Week 4 - Bliss
As far as my diary goes this year, Bliss has been the one I have been most apprehensive about. Not from a negative perspective but from a personal one; having been in an intensive care unit myself I was worried that the experience would bring back memories for me, not to mention being in a ward with very sick babies.
On a cold Monday morning I waited for Karen, the regional coordinator for Yorkshire. I stood opposite a very impressive Ferris wheel in the centre of Manchester city centre waiting patiently for her to collect me and take me to Bliss's northern offices. I was welcomed with a huge hug and a bright smile and whisked off down the road with the promise of a nice cup of tea at the other end, just what the doctor ordered. There are two members of staff employed by Bliss that work up here, Karen and Kylie. Karen in the volunteer manager and Kylie looks after the operations up north, both wonderful women who have had a premature baby themselves.
After our initial chat and a lovely bag of knitted baby clothes in hand, Karen and I headed for the train station. We were heading to Sheffield Jessop Hospital to their neonatal care unit to spend the day with their Bliss Nurse and meeting parents and their poorly babies on the neonatal ward.. Arriving at the hospital I was confronted with a familiar smell, one I became very used to as a child. I felt like I had walked these halls a million times before yet I have never been to Sheffield let alone that particular hospital. As we entered the neonatal unit there was a flurry of activity of nurses and beeping and we were swiftly taken down to meet Sandra, the Bliss funded nurse at the unit. Her warm and bubbly personality instantly put me at ease and she offered me another cup of tea (must be a northern thing), I politely declined and we all headed into her office.
We spent 2 hours talking about the incredible work their neonatal unit does and the support they get from Bliss. Who fund 60% of her salary to be a constant support and presence in the hospital. After an inspiring chat we headed out to the ward, for a tour and walk around. The first room was an intensive care unit scattered with tiny beds. I guess ones instant reaction is of sadness, strangely. You expect to look into a hospital ward and see beds, not teeny tiny covered incubators with the smallest babies you have ever seen inside.
(Picture courtesy of Bliss)
If I am honest I hid my slight shock very well, and listened intently to Sandra talk about what goes on in the room, all the while keeping my hands in my pockets for fear of spreading germs! In retrospect I was being over cautious, I don't want to give off the wrong impression. The ward is very clean, impeccably so and I was just being a little dramatic in my head! She went on to explain that it costs over £1,000 a day to care for a premature or sick baby, all funded by the NHS. It made me think; so many of us are so quick to criticize the national health service yet in times of need, like these babies, they do their best to keep them alive. If we were in the USA and you didn't have health insurance, well, most people just couldn't afford it! My political rant aside we continued our tour.
I was very fortunate to meet a lovely young lady and her 25-week-old baby. She was a young mother who gave birth at home, alone, unexpectedly at 24 weeks. She sat there smiling and content that her baby's dependence on the defibrillator was lessening and chatted quite buoyantly about her day.
(Picture courtesy of Bliss)
I couldn't help but stand almost speechless in amazement at this young ladies resolve. Her courage and bravery of the situation was one of the most inspirational things I've seen. She went on to explain how Bliss has been so helpful and supportive and their constant presence on the ward with their paid nurse and amazing volunteer Donna gave her piece of mind and support. After then meeting the incredible volunteer that spends every Tuesday at the ward Karen and I headed home. A full on day and one I ended up processing all night.
Tuesday was a lot less intense as I headed out to Wakefield to meet another wonderful volunteer Karen who shared her amazing story and the reason for her getting involved with Bliss. Karen and I then headed over to a lovely golf course to attend a steering group meeting for NHS nurses and neonatal carers. The meeting was both informative and hilarious. We ended a very productive chat with fits of giggles when the conversation kept flowing and the amazing bubbly staff, who in all fairness have a very tough job made a light hearted situation out of everything.
Wednesday I headed to Leeds to LGI Hospital to another but slightly larger unit to experience what it's like to have a premature of very sick baby. I was taken around the ward by the wonderful doctor and got to see a baby who was born at just 26 weeks old and weighed just under 2 pounds. I have never seen a baby so small but yet there she was, a tiny baby. You know what shocked me the most? They don't teach this stuff in schools. Young women should be highlighted the fact that almost 80,000 people a year give birth prematurely because quite frankly its more common than you realise. Not to scaremonger you of course, but the facts are the facts. I was as surprised as you are reading this!
(Picture courtesy of Bliss)
We then headed out into Leeds to meet Phillipa, one of the trustees of Bliss who graciously gave up her time to talk to me for an hour. She talked about why she got involved with the charity after having her own pre term baby and she so passionately believes in the charity.
My final day saw me on a mad dash from Manchester to London to be at the lovely shiny new Bliss HQ to help them with their Bake for Bliss cake sale. The new building just opposite the Shard in London welcomed me in and I arrived in the open plan space to an office of smiles and big hello's. Before letting anywhere near the amazing cakes I had a sit down with the CEO of Bliss, Caroline Davey. An incredibly passionate woman, who not only is the CEO of Bliss but also the trustee of Crisis UK. It was apparent after only 30 minutes with her that her overwhelming passion to do good outshone anything else.
Then it was time for me to start selling. I must admit there was an impressive array of cakes and pastries including some incredible Cornish pasties that had been home made by one of the other offices in the block. We ended up taking just over £600 in total, which by all accounts for an office bake sale is pretty damn impressive!
What has struck me this week with Bliss is that pre term birth is such a taboo subject; its just not talked about. I can image that there are so many people out there that have no idea that Bliss exist. For one people don't talk about it and secondly unless you've had a baby prematurely, why would you know?
I have certainly had my eyes opened this week and feel quite strongly that this is something that young girls should be educated about in schools, because it can happen to 1/10 women, for any unknown reason.
Leaving the charity I could only think that I had been part of something special. From being with Karen in the neonatal units to helping raise money with the HQ staff. Bliss, with its modest approach and a mighty heart are truly an inspiring bunch of people.
Check them out at www.bliss.org.uk