April 18th, 2024

James: Supporting The Neonatal Care Bill

On the 15th June 2022, my daughter Lila was born at 26 weeks (14 weeks premature), on the same day the Neonatal Care Bill was first read in Parliament. The Neonatal Care bill is designed to support employees with a parental or personal relationship with a baby who is receiving Neonatal Care.

Born at 1100 grams (2lb 7oz) with her eyes fused shut and requiring oxygen support, Lila spent her first 73 days in NICU receiving specialist care. Neither the term “NICU” or “neonatal care” meant anything to Christina or I before Lila’s arrival. We had never experienced it and it had never ran in our family. There was no work policy, it was something that happened to us, like thousands of others each year!

As new parents, the birth of our first child was supposed to be one of happiest days of our lives. We were sent flowers, messages of congratulations and well wishes from family, friends & colleagues. The reality was very different – they were the scariest days of our lives! We would question day-to-day whether Lila would survive and, if she did, what long lasting implications she would suffer. You become immersed overnight in an environment of fear, monitoring and uncertainty, consumed by a unfamiliar medical environment alongside the normality of everyday life.

Lila underwent weekly, sometimes daily, scans, blood tests and assessments, much of which I was unable to attend due to being back to work. All this, in conjunction with her 24/7 monitoring.

Christina, who underwent an emergency C-Section days earlier spent 14+hrs/day in hospital, whilst I balanced my return to work, daily hospital trips and the reality of a busy life – after all, life goes on.  I returned to work  4 days after Lila was born, saving my statutory 2 weeks paternity for when Lila was discharged.  The 70 days after her birth were spent balancing work and home life, whilst spending evenings and weekends at the hospital, waiting on news. Juggling the highs of hearing the positive news, and the anxiety that something would, and in reality for many, very often go wrong.

I cried on just about everyone! Family, friends, nurses, colleagues (daily), and strangers. The environment, pressure, conversation and fear consumes you. The outcome is out of your hands – you just have to wait for time to pass, whilst being strong enough to support those around you.

Totally unprepared, there was no nursery at home or car seat to get her home. Practical things we had to organise on the go, whilst taking time away from the hospital.

The Neonatal Care bill is designed to enhance the parental leave by providing parents with up to 12 weeks of paid leave, allowing them to enjoy their full parental leave with their child at home.

With just one in ten births arriving prematurely, my opinion is that the implications on businesses voluntarily introducing the Neonatal Care Bill before April 2025 is minimal, however the support and peace of mind it can offer to employees who may, unexpectedly, find themselves in this situation would be invaluable. The decision makers implementing this policy for organisations may never understand or recognise the pressures it will put on your employees, until it happens.

The reality is our NICU journey was fairly smooth, and Lila is fast approaching two years old, however we encourage all businesses to have a heart, and introduce this before it becomes legislation from next year.

Read more about the Neonatal Care Bill and other Family Leave Policies here and on the Bliss site