Traditional childbirth? Nope. There was nothing traditional about our pregnancy, delivery, NICU stay, or arrival home. Instead of wondering who my daughter looked like when she was born, I wondered if she was breathing. Rather than hold her and exchange glances as she associated mommy’s voice with my face, she was whisked away in a clear plastic box. At that point, I was just thrilled she survived. Her twin brother had not.
Once I settled back into my hospital room, a breast pump was wheeled in and the nurse encouraged me to see if my milk had come in. She explained that Kate would be ready for it as soon as I could send it up to the sixth floor. Since there’s no book called What to Expect When You’re Expecting a 25-Weeker, I literally had zero preconceptions about what Kate would and would not be able to do. And when I was finally able to visit her in the NICU, I assumed it would be months before I could hold her due to the amount of tubes and wires on (and in) her. I was wrong. I was allowed to hold her just a few days later. A joy made even better by learning that it was extremely beneficial for her health. They call it Kangaroo Care and with each passing day, I would push the time limits set by the staff by slinking down in my rocker and staying extremely quiet in hopes that they wouldn’t notice me still holding her after time expired or at shift change.
I had seen some mother’s breast feeding in the NICU but since Kate was one of the tiniest babies there, I was pretty sure I would not have that opportunity. Again, I was wrong. It took more than a month but eventually I was given a nipple shield and taught how to breast feed. This is one of the opportunities to bond that I hope you won’t dismiss automatically. Kate never became an enthusiastic breast feeder but she started each feeding time, once we were home, by breast feeding and then I would follow up with a bottle of breast milk (or combination of breast milk and formula as instructed by our pediatrician).
Even before you hold or feed your baby, you have the opportunity to bond with her in a way that no one can–with your voice. She has been listening to your voice as she developed inside you and it comforts her. Reading to her at her NICU bedside helps create a bond for you as well, according to TIME magazine’s website article, Reading to Newborns in the NICU Boosts Bonding.
A missed opportunity to bond, that I have recently learned about, involves a recording device. I remember some parents placing a musical toy in their baby’s isolette but you can also ask to play your voice or heartbeat. I would have been comforted knowing that Kate could hear me at times when I couldn’t be at her side. And the news gets even better! There are Harvard studies ongoing at Brigham and Women’s Hospital that associate improved physical development with babies who hear these recordings. You can read more by clicking on the “publications” link on the Lahav Lab website.
Ultimately it is YOU who takes your baby home and she doesn’t know that all babies don’t start out in the NICU. My wish for you is that you will let go of any feelings of resentment that bonding with your baby did not begin traditionally and begin bonding in your own way today.