Being a new (or at least fairly new at this point) mother…my brain has turned to mush. Every mama can tell you that your usual logical, organized, rational self takes a permanent vacation as soon as your child receives their womb eviction notice…or sometimes even earlier. My point is that some exact milestone dates escape me now on V’s journey home, but although the specifics are a little short at this time, the emotional memories are still very much alive.
One happy occasion, whose date must be filed somewhere in the ‘lost’ area of my brain, is the day that V was officially respirator free. Sometime before he was two weeks old, we were surprised to see our tiny man minus his scary looking accessory, chillin’ as usual in his little isolette. He seemed unfazed by this momentous occasion but Andrew and I may have shared some tears and a happy dance knowing that holding him just got that much easier.
Holding an infant on a respirator is serious business and you spend most of your time watching the monitor to make sure you’re not crushing or twisting any important wires, and that your kiddo is still taking in the O2 at an appropriate level. It’s also darn near impossible to pick up your own child when they’re attached to a breathing machine and you’re at the mercy of the very busy nurses who have much more experience navigating the technology.
The first day off of the respirator definitely gave us some pause, repeatedly checking the monitors to make sure that, yes, he really was able to do it all on his own. Most parents get excited for the first hand-hold, smile, and spit bubble…and while we got to those eventually Andrew and I celebrated a special ‘preemie’ moment when we could finally say ‘Our son can breathe on his own! Isn’t that cool??’.
One great thing that we were finally able to take part in, now that V was off his respirator, was this amazing practice called ‘Kangaroo Care’. Kangaroo care in the NICU involves a comfy recliner stuffed into your child’s bay for some quality one-on-one snuggle time with your infant. This is the first ‘long term’ cuddling you get to do with your child as a preemie parent (most often the mother)…usually for upwards of an hour, until someone needs to feed, bathe, examine, or weigh the baby and put them back in their little cocoon.
The first time they asked me if I wanted to do it I was a little unsure. V was still so small (under 3 lbs) and holding him was a scary proposition. I gathered up all of my courage and agreed…at which point I was handed an ugly yellow cover and told to strip down from the waist up while they got the chair. Did I mention that this was all in the middle of the NICU? Modesty is so over-rated. However, as time went on, I did learn to come visiting in a sports bra to help preserve the last remaining shreds of my dignity.
This near-nakedness is necessary for direct skin-to-skin contact with the baby. This is important for preemies so that they get to know Mommy’s smell as well as help keep their body heat up. Preemies are so small and so fragile that they don’t have the ability to regulate their own temperatures and a variety of methods are used to do it for them.
I settled myself down in the chair and V was carefully placed on my chest with his scrawny little limbs tucked underneath him. He preferred to be all curled up with his arms under his chest and legs tucked up against his stomach. The nurse then turned off the light and handed me his soother and a mirror. I lifted the mirror and stared at my sleeping son lying on my chest. Then I quietly went to pieces….it was the first time I really felt like a mother. In the dark corner of our room I finally got to just spend time with my baby, no tubes, respirator or IV attached…and savour it.
There were a lot of tear-filled moments in the NICU, both happy and sad, but this one was really profound for me. V’s slight weight on my chest, face snuggled into my collarbone and tiny, sleepy squeaks were all amazing things I hadn’t even let myself think about yet, and to be actually experiencing them was mind-blowing. For those of you experiencing NICU stays and preemie births…invest in waterproof mascara and don’t be ashamed to cry in public, some things are worth getting that emotional about. For those of you lucky enough to have full term, healthy babies I hope that you never ever take this ability to snuggle with your kids for granted…it truly is a blessing.
I actually fell asleep with V on my chest and the hour went by way to quickly but this became a solid routine for us. Every day, or at least when we could steal chair from all those other preemie mommas, I got to hold and bond with my tiny baby and it just got better from there. Andrew was definitely a little jealous of all of this ‘Mommy’ snuggle time and did his best to scam in on chair time when he spent time with V after work. To this day, nothing melts my heart more than seeing V sleeping on his Daddy’s chest…one of his favourite positions.