Recently, I met a fellow neonatal mum face to face. We were introduced by a good mutual friend of ours and had both had daughters on the Tiny Lives unit at the RVI. Our daughters had missed each other by a couple of weeks. Her gorgeous 30-weeker, now 16 months old, was born due to placental abruption. Immediately, it was like we were part of a secret club with a code language. In minutes we swapped procedures, compared stories, established mutual acquaintances on the ward and compared favourite doctors and nurses.
"It was such a wonderful place."
"So lovely; just incredible."
Our friend, with her term baby, looked at us as if we were mad.
We paused and looked at each other as if we were mad. And quickly looked away, a slight welling of the eye and a lump in the throat.
"A horrible place."
"The worst place to be."
The thing is, both things are true. A good NICU is the best worst place to be. If you're going to be separated from your newborn, you damn well want them to be in the best equipped place with the most high-tech machines and knowledgeable staff yet also with compassion. But of course, even the best NICU, the one with the friendliest nurses and the most intelligent doctors and the newest and sparkliest and beepiest machine is never going to be enough.
You can visit, yes. But that is the hitch: you have to leave. Night after night, you have to walk away. Bye bye, baby. Does your child, wired up, know you are leaving? Know the difference between night or day? Know inherently that you should be there, forever and always? That is all debatable. But to you it goes against the very grain of parenthood. It is the strangest thing: you know it is the best place for them. But you also know, that it will always fall short and cheat you both of the most loving and most caring place: being there with you.