The Incubator


2015113020151202 (R4)

Clare Jenkins presents a personal insight into the world of premature babies.

It's something she knew nothing about until Christmas 2013, when her twin nephews were born, four months premature, at King's College Hospital in London.

They were immediately transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit. One twin, Harry, died three weeks later. The other, Jack, survived, with long-term health problems. Their parents - Clare's brother and sister-in-law - spent months by Jack's bedside. From knowing nothing about incubators, CPAPs, canulas and high dependency units, they found themselves plunged into a very different, and very intense world. They moved house and careers, and their 'normal' life turned upside down.

Of course, they're far from being the only ones. Every year, the KCH neonatal unit admits around 700 babies. Some are premature, others are full-term but with a variety of health problems. Some babies stay for just a few days, others for over a year.

Clare talks to parents whose everyday lives have been put on hold as their baby's struggle becomes all-consuming. As well as talking to her brother and sister-in-law, she hears from a mother whose son has a rare liver condition and a couple whose daughter - born at 23 weeks - is now at home after spending her first four months among bright lights and ever-bleeping monitors.

All these children owe their survival to the dedication and extraordinary high-tech skills of the doctors, surgeons and nurses, and to the care and expertise of a whole team of people, including ophthalmologists, radiographers, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists.

How do people in this immensely stressful situation - both parents and staff - cope?

A Pennine production for BBC Radio 4.