If your child has complex health needs, you may be familiar with the NICU rollercoaster. The fear, love, confusion – the navigation of unchartered waters.
Having had my own NICU journey with my daughter, when I came across The First Breath by journalist Olivia Gordon, I was intrigued. I read it with interest, and it did not disappoint. It is an honest, well-researched and insightful book that combines medical memoir with investigative journalism. It explores Gordon’s personal journey, as well as the skill and dedication of the professionals who battle to save children like hers, and mine, every day.
Nine years ago, Gordon was 29 weeks pregnant when a scan revealed that her baby was critically ill, his lymphatic system failing. His chance of survival was just fifty per cent.
Thanks to a risky operation in utero, he had surgery and survived. But the journey was far from over. He was rushed away at birth and placed in an incubator, while dozens of medical professionals battled to keep him alive. Every day brought a new infection, a new diagnosis, a new operation, a new crisis. But, after five anxious months in hospital, he went home.
What does The First Breath explore?
Gordon describes the fraught emotions that come with having a baby with severe health needs. From the initial innocence and expectation that a pregnancy will go smoothly, to a shock diagnosis and the turbulent journey that ensues.
But it doesn’t stop there. Gordon provides an analytical view of the NHS heroes involved in fetal medicine and neonatal care – from professors and nurses to midwives and more. She touches on the ethical issues we might encounter and asks us to think about how we use terminology – during pregnancy and beyond.
A relatable read for NICU parents
The First Breath is extremely relatable. Gordon talks about navigating parenthood with an audience, and the guilt you can feel if you leave your child’s bedside:
‘Mothers of healthy babies can work out their own way of mothering in the privacy of their own home. In the neonatal unit, you’re learning, and making mistakes, in public. I couldn’t help comparing myself with the others, like another mother in the high dependency unit who was only in her early twenties and looked after her baby Jonny beautifully. If someone else stayed later at night than me or was already there in the morning when I came in, I felt pangs of shame.’
The First Breath is a fascinating and emotional page-turner. Gordon perfectly captures the complex emotions you feel when your parenthood journey doesn’t go as planned, and how vulnerable you can feel as a new mother with a sick or preterm baby.
Overall, Gordon marries cutting edge journalism with personal accounts to create a thrilling and insightful piece. A must-read for families who have spent time in the NICU, medical professionals, and anyone interested in fetal or neonatal medicine.
Where to Buy The First Breath
The First Breath
by Olivia Gordon
Published by Macmillan
Have you read The First Breath? Can you relate to your experiences in the NICU?
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