NOTHING can prepare parents for the elation and exhaustion of taking their new baby home for the first time.
Most get nine months to prepare for the birth of their children, and even then the experience can be overwhelming.
But some parents have to wait a while to introduce their babies to their new homes, often spending long hours in hospital wards and unfamiliar places.
Now, the support offered at hospitals for the parents of premature babies can bring hope in some of the scariest of situations and shows there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
The launch of the Little Steps project took place at the special-care baby unit at St Richard’s Hospital on Thursday.
Set up as a sister group to the Little Wonders, which allows parents who have used the unit in the past to get together, Little Steps will support families whose babies are in the unit, giving them a chance to talk to others who have been through the same experience.
Sarah Pawley’s six-day-old baby Sophia was born at 35 weeks.
“I felt quite terrified,” said Sarah.
“You have the shock of being a new mum, combined with the fact there are complications.
“You are in a place you don’t know. You have to take a step back, but you want to be completely hands on.”
Sarah said she couldn’t believe nearly a week had passed since her daughter was born.
“It went so slowly at first, but now things feel like they are speeding up. We’re getting into more of a routine.
“I was feeling quite low in the first few days, but I had a good chat to the ward manager and she made me feel much better. I think up to a point I was in denial.
“But now I’ve accepted I have to be patient.”
Life gets put on hold for most new parents when their babies are still in hospital.
Lindsey McGovern, who gave birth to Johnny at 35 weeks, managed to spend a night at home as her husband Neil was on hand to stay in the unit.
“We have to be there to feed them and make sure things are fine,” she said.
Both new mums joked that the last week had been living in a microcosm.
“It becomes your home,” said Lindsey.
“You don’t want to be away from the hospital for too long.
“I’m exhausted, but I’m optimistic – you have to draw positives from these things.”
Although the babies don’t have a normal start to life, Sarah said there were benefits.
“We get to see her grow in a different way – right in front of our eyes.
“We get help with feeding and washing and changing, which are things new mums have to work out for themselves.
“You learn a lot in hospital.”
Both new mothers said the help and practical advice they were given at St Richard’s Hospital had been invaluable.
“The nurses are brilliant,” said Lindsey.
“It’s lovely to see these happy and healthy babies and to talk to other mothers.”
The Little Steps group was the brainchild of Zita Warren, ward sister on the neo-natal unit, and nursery nurse Andrea Field.
“We want parents to feel optimistic,” said Zita.
“This way, they can share experiences and talk to people who have been in the same situation as them. It can be very tough for them.”
The Little Steps group will meet weekly at St Richard’s special-care baby unit.