The Signature: New Preemie Mother in the SCBU

Poignant event in the life a new preemie mother whose baby is in British Intensive Care.

By Ann Leary

One of the hardest things for me about having a baby in a neonatal unit was coming to terms with my feelings toward the staff. On the one hand, I was filled with gratitude and respect for these overworked professionals. They were my baby's saviors, and his life depended upon them, but this dependence made me feel .. well, redundant. I had tried to produce a healthy baby, had failed horribly, and now the doctors and nurses had been forced to step in and sort out the whole mess. I felt like an actress who'd been replaced by somebody far more talented, but nobody had the nerve to tell me to get off the set. Actually, there was one staff member who I suspected might happily do the dirty deed of firing me as a parent, and that was Miss Eugenia Borthwick.

I met Miss Borthwick when Jack was a day old. I had decided to walk to the unit that morning, which took me a while due to the fresh cesarean scar, but when I arrived, I discovered that Denis had returned! I found him in three-day-old clothes, smiling into Jack's isolette. He had one hand inside, and Jack's impossibly tiny hand was actually wrapped around Denis's pinkie. One of the nurses brought me a chair, and Denis and I just sat there for a while, gazing at our son. Later that morning Denis went out to find some breakfast, and my mother was with me when Miss Borthwick appeared next to Jack's isolette. My mother was wearing her little suit and her heels, and Miss Borthwick's immediate disapproval of us was almost palpable. Miss Borthwick wore the highly starched uniform of a senior nurse. Her white-gray hair was pulled back into a tidy knot, and she carried a clipboard and a three-ring binder.

"Mrs. Leary? I'm Miss Borthwick."

"Oh. Hello," I said.

"It appears that you forgot to sign in to the unit when you came into the SCBU today."

"Um," I said. "We're supposed to sign in?"

"Yes," said Miss Borthwick, after a weighty silence.

"Oh, sorry, nobody told us."

"No, I'm sure nobody had the time. You'll notice we're quite busy most of the time, as we're seriously understaffed. Perhaps in American hospitals, nurses have time to explain ward policies to parents in person. Our nurses have all they can do administering to the needs of the babies. There's a large sign on the wall by the entrance that explains the signing-in policy."

"Oh, okay," I said, suddenly feelings as if I'd barged into Miss Borthwick's own bedroom uninvited. I'll go sign in now."

I turned and started to limb back to the entrance, but Miss Borthwick said, "Mrs. Leary, I've brought the sign-in sheet to you. It's right here."

I thanked Miss Borthwick profusely as she handed me the clipboard. Under NAME I wrote "Ann Leary," under PATIENT I wrote "Jack Leary," and under RELATIONSHIP I wrote, with trembling fingers, "Mother."

Anne Leary is the author of an Innocent, a Broad, excerpted with permission of the publisher. Copyright 2004.