‘I couldn’t pick up my sick babies’

Media caption,
The Aberdeen unit is using the latest clinical practice

Zoe Stewart from Aberdeen says she only started to feel like a mum when she was able to pick up her own babies.

Her tiny twin daughters Willow and Niamh were born prematurely, at 26 weeks, on 3 January. Their due date was 7 April. Each twin weighed just 2lbs.

As Zoe tucks them into their neonatal crib at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, she says she didn't realise "how important" touch and being able to hold her children was until she couldn't do it.

"The past couple of weeks is when I have started to feel like a mum because I could go and pick up my own baby," she told BBC Scotland's The Nine.

Image caption,
Zoe Stewart's twins were born more than three months early

Zoe has spent 10 weeks at the hospital and there were occasions when she feared she might lose her tiny newborns.

"At times I thought one, or the two, of my girls weren't coming home with me."

Image caption,
Zoe Stewart holding her daughter Niamh for the first time

The Aberdeen neonatal unit where the twins are being cared for is trialling the latest practices in comforting seriously ill and premature babies.

Key to the new techniques is parental involvement.

US expert in neonatal nursing, Mary Coughlin, is training staff and demonstrating how family members can play their part in comforting their babies at a time when illness can often separate parent and child.

"At the start it was a bit of a whirlwind," says Zoe.

Being a mum in such traumatic circumstances to two very vulnerable little babies was "very difficult" she says.

"They are very big here on skin-to-skin contact. The highlight of your day would be getting your baby out for a cuddle.

"But someone will be passing you that baby and they would be disconnecting all the wires - which is really hard."

Image caption,
The twins have been cared for at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital

But for Zoe it's been the little steps that have helped her through.

"Being able to change a bum, or do a tube feed - it's a step-by-step thing," she says.

And she says at each of those steps she's felt supported and prepared by the neonatal unit staff.

"We've been well supported here. Even the auxiliaries and the cleaners will be asking how we are."

"It's like a wee family."

Image caption,
Zoe says being able to pick up her own babies has allowed her to feel like a mum

The aim of the new project at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital is to empower parents like Zoe and enable them to feel part of comforting and caring for their babies.

Zoe's positive outlook has also helped her through.

"I'm a firm believer in there's no point in panicking," she says.

"You just never know what's going to happen but they are fine and they've come through and they are absolutely amazing."