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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.