Siani Driver writes about the birth of her third child and the experience of bonding with him in the neonatal intensive care unit. 

My first two births were a dream. Spontaneous labour, 8 hours start to finish, unassisted waterbirths. One in a hospital inflatable pool I demanded was set up, one in a midwife led unit under sparkly lights. Both babies went straight to my breast and fed for years each.

Because of the ease of these births, I chose to have a homebirth for my third and final baby.

My waters broke in the middle of the night on a full moon; a storm howling outside, and by 6am I was comfortably ensconced in the pool in my living room, fairy lights and affirmation cards around the room, towels warming on the radiator and my daughters popping into the pool for a cuddle. 

We still aren’t entirely sure what went wrong but at one point the midwives stopped monitoring my son and left me alone for the final 46 minutes of labour. During that 46 minutes things went very wrong, and my son was born dead. He was grey, floppy and entirely unresponsive. It took a further 12 minutes for my paramedic husband and the midwives to get his heartbeat back, and we were rushed to hospital, the start of 2 weeks of intubation, NICU, and hell. 

Building a Bond

Because of the perfect, slow post-birth experiences with my girls, and the easy breastfeeding and skin-to-skin it was unexpectedly awful to have him instantly ripped from my arms and taken away. I didn’t see him for hours after we reached hospital as he was being stabilised; and couldn’t hold him for a week. But as it turned out, I found many ways to build a bond with him, one that is as strong if not stronger than that with my girls.

Expressing in the NICU

As soon I was able to see him I started talking to him and touching him. He had to be therapeutically cooled for 3 days so was in an open incubator, which meant I was able to stroke him, hold his hand, sing and read and talk to him. There was a milk room but I asked for a portable pump to be brought to his bedside so I could express beside him to help my oxytocin flow.

During cooling he was unable to take any milk but I soaked cotton pads in milk and dabbed his skin; moistened his lips, and exchanged bonding squares between my bra and beside his face. Once his cooling was over he began taking milk via a nasal gastrostomy tube; I’m so proud that his first food (and only food for 6 months) was my expressed milk. I wasn’t going to fail in feeding him despite his lack of ability to latch.

Ways to Connect

After a week passed and his intubation tube was removed, I was finally allowed to cuddle him. He was instantly content and I made up for the lack of earlier skin-to-skin time, by constantly sitting cuddling him on my chest. If I had to leave to see the girls, my husband took over chest duties!

I needn't have worried about his bond. He’s so strongly bonded to both me and his dad, and I’m convinced that maximising the time with him despite him being in NICU helped that bond to grow. So if you find yourself unable to bask in that golden hour, or your baby can’t latch, it’s not the end of the world - there are still plenty of ways to connect.

He’s got cerebral palsy and will be severely physically disabled for life, but he’s the happiest little man in the world, he loves life and is a complete mama’s boy. 

We all have a view of the ideal birth in our head, and I was lucky to get that with my daughters. I had an ideal labour and home birth with my son, too - until he emerged and frightened us all.

But sometimes, disasters just happen despite our best efforts. Do not despair. All is not lost, it doesn’t mean you didn’t do it right, nor does it mean you can’t form a strong bond with your baby. You can, I promise.

Siani Driver is a mother of 3 young children and a freelance digital marketing professional. She runs disability and parenting peer support groups and fits everything around caring for her disabled son and two daughters. When she finds the time she likes to garden, crochet, embroider and read. You can follow her son’s journey at

Image: With thanks to Kelly Sikkema

Runner Up in The Green Parent Writing Competition

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