When Jed was born I wanted nothing more than to hold him. We shared a body for 6 months and he undoubtedly was a part of me. I wanted to hold him and let him know that everything was going to be okay and that I was right there by his side. I wanted to finally meet him! But part of me also wanted to hold him because for a moment, I worried that it could be the only opportunity I would have to carry him in my arms, still breathing. What if he didn’t make it through the next few hours? Was this the only chance I would have?
It’s in those difficult moments that our faith is tested. Those moments where negative thoughts kick in, fear takes over and we start thinking of the worst possible situations and outcomes. Instead of having patience and trusting fully in God, we start doubting and growing anxious. At this point, I had much to learn and figure out.
From the days leading to Jed’s birth while in the hospital, I became Mrs. Google. I read so much about the NICU and what to expect with a micro-preemie. Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) was something I read about frequently. I wanted to know why it was so important for preemies (and full term babies as well). I learned about the benefits of this “magical” interaction; having your baby’s head on your chest, skin pressing against one another. It is so crucial.
It helps babies stay warm, regulates their heart rate and breathing, helps them sleep better and above all, creates a bond with their parents. I was anxious to finally do it with Jed but I was so scared about being able to hold him in such a fragile state.
So can you really hold your micro-preemie?
A 1.5 lb baby on your chest with oxygen support and with all sorts of machinery they’re hooked up to? Oh yes! As intimidating, complicated and frightening as the whole situation might seem, it is extremely important for everyone– baby, mom and dad. The thought of them out of the isolate with their fragile skin pressed up against yours seems so risky. But after reading all of the benefits and it’s importance, I hope you don’t hesitate to do it.
Every single day while in the NICU you should ask the nurse, “Can I do kangaroo care?” You may get rejected day after day because the nurses might feel the baby isn’t quite ready yet (they’re experts and probably right so don’t get upset). But one day, one VERY special day, you will ask and they will say YES. Don’t wait for them to ask you!
A NEW YEAR
It was 16 days before I was able to hold Jed since birth. Sixteen days where my interaction with him was limited to helping change his diaper here and there and letting him hold my finger in his isolate. I would see other moms doing Kangaroo Care and I was a bit envious. I wanted Jed in my arms and I wondered everyday why he wasn’t “stable” enough yet. I wanted to be in their shoes so bad that I even unwillingly stared sometimes. I’d look over at them, smiling at their babies, happy, singing, purely blissful while Jed and I were still being kept apart.
Patience (lots of it). I would have to remind myself daily that we would have our chance one day.
It was New Year’s Day and we were paying Jed his first daily visit. Rhea, his nurse, was on the day shift that day. We loved her! She’d been a NICU nurse for over 20 years and was full of knowledge and experience. She gave Jed (and us) tough love, but the kind of love that gives you comfort and peace of mind. We trusted her whole-heartedly with him.
My husband Jeffrey and I were sitting by Jed’s isolate, discussing if we should run downstairs to get a bite to eat as we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet. Rhea turned to me and said, “How long are you planning on being here mommy?” I told her maybe another hour or so and that we’d be back later. I curiously said, “Why do you ask?” and her response took me by complete surprise. “Well,” she said, “I was going to see if you wanted to hold him.”
A wave of emotions immediately took over as I started crying, trembling and became very nervous. She explained to me that Kangaroo Care works best when you can do it for a couple of hours. Taking the baby out of the isolate is not an easy task and can cause strain and stress if you have to put the baby back in within a short period if time. I looked at her and told her that I was not going anywhere. I don’t care if I had a meeting with President Obama himself, I would cancel any and all plans and sit there as long as I had to if it meant I got to hold my son. Jed was my priority.
They brought out a chair for me, very similar to a folding beach chair (a comfortable one), and I quickly sat down. I was not the least bit prepared and was wearing a dress that was far from comfortable. I unfastened the back of my dress a little and slid the straps down to expose my chest some more. Rhea brought over a warmer and put it over me along with some blankets.
Next thing I know, I look over and Jed’s 1.5-lb body is completely out of the isolate and heading towards me. He was so tiny and I was so scared. I zoned out and began focusing on the frightening sounds of his monitors. I knew what the alarms sounded like if his respiratory rate were to drop or his oxygen levels were to get too low. I even worried he wouldn’t like being out of the isolate with me. Was he going to breathe okay? Was this going to be too stressful for him? Please alarms, don’t go off (you’ll see the fear all over my face in some below pictures).
Within seconds, Rhea had Jed on my chest. I felt his sticky, warm skin against mine and all of my fears suddenly faded away. Jed’s hands were flat against my chest, my hand on his back, and we were both one, once again.
“I’m your mommy,” I told him, while I cried and held him as close as possible. I was feeling every breath he took, his chest pressing against mine as it rose and came down. This was the first time we were together, with nothing nor anyone between us. This was the first time I could speak to him without having to open a little glass door to make sure he could hear my voice. This was the first time since Jed was born that I felt like I was able to be his mom.
For three hours– THREE whole hours– we cuddled, uninterrupted. No alarms went off, no scares, no nothing. Just him and I spending time together. Jed slept better than ever before and was breathing beautifully. I knew he could hear my heart beat and I know it brought him comfort. My heart beat was serving as a guide for him to use and regulate his. This is what my motherhood is supposed to be like– me leading and guiding him always to the best of my abilities. “I’m your momma and you are not alone in here”.
I’VE BEEN THERE
In the week to follow, I held Jed two more times before he was diagnosed with NEC and became unstable (more on that in a future post). During that time, I spent almost another month away from him, unable to do skin-to-skin. Eventually, we were reunited again and there was no going back from there. Jeffrey and I took turns doing skin-to-skin pretty much every day until he was finally out of the isolate. Then we were holding Jed pretty much the entire time during our NICU visits, feeding him, bathing him, and everything else we were allowed to do.
A few times, I caught moms staring at us, especially towards the end of Jed’s NICU journey, and I knew exactly why. I knew they were looking at me, slightly envious, the same way I used to look at the moms who got to hold their babies when I couldn’t. It was all too familiar to me. Because both Jeffrey and I understood, we always made an effort to talk to them and tell them that not long ago we were in their shoes. The NICU has a way of making you feel alone and isolated, but we tried to make it a positive place by being there for other parents. We built relationships through our experiences and shared whatever knowledge we had gained about this process. It certainly makes it a little easier to talk about things with someone who has been there.
So, as this blog is for you, just as much as it is for me, if this is you right now, don’t be anxious nor envious. Know that you’re time will come to hold your baby and it will be one of the best days of your life. Do not hesitate to do it and put fear aside (that goes to you fathers as well!) In the meantime, get as involved as possible and participate in any activity, big or small, that you’re able to do. And don’t forget: ask everyday if you can hold your baby, because one day, all of those no’s will turn into a big, fat, happy “yes.”
Romans 12: 22 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.