Today, 17 November, is World Prematurity Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the battles premature babies and their parents face – and the role midwives have in supporting women.
Every year in the UK, around 60,000 babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks’ gestation). That is one in every 13 births – and the number is increasing.
My son Hugo was born earlier this year when I was just 24 weeks’ pregnant because I had severe pre-eclampsia and severe HELLP syndrome. While I thought I was well-read about pregnancy, I did not know that pre-eclampsia could strike so early, and I had never heard of HELLP syndrome. I am very fortunate to have had a routine midwife appointment a couple of days after symptoms appeared, and that I was sent straight to hospital.
Sadly, despite a valiant fight, Hugo was too small and premature and died in my arms aged 35 days.
Since Hugo’s death, through my blog Headspace Perspective I have been seeking to raise awareness of prematurity, support premature babies’ mums need, as well as the knowledge expectant mums need to be able to recognise signs and symptoms of when something isn’t quite right.
I have also set up an organisation, Bright in Mind and Spirit, in Hugo’s memory to raise awareness of the importance of effective communication. While nothing that happened could have been avoided, there are some aspects of my care that could have been less stressful if there had been better communication. An example includes communication between the postnatal ward and neonatal unit: when I was on my way to visit Hugo in the NNU, I asked to wait to see the doctor - by the time I got to the NNU, the staff were on their own rounds, which meant I couldn’t see Hugo. A whole morning wasted, which is unacceptable for a mother with a critically-ill baby. Sadly, my experience is not unique.
The midwives themselves are not to blame: I am very grateful to every midwife in the two hospitals that cared for me. They were caring, compassionate – and overwhelmed.
With increasing numbers of premature births, we need to consider how to meet the needs of the mothers whose babies are fighting for their lives in the NNU. Staffing in postnatal services are already stretched beyond their limit, but I would argue there are a few simple things that could help these women. These could include closer liaison with the NNU; empowering women to visit their baby, and to call them back when the doctor is ready to see them; always taking the time to ask after the baby and look at photographs of them – so important when most of the other mums on the ward have their babies with them. These ideas do not cost anything, but have the potential to make the world of difference to these women’s experience.