I am delighted to bring to you another personal NICU experience, but this time, from Dr Andleeb Ahmed @mumandmedic. Thank you Andleeb for sharing your own NICU journey with us all. It was great to connect with Andleeb on Instagram – she has been an NHS Medic for over 27 years and is a GP. Her story is a fine example of why it is so important to advocate for your own child, no matter who you are and what experience you may or may not have.
One of the dumbest things said to me when I became a first-time mum -” You will find this easy, as you are a doctor.” I wanted to slap that person- as if we are taught about motherhood and dealing with all the emotions that go alongside being a mother in medical school.
I realised as time went on, that people do assume that medic parents either cope better, or the other extreme, are completely neurotic. I can safely say, most of us are neither and in fact cope probably worse because we know far too much. This became very apparent with the birth of my third child.
Z was overdue by 7 days; induction was all booked and I was waddling around like a hippo. No amount of raspberry tea, chili or walks would budge him. I went into labor at 1am on 25th October and I was progressing fine. By 2.30am, his heartbeat was picked up as slowing so fetal monitoring was introduced -this soon showed he was in distress.
One of the dumbest things said to me when I became a first-time mum -” You will find this easy, as you are a doctor.” I wanted to slap that person- as if we are taught about motherhood and dealing with all the emotions that go alongside being a mother in medical school.Dr Andleeb Ahmed @mumandmedic
Within what seemed like 30 seconds, I was surrounded by doctors and prepped for a c-section. However, his heartbeat picked up and as it was sustained, they opted for a vaginal delivery, which followed within 20 minutes.
During delivery though, I passed meconium and soon after my husband noted our son’s breathing was very abnormal. We were reassured that he would be monitored, and I was moved to the post-natal ward.
Over the next 48 hours, I kept telling ward staff his breathing was erratic but the paediatric registrar informed me, quite harshly and quite clearly annoyed with me, that he was ok. By 4pm, on the second day, my medical and maternal instincts kicked in and I insisted he be assessed again. Another registrar saw him, organised a Xray and blood gases which confirmed my suspicions -he had Meconium Aspiration Syndrome /Pneumonia. He was rushed down to NICU with me sobbing alongside, mumbling “I told you. Why didn’t you listen to me?”
I remember the double doors to NICU even 15 years later- white with sliver door handles and fairy lights around the edge. I was told to wait outside the assessment room while they stabilised him. Sitting there with my shoulders hunched, face in hands crying, guilt washed over me as I heard his cries as they took bloods and gained access for iv treatment.
During delivery though, I passed meconium and soon after my husband noted our son’s breathing was very abnormal.Dr Andleeb Ahmed @mumandmedic
The NICU sister spotted me, came over and hugged me – I crumbled in her arms. “They didn’t listen, I told them something was wrong, they just fobbed me off.” After an hour, he was moved to the NICU, and placed in the largest incubator they had and started on various intravenous treatments and oxygen.
Despite the fact I had been in NICU before as a medical student and worked in adult ICU -I was seeing NICU as if for the first time. Through the eyes of a scared mother. What made it worse was the next day, the paediatric registrar who had dismissed my fears, came up to me and said, “Well done Dr Ahmed -good call- well spotted.” I wanted to deck him.
The beeps and monitors were alien to me for a while -my mind not processing the information. The first two days were just a blur, as I refused to leave his side. The pre-term babies around us made me feel like a fraud –they were so tiny and delicate. The team referred to Z as “the Giant” on ward rounds! The parents of these babies became my friends, and I am still in touch with a couple.
The NICU staff were amazing and always had time for me, reassuring me that he needed to be here plus they validated my feelings, even the ones I thought were stupid. They persuaded me to sleep in my bed in post-natal ward, but I just couldn’t sleep. I remember 2am walks down to NICU, wrapped in a huge multicolored fluffy shawl, and they would allow me to sit by him. The hums and beeps like a gentle lullaby sending me to sleep for a few hours.
The NICU sister spotted me, came over and hugged me – I crumbled in her arms. “They didn’t listen, I told them something was wrong, they just fobbed me off.” After an hour, he was moved to the NICU, and placed in the largest incubator they had and started on various intravenous treatments and oxygen.Dr Andleeb Ahmed @mumandmedic
During the day, my husband would pop into NICU to be with Z, while I snuck home to be with my older two who were struggling without seeing mum. Lots of cuddles and choccies were exchanged before I returned back to NICU! We were discharged after 10 days, and what happened in the year after is a whole other story for another day!
So fast forward 14 years, Z is thankfully thriving. He loves Anime and Lego; is fascinated by Far Eastern culture; enjoys cooking and football and he has a knack of always making me smile. I think his experience of being a NICU baby has somehow molded him into a truly compassionate human. He is the first to speak up against injustice, stand up to bullies, cares for anyone unwell and always makes time for friends in need. I still call him “my little box baby,” even though he is a strapping lad who takes me down in endless rugby tackles and ninja moves!
Reflecting on this whole experience made me realise how important it is to take the time, even a few minutes, to truly listen to patients (especially concerned parents) and make sure they feel heard. Being a NICU parent is overwhelming and terrifying – the feeling of being helpless sits with you all day and night, like an unwanted visitor. And being a doctor does NOT make it any easier, because our profession neither dictates our emotional responses nor our parental coping skills.
I was a NICU mum and I am here to tell all NICU parents – you got this.