2019
Jonathan's blog: Prem
When your wife is pregnant, as a prospective father there are million and one things rushing through your anxiety ridden brain. A preterm baby is not one of them. Dealing with this level of trauma while at the same working is, to put it even lightly, a struggle. And yet somehow, in times of crisis, your innate human resilience surprises even yourself. Trust someone who knows, you’re tougher than you think.
Our baby girl Isabella was due in August. Isabella, it seems, had other ideas. She decided her time on this planet will be far too impactful to waste by pointlessly waiting around on the platform. She decided to get the train that arrives four months earlier.
We’d been at a wedding the night before when my wife, who had been feeling progressively sicker over the previous few days, decided to head home with what seemed like a bad case of fairly typical nausea; we’d later find out she was already in labour. She made the critical – and I mean, critical – decision to redirect to our local hospital, Homerton Hospital in East London. I got that text (“I don’t want to alarm you, but…”) and I rushed to meet her. The girl we were expecting was going to come tomorrow. To put that in context, a week prior we didn’t even know it was a girl. What was to be the next few months of our lives – the classes, the prep, the breathing, the late-night rush to the hospital, the birth – flew by in the space of 24 hours.
The trauma of that day is incredible, verging on surreal. It’s so hard to put into words the feeling of being told that you’re having your baby, today. The panic is a crushing weight. All those things you haven’t done or learned. Who will decorate the nursery?
Everything happened in fast forward. The birth process took seemingly minutes from start to finish. I wish I could describe in detail the agony, anguish and torture of this one day, but (a) this piece is a blog about work-life balance, and (b) I still don’t think I’m quite ‘there’ yet.
Anyway, with 11 medical professionals in the room they took our baby and put her in a plastic box on wheels. I followed, tears streaming down my face, to the cutely titled NICU - the neonatal intensive care unit – which is more acutely titled and infinitely more intimidating.
I didn’t go back to work for two weeks and my employers were sterling in this regard. They gave me compassionate leave without a moment’s hesitation. Throughout this ordeal, if there’s one silver lining I take from this fog of confusion, it is the strength, tenacity and boundlessness of human kindness. My employers were no exception. I would tell our HR Director weeks down the line that that had not gone unnoticed. I make no bones about saying I felt a palpable wave of loyalty brimming up inside me. This really is how companies should treat their employees.
What’s weird is when you get in this kind of acutely dramatic, traumatic and wholly unexpected situation, you adapt to the new normal oddly quickly. While you’re away from work in those opening weeks, things change. The shock of the birth under such pressured circumstances denotes an air of foreboding around the hospital in which you reside. The corridors are oppressive, the staff under the auspices of ‘intensive care’ and therefore pretty darn serious people. But then, just like starting a new job, you get to know your new ‘colleagues’, you feel more comfortable in the corridors, you befriend other parents going through the same thing and exchange solidarity for tips, and you begin to feel your way around the NICU ‘culture’.
Without going into too much detail, life with a pretermer is one of ecstatic highs and terrifying lows. Anything can and does happen on this emotional and physical rollercoaster. They say you take two steps forward and four steps back, and that’s putting it lightly. The only way I could describe it to my friends was like living 24/7 with a boxer in front of your face. The boxer doesn’t tell you when they’re going to hit you. They don’t tell you how hard. You don’t even know if you’ll be hit at all. But they’re always there, dukes up, poised to swing.
That said, these babies are hard as nails; they bounce back from the brink like it was no biggie, even when said biggie couldn’t have been biggier.
We went through the scariest (until now) moments of our lives before I decided I had to go back to work. That was a struggle. It’s hard to describe just what I mean by struggle, but when your baby daughter isn’t even supposed be born yet and is instead this untouchable mess of wires and tubes, funnily enough, the banality of work does tend to shine through. No disrespect meant to anyone here, by the way; I imagine this is the case with most jobs, even if you’re saving polar bears or something. I struggled with basic tasks, which is kind of the crux of the problem. I’m a digital marketing manager in the City so my work revolves around a lot of copywriting, blogging, social media. For a writer the most irritating, self-perpetuating issue of any day is writer’s block. It occurs frequently, doubly so when you’re stressed. I happen to be fortunate in the sense that I tend to juggle a lot of jobs in one given moment, so if I’m feeling restricted I move on to the next job to see if that greases the mental wheels a bit better.
That was all in Homerton Hospital, our local. During two months of splitting my time between work, home and Homerton, Isabella had been to the brink a few times. It had been bad; nothing can prepare you and no one understands unless they’ve done it and got the t-shirt.
But that was all nothing for what was to come. Overnight, Isabella developed an extremely serious gut bug and was rushed in an ambulance to a hospital with an emergency surgical team.
Here was to begin our new, new life, away from home as semi-permanent residents of St Thomas’s Hospital in Westminster.
Jonathan is the proud father to a beautiful baby girl, a pretermer now six months old having spent five months in NICU, and husband to the strongest wife and mother in the world. He is digital marketing manager for a London City financial services firm.