Inspired by her own experiences, Lisa Jones designed a diary to enable families to keep track of their baby’s progress in the neonatal unit, Madeleine Scott reports
It is April 2015. The Special Care Baby Unit at Glan Clwyd Hospital, North Wales is abuzz and a baby is on his way. The neonatal nursing staff is hard at work. They know that – as always – it is their responsibility to balance excitement and calm in supporting the new parents through this significant moment.
Lisa Jones, a neonatal nurse, should be in her element. This unit, this hospital, this team and this environment is her all day, every day. Except today, Ms Jones is the one going into labour, about to give birth to her first child.
If there’s anyone who could feel prepared to deliver a child of her own, it is Ms Jones. She says she had always known she wanted to do something with children, “to help, save, look after them”.
Years of training as a paediatric nurse – and five years on this neonatal unit – meant that Ms Jones felt confident in her knowledge of theory and practice. But in the case of her own pregnancy, that knowledge became a double-edged sword.
“The knowledge sometimes helps, but knowing what situations can happen [can really be] quite scary as well.”
Her son Jacob was born prematurely, and while he’s healthy now – “a two-and-a-half-year-old little boy who causes mayhem”, she says, a smile evident from the sound of her voice – Ms Jones understands firsthand the stresses of having a newborn in hospital.
There are the stresses that accompany this particular situation, of course, but there are also those experienced by all new parents. When will our baby hit certain milestones? When should they? What if we miss important moments?
“[Babies] get through so much in the first few days or weeks of birth that sometimes you forget. Even being [a neonatal nurse] I still can’t remember everything that [goes] on every day. “When I had Jacob,” says Ms Jones: “I was looking for a diary to try and document everything that was going on.” But she just could not find what she was looking for.
This necessity became the mother of Ms Jones’ invention. When she came back to the ward after her maternity leave, she set to work designing a diary to help families keep track of their premature babies’ progress at the unit.
The diaries record significant milestones: first bath, feed, and smile. There’s a section for detailing treatments received, and another where nurses can provide updates on more general progress.
There are spaces for photos, keepsakes and special occasions, too. At Christmas, she and her colleagues take pictures of the babies in the morning and make cards for the parents. Ms Jones says that everyone particularly likes “the bit about the weight”. Her hospital weighs each baby each Wednesday, and the documentation becomes something that parents look forward to week after week.
The diaries have also proved to be a huge help in bridging the gap between neonatal unit staff and parents. With some sick or premature babies, Ms Jones says, “Parents feel like they can’t do an awful lot… they can’t always have that first little cuddle.” But the diaries help parents to feel involved in their infants’ lives.
The diaries have been so successful at Glyn Clwyd that Ms Jones hopes to share them with units across the country.
“I hope it can become more of a national thing”, she says, “It would be nice if parents around the country [could] have that keepsake for years to come – whether the baby is totally fine, or if it’s one of the sadder stories – to be able to look back.”
How do I get to be you?
Start by completing nurse training, whether that be adult or paediatric. Be dedicated and work hard, but also enjoy the role. You must be prepared to undertake the neonatal intensive care course necessary to gain the knowledge and experience of looking after infants in the intensive care unit.
In the neonatal unit it is not just about the infant, it is about caring for the whole family. You need to have a kind and caring nature and the ability to empathise with patients during their difficult time. Communication is key.
I remember being a student, and people said before my placement that you either love it or hate it. Neonatal nursing is a specialist area.
It is a very rewarding job but it can be sad and stressful at times, so you must have coping strategies. It is not just about feeding babies.
Most importantly, you must have a love of infants. If you are not a baby person, it is the wrong job for you.