Life from within Southmead Maternity Ward: A mum’s story

Today’s post on Bristol Mum is written by Susan Petrie, a mum to two little girls who is also pregnant with her third child.

Susan is currently having an extended stay in Southmead Hospital due to complications in her pregnancy. Today she shares her story about what life is like for a mum from within Southmead Maternity Ward.


Earlier this year with images of clotted cream teas and castles dancing in our heads we packed up our home and bundled our two little girls onto a plane and made the move Australia to Bristol.

Shortly into our adventure we had the welcome surprise of a pregnancy. At 25 weeks gestation I had bleeding from placenta praevia (placenta lying over the cervix), and from 28 weeks I have been in hospital.

I am now almost 33 weeks and am very thankful we have come this far. I cannot leave hospital until delivery due to the risk of bleeding and harm to both my unborn child and myself. So, over a month in to my extended NHS stay what can I reflect?

It has been hard. Like any mum the most difficult thing has been being away from my little girls. They are slowly getting into a routine of visiting mummy at her ‘home’ but tears are frequent and tempers short.

To a large extent I have had to let go of being a parent and at times, I feel like I am an outsider to them. I no longer have control over what they have for dinner, what they are wearing, what they do in the day.

I have missed the first day of preschool for my eldest and we held her third birthday party in the hospital foyer. Yet what I miss most is just watching them play and simply being with them.

Visits have been limited and I try to make anytime with them ‘quality time’. I know they will be okay and that children are resilient, however I still want to make it easier for them if I can.

When they visit I try to spend some time with them each individually, they have a scrapbook to draw me pictures of what they are doing without me, I have recorded them bedtime stories so they can hear my voice, I have sent them drawing with special messages about how proud I am of them, and we try to Skype daily.

They like carrying around the phone with me on skype just so I can ‘play’ with them. When they visit I try to get them involved – they help the midwife check mummy and the baby. Yet I think the most important thing I have tried to do is to be honest with them. They know mummy will come home; it is just going to be a while.

A hospital room is fairly stark for a little one and they soon turn to rascals. So it is for them and the thousands of other little visitors who come to meet their new baby siblings every year that I launched a campaign for toys to fill the space in the beautiful new Percy Phillips family room at Maternity Services Southmead Hospital.

The feeling of isolation and solitude within the hospital walls is quite overwhelming at times. For reasons I understand visiting hours are restrictive, with friends only being able to come to the ward for 2 ½ hours a day.

An hour and a half of this time is at peak school pick up time, which really prevents a lot of mummy friends from visiting. Even partners can’t come in before 10am; so my husband has been known to pass me a food parcel through the locked windows before he starts work!

While the new Southmead hospital is equipped with patient wifi, the maternity ward hasn’t yet moved on. So while I am managing to Skype my friends and family (largely from the hospital foyer in the new building) I am acutely aware that this isn’t possible for many women here, making their stay even more isolating.

I have learnt to enjoy the ‘simple’ things being in here. Little pleasures really do become greater – watching the trees outside my window I have seen the leaves turn to red, fall and then been blown about in the wind. So it wasn’t Westonbirt Arboretum, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

It is a challenge to feel normal and stay mentally strong at times. I have found it important to get out of bed, get dressed in clothes, put on some makeup, eat at table and go for a walk. ‘Becoming a patient’ is dangerous for ones sanity. Of course I am lucky that I can do this, despite having to be here I do not feel unwell in myself.

I have had to learn to rely on others. It is challenging to take a step back and accept help. A wise friend once told me though that if the tables were turned I would want to help – I would want to cook a meal or buy some more wool for the Wonky Eyed Teddy Bears we are currently knitting for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

So if a friend or stranger offers help its okay to accept it, there will almost certainly be a time where you can repay them. I have been warmed by the kindness and love from others while I have been here.

Hospitalization has cascading effects for families’ that, while staff maybe aware of, perhaps they can’t truly understand the implications and magnitude of. My mother-in-law has left her life and husband in Australia to come and live with my husband and children while I am here (for which we will be eternally grateful).

My husband feels pulled in a thousand directions trying to work full time, helping the children and his mother, and managing well ‘life’. My own mother is at my father’s hospital room in Australia while he undergoes chemotherapy. I am unable to be there for them.

Finances are stretched with added expenses. Different challenges face everyone and their families while in hospital, hopefully I will be a wiser doctor myself when I return to work.

They say patience is a virtue. One does need patience in here. Between learning Tai Chi on You-tube, knitting apps, ‘adult’ coloring and listening to music I am trying to stay calm. One can’t help but feel anger some days, however you only have to turn on the news or look around the hospital foyer to see that I am actually really lucky.

Susan McKenzie