My Mum still has the name bands me and my brother wore when we were born, along with the photo albums of our first year.
My brother still has the teddy that I gave him, aged three on the day he was born.
I have a memory box for my son filled with various things I want to keep to show him when he’s older – his first hat that my Mum knitted, the tiny sleep suits we had to buy when he was too small for his newborn clothes, the cards people sent him to welcome him to the world, all sorts of things.
Lots of the parents I’ve met at work have also made memory boxes for their little ones, keeping things from their time in NICU so they can tell their children about their unconventional start to life. Making memories is important for all families but the uncertainty of having a NICU baby makes it seem all the more so.
With this in mind I keep things I think parents might want – name bands, the tiny stockinette hats we put on the babies in theatre, the eye guards we use if they have phototherapy for jaundice or any hair we’ve had to shave to insert scalp lines. I print photos from our digital camera of big events – the first time they have a cuddle with their baby, baby’s first bath or the day we remove all breathing support and you can see little one’s face properly for the first time.
However, a few of the parents want to keep some rather unsuitable items and have to be gently dissuaded due to infection control reasons. One Mum asked me if she could keep the bloodstained cannula I had just removed from her son’s vein that we had used to give him intravenous fluids. She was rather disappointed when I explained that as it was contaminated with blood and sharp enough to pierce the skin I had to dispose of it as per NHS guidelines.
Another thing that we keep for parents that I find a tiny bit icky is the dried stump of the umbilical cord after it’s fallen off. Fresh umbilical cord is rubbery and sticky and just generally gross. All too often I find myself with one stuck to my arm where it’s been left long in case we need to insert intravenous access lines. A couple of days mummification really doesn’t improve matters.
I wouldn’t dream of throwing it away without checking with the parents but if my parents had shown me my dried up umbilical cord I think I would have been a bit weirded out. Photos of me in the bath, fine. Photos of my brother running around the garden nude, fine.
Memories can be wonderful things but there are some things that just don’t need remembering.