First things first, everyone needs to go an sign this petition by The Smallest Things as soon as you can!
Let me tell you why. Mums of babies born prematurely should get extended Maternity Leave. Why should they, you say? They still spend everyday with their baby, its just at the hospital instead of home. That is not Maternity Leave.
Let me say that we are extremely lucky, not just because we got to bring Jack home when many others don’t, but because of where we live. We live 10 minutes from one of the best NICU’s in the country. I could go every single day twice a day for the whole 12.5 weeks because it’s not far and families of “long term residents” get discounted parking. But it really is a postcode lottery.
The baby in the next bed’s parents lived quite far away and couldn’t always get in. The reason that their baby was in Derby and not closer to their home was because their neonatal unit was full and also because ours has better facilities for a baby born as early as theirs (25 weeks). They also had a toddler to drop off and fetch from Nursery. Having a baby in the NICU is hard but it’s even harder when you realise that actually, it’s going to cost a fair bit to visit them. Petrol, car parking and food all add up as well as sending your other children to nursery more often. Remember that a NICU visit can be months. Hundreds and maybe a thousand pounds in extra things to pay for when you get reduced pay to start with.
I also ask, what did you spend your Leave doing? Having endless cuddles and waking up in the night jut to stare at the baby? Visitors coming round to coo over the little gorgeous one while you sit on the settee in your jimjams with a contented sigh? Taking the baby to groups and walking around the neighbourhood with the pram? Premmie Mummy’s have to wait months to do that. Having a NICU baby involves a lot of watching and waiting. You can’t cuddle them until it’s safe to and the you’re allowed one cuddle maybe two a day for about 45 minutes. It’s sitting attached to an electric breast pump. It’s waiting for them to be switched to a cot not an incubator so you can see their face in real life not through perspex. It’s being excited about holding a syringe of breast milk and watching it trickle down the nasogastric tube. It’s not the best environment for bonding really.
Also, what about the Mums who have to go back to work before the baby is really ready. With a Premmie, you are constantly thinking about their development in terms of their actual age (from the day they were born) and corrected age (from the day they should have been). To put this simply, Jack is just over 6 months old but he has the body of a 3.5 month old and his mobility is as such. We ahem found that social development (smiling, laughing, babbling) are coming in in accordance with his actual age but anything physical is in line with his corrected age. For example, Jack is only just holding his head up and learning to roll over but can babble/coo an entire conversation with a smile and a laugh. Think about the Mum’s who can’t afford to take off 9 months but only 3 months maybe; they have to go back to work just as Junior is coming home. How would you feel? Would you feel like you’d had the same Maternity Leave experience as other Mums? Extended Maternity Leave would also allow Mums to recover from PND and PTSD more before returning to work. Because a high percentage of NICU Mums end up with those.
This problem for me has been something that has been worrying me lately. I had intended to take 9 months Maternity Leave because that’s the amount of time that paid. I could have had up to a year but the last 3 months are unpaid. This meant that I would have had only 6 months at home with Jack and 3 months in the NICU, going back in August. Luckily, my kind hubby has agreed that I should take the extra 3 months unpaid off so I can have the entire 9 months at home I’d wanted and we have some savings to allow for this. And my manager at work told me something the other day that made me break down in tears of relief and joy – the annual leave I will have accrued whilst I’ve been off gives me another three months because I’d be using a full time holiday entitlement in part time days. I sobbed with relief – thank you Julie and Natalie! This more than makes up for the 3 months I spent confined within 4 walls staring at the tiny fighter, watching and waiting. I get to have the quality time with him that we both need. I get to watch him grow and learn and help him catch up with his peers before thinking about leaving him.
Every Premmie Mummy should have that privilege so please sign the petition and check out The Smallest Things website and Facebook page.
I finally feel like I can enjoy my Leave without worrying about going back to work. As time as gone on I was getting more and more upset about it because it felt like I was only getting 6 months of quality time instead of 9 months so I am feeling so happy that I am able to take more time and by the time O go back my Dad will have retired so he is looking forward to having Jack. Now my only fear about going back to work is that when I get home Jack will have been taught all about Golf!