My first time holding Isabella, May 31st 2010, I don’t have a clear memory of the first time I saw Isabella. It was a few hours after my c-section. The doctors had been able to stabilize her in the NICU and I got the green light to go see her. I don’t remember how I got to her room, but my husband tells me they wheeled me in on my bed. What I remember the most about seeing her the first time is how much I wanted to leave. Staring through the holes of her isolette, her 1 pound 6 ounce body was just too much for me to handle. My heart ached with an unfamiliar pain and I wanted it to go away. Through my sobs I begged them to bring me back down to my room. Here I was, mom to a very fragile and very premature baby and I was leaving her, almost pushing her away from me. My fear of losing her consumed me and robbed me of any opportunity I had to bond with her.
Thankfully, over time, my fear started to share some space with my faith. Slowly, I began accepting my new reality. Despite the fact that I couldn’t hold my baby, I was introduced to many other things I could do for her and lots of ways I could begin fostering a lifelong bond. I began pumping regularly in hopes that I might be able to supply her with what the NICU deemed “liquid gold”. Carrying my little test tube filled with 2ml of milk into the NICU, I finally felt a sense of accomplishment. While I felt like a failure so far in my ability to be a good mother, my milk gave me a purpose and a connection to my baby.
In the early weeks of Isabella’s NICU stay, on those long days when I couldn’t hold her, and the days when she was really sick and I could barely even touch her, I would pull a chair up close to her isolette. I read to her. Maybe she would recognize my voice over the loud vibrating oscillating ventilator and through the constant bells and alarms. It was an effort for me to keep my words steady and hold back my tears, but I was hopeful that my voice offered her something familiar in this crazy environment she was now living in.
On a day I was feeling particularly sad and disconnected her nurse mentioned that we could bring in our own blankets for her to use. I hadn’t realized that was something I could do and I quickly jumped at the opportunity. I bought her blankets of coordinating patterns and also brought in the ones from home that we had already received as gifts. What many moms may perceive as an inconsequential act brought me an enormous amount of comfort, and again gave me a sense of involvement and connection to my baby. We also began decorating her room with stuffed animals, photos from home, and posters of healing and health that friends had made. Her room was transformed into a “nursery” and was a reflection of all the love that surrounded her.
After 29 days, Isabella and I were finally ready for our first kangaroo care. Even though we had been physically separated for far too long, we had fostered our bond in other ways. When she was finally placed on my chest, I knew we belonged together. All the fears of her not recognizing me, or worse, hating me, melted away in that moment. Together we breathed in one another. I used a mirror to see her because she was still under two pounds and too small for me to see. She briefly opened her eyes. Maybe she was trying to tell me that it was all going to be okay. And in that moment it was good. She and I were exactly where we were meant to be, snuggled up, together again and oh so very content.