By DAWN BARKER
There’s no sense of night or day in a neonatal unit. But on the maternity ward where I sleep, two floors above where my newborn baby lies, it is dark. I have just been woken from an exhausted sleep – not by my baby’s cries, but by the high-pitched wail of the telephone by my bed.
I jump up, wincing in pain. My baby is only two days old; she should be lying next to me. She had been wheeled away in her cot from my bedside that afternoon. My husband and two other children were visiting us. He had gone to buy me a coffee when the nurse came and said she had to take my baby down to the neonatal unit, right away.
I stood up to go with her, gathering my older daughters by my side, but the nurse stopped me: children aren’t allowed in the unit. I was torn, desperate to not let my baby out of my sight, but unable to leave my other girls who clutched at my legs. My three year old looked up at me and asked, “Mummy, where are they taking my baby?” I started crying and let the nurse take the baby away.
I dress quickly, unwilling to wander the corridors of the hospital in my pajamas. I stumble out of the darkness of my room into the glare of the maternity ward. The midwives are chatting around a desk; one asks me if I’m all right. I try to smile, but tears run down my face. “I’m just going to feed the baby,” I manage, before I put my chin to my chest and hurry past them before they can ask me again.
I squirt my hands with the antiseptic gel outside locked doors of the neonatal unit and wait for a nurse to buzz me in. I smile and mutter a greeting to the man waiting next to me, his cheeks still flushed form the cold outside. The door opens, and he shuffles through in his Ugg boots. He carries a small cool bag branded with the name of a beer.
Inside, the unit is bright and noisy, but I immediately recognise the cries of my brand-new daughter. She’s lying in a clear plastic crib, naked apart from the newborn nappy that’s far too big. She’s basking in ultraviolet light from the lamps around her bed, lights that are breaking down the bilirubin that tans her skin and yellows her eyes, and threatens to damage her brain. Her limbs are flailing as she screams, her face a livid red underneath the eye mask fastened around her head like a miniature superhero’s.