Fading memories: A NICU World

Parents of premature babies often describe themselves as being on a rollercoaster journey, lost in an environment they don’t recognise or even knew existed. Every birth is different, but the reality of having a baby to soon is very different to any other experience; a reality where the planning and anticipation is dramatically shattered by a sudden arrival and where a mother has to leave her baby everyday.

smallest things

Life inside a neonatal intensive care unit is unlike any other environment and is far removed from what could resemble anything like parenting a new born. Parents sit beside incubators housing tiny and fragile lives. Monitors flash and beep, whilst the sound of air fills tubes inflating the smallest of lungs. Mothers embark on three hourly cycles of expressing; feeding a baby they are not yet able to hold. Fathers split – caring for mothers recovering from often life threatening illnesses or surgery, caring for siblings at home, managing work commitments and spending precious time with their new born in NICU. Relatives are unsure of how to help; friends are unsure of how to celebrate a new but fragile life and parents are unsure of how to be mums and dads in this alien world.

The neonatal unit is a special place, a place where some say miracles happen. Yet it is a world hidden away, not one you could accidently stumble across and with little known about the environment unless you have lived it. For those who have journeyed from room to room, from NICU to SCBU, your experience can be a lonely one and the after care isolating. Whilst NCT groups discuss sleeping through the night, NICU mums worry about making it through the night.

The sounds, smells and even the feel of a neonatal unit are quite unique; a warm sterile environment where parents wait quietly while nurses hurry by. The background hum of buzzing machines fills the air until suddenly interrupted by the ding, ding, ding of a monitor alarming. Your heart begins to beat a little faster. The rigorous routine of hand washing and the smell of soap. The feel of a tiny nappy upon paper thin skin. The delicate wires that mingle with hard plastic tubing, and the feel of the Perspex incubator box. These are the sounds and smells of the neonatal unit. These are the sounds and smells you remember.

The days of neonatal care remain with you and in an instant you can be taken back. It is a journey that for many parents continues long after discharge until finally the NICU sounds and memories begin to fade

8 thoughts on “Fading memories: A NICU World

  1. Danny

    So many memories reading this article. Thankfully we can look back now, with our daughter 7 years old, with a positive outcome. The hand sanitisers, even the softness of the floor, brings it all back.


  2. Amy Taylor

    Reading this, nearly 12 years after having my own premature son, brings back many memories. It was such a hard time, and I felt very alone. Reading articles like this confirms to me that the smallest things will never be fading memories.


  3. cristiona duggan

    Only out 3 months and still so fresh. . I hold my baby thanking everyone especially the nurses for the long hours of comfort and reassurance that he will get home. Those memories will stay for a long time just as is says in the article but moving forward is the key. Staying positive not always easy but try and try again


  4. Kate Norris

    We only spent a relatively short time in NICU and have been out for 6 weeks. But this piece takes me back to an experience I realise have been burying as there aren’t many people I can talk to about it now. I’m reminded how at the time I strongly feel premature birth discussed more in the mainstream antenatal environment. Thank you.


    1. Catriona Ogilvy Post author

      Thank you Kate – the memories from NICU (no matter how short or long your stay was) can last and it can feel like not many people understand what you have been through.
      Do try to speak about your journey and we’ll carry on trying to raise awareness x


  5. Beth

    My daughter was in two separate NICOs over a five week period. We were also in separate hospitals for nearly a week.
    The care and support we received was outstanding at both hospitals but nothing prepares you. Your ‘one born every minute’ moment is gone. You feel cheated of the experience and torn as you say goodbye to your baby. Friends and family don’t know what to say – congratulations or commiserations? You watch other new mums celebrate on social media as they bring home their rosey cheeked chubby baby as you stare at the wisened face of your newborn through plastic.
    All this is deeply buried once you’re home and cuddling up to your baby but on occasion something – an article, smell, sound, TV episode; will bring it all back to you.
    Although I feel sad for what I didn’t have for my first pregnancy/baby, I can look back at the positives. I now truely appreciate how amazing my friends and family are. I don’t sweat over the little things like I used to. I felt incredibly prepared when I brought my daughter home as we’d been trained by the best baby sitters in the world!
    Before my daughter was born nine weeks early I knew next to nothing about premature babies. I was given a rushed tour of the NICO ward when it became clear my body was betraying me and could no longer carry her but needless to say I wasn’t really taking it all in then! More needs to be done to prepare mums and dads for the possiblity and what they may expect if their baby arrives early.



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