When our twins were born prematurely, they had to go straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before we could meet them. Although very grateful for the care they received, we have found it very difficult that we missed that initial time with them. In particular, I have struggled with the loss of that long-dreamed for moment of having a baby, as instead of being able to hold the newborns at the time of birth, our first meetings with them was reduced to “It’s that one and that one” on our first (separate) visits to NICU. We appreciate that the staff on NICU are very busy and under constant pressure, and that personnel looking after the babies changes regularly. We have thus come up with an idea which we think would allow that first meeting still to be special for parents, without putting too much extra work on any staff.
When the baby is admitted to NICU, as part of the admission procedure, as well as the pink or blue name card being attached to the incubator, two different coloured ribbons are stuck on the incubator with sellotape. The ribbons are in a simple loop or bow and sewn to a safety pin prior to supply to NICU so that they can be worn like a lapel badge. These are then be given to Mum and Dad on their first visit to baby in NICU. This works on many levels:
In NICU, if the ribbons were still on the incubator it is obvious to staff caring for Baby that Mum / Dad hadn’t met Baby yet. This allows the first meeting to be made just a little bit special. It need not take more than a few seconds of the nurse’s time. “Hello! I’m (name), I’m looking after your son/daughter today. Come and meet him/her. This is how you open the incubator door, let me show you how to put your hand in so you can touch her. S/he’s got this ribbon for you, you can wear it so that you feel close to her when you’re not here.”
By having the visual cue of the ribbons, no staff have to try and keep track of if the first meeting has happened. It is visually obvious to whoever happens to be there when Mum / Dad arrive.
Back on the Maternity Ward, all staff can be aware that if there is a new Mum with no baby with her and no ribbon, that she hasn’t met Baby yet. This would prompt them to care for her accordingly – ring and check how Baby is; arrange for Mum to go to NICU; just to be aware that Mum is probably in a state having not yet met Baby.
In recovery, Mum can be given a piece of paper explaining that she will be given a ribbon when she first meets Baby. This reassures her that people will know she hasn’t met Baby yet as she is not wearing her ribbon. It is a very strange feeling – you do not know where your Baby is, how they are, who to ask, when you will be able to see Baby, who will arrange it – having this acknowledged would be very helpful. As no one told me what was going on, I thought my babies had died. The piece of paper would also have visiting and other basic arrangements for NICU on it – particularly quiet times. The first time we were taken over (as a couple) by a nurse to see the babies, clutching my first expressed milk and teddies for the babies, we were turned back as it was quiet time, which we did not know. This was very hard, and we could have avoided putting ourselves through this if we had known before we went how NICU works.
If the ribbons remained on the incubator for a long time, it would alert NICU staff that Mum/Dad hadn’t met Baby yet, so that they could find out why. This could be particularly valid if the scheme extended nationally and Mum and Baby end up in different hospitals.
I know the preparation of hospital tags, name cards etc is done by one of the midwives just around the time of delivery. The ribbons could be brought out at this stage: then, after some deliveries, depending on how Mum is, it might be possible to give her the ribbon for a few moments while she is told that the ribbon will then go with Baby and then she will be given the ribbon when she gets to meet Baby. I found the time just after the babies were born, when all in theatre were busy except for me, very hard – something positive like this would have helped deal with that void. While in no way a substitute for holding your baby at birth, the ribbon might help provide Mum with a little continuity, a connection. Having spent a long time trying for a baby, and a scare early in the pregnancy, even at 34 ˝ weeks and with a 48” plus waist I found it difficult to believe I was really going to have a baby. It has thus been very difficult to believe on an emotional level that I actually gave birth to “that one and that one”. Perhaps something tangible, like a ribbon, which I could then recognise when I finally got to NICU, would help in some small way with that. At the least, it would be an acknowledgement to Mum that staff realise how hard it is not to hold Baby straight away, and even that recognition would help.
The ribbons should be different colours for Mum (eg/ lilac) and Dad (eg/ dark green) as very often Dad might get to see Baby first, and it is just as important that Dad has a special moment with Baby as Mum.
We know our idea works as it has been trialled and implemented at St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth. It can help a lot of new parents who suddenly find themselves in this void, and would help NICU and Maternity staff to add to the already outstanding care they provide, without unduly adding to their workload.
BARBIE AND DON. JANUARY 2006
If you represent a hospital thinking of introducing Parents' Ribbons, please Contact us as we can supply templates (either on CD or via email attachment) of a short explanation for Staff and of the note to be given to parents explaining what happens.
If you have been affected by being separated from your baby at birth, you may find these websites helpful:
The Birth Trauma Association website
Bliss - The Premature Baby Charity website .
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