Helen’s baby, James, was born at 28 weeks old, weighing just 2lbs. During the first few weeks of his life, he was cared for at James Cook University Hospital’s Neonatal Department in Middlesbrough.
Through a partnership with premature baby charity Bliss and the James Cook neonatal department, our Middlesbrough Reading Campaign provided Helen with books and advice on reading to her premature baby while he was in hospital.
The first book Helen read to James was Peter Rabbit. “To be honest, I felt a bit silly at first,” she said. “Other families were in the room, the nurses all had important jobs to do and here I was sitting with my baby and reading Peter Rabbit. After about three pages though I realised that wasn’t the case at all. This was the most normal thing in the world – I enjoyed it and I hoped that James did too.”
After reading Peter Rabbit to James, Helen moved on to The Gruffalo, The Lion Who Wanted To Love and Guess How Much I Love You. “I wanted to be with him as much as possible, but I was only able to spend the first eight nights at the hospital.” she said. “One of the things which helped with leaving him was to have a routine. Before I left, we had a story together. I then said goodbye and felt better about leaving him for a little while. The books and stories were an important part of my time in James Cook – they were also a godsend for our family.”
Helen was also able to get her family and friends reading to James too. “It was a chance for them to bond with James too and to be able to do something with and for him,” she explained. “My friend’s children even sent me video messages of themselves reading to James!”
Helen thought that reading, speaking and singing to James was helping him, but she wanted to know for sure. One morning, when he was five weeks old, he was getting unsettled during a tube feed. Helen began singing to him and he immediately calmed down and relaxed. “It was one of many moments that I can only call magical,” she said.
“I’d been reading and singing to him for weeks; I was sure it was helping us bond. But there was always a slight doubt in my mind. Did he really hear? Could he tell the difference between one noise and another? Did he know who I was and that it was my voice? That was the first time I knew 100%, no doubt that he knew my voice. Among all the other sounds and people involved in his very young life, he knew me.”
James is now at home with Helen and getting stronger every day. “We have moved on from Peter Rabbit,” she said. “Room on the Broom is the current favourite! The library has continued to grow but his dad is still more likely to read him the sports pages that one of his stories. But who cares? He’s still hearing voices and words and its preparing him to be a Boro fan!”
Helen wants other mums to know how important reading, talking and singing to your premature baby are. “Reading to James helped me to feel like I was really being his mum,” she said. “The hospital could take care of his medical needs but no-one else could be his mum – and being the best mum I could be meant reading to him, and it always will.”