Sit. Stare. Pray. Sit. Stare. Pray. . . Repeat every day for hours. This pattern consumed me as a new NICU mom to micro-preemie twins. Machines were keeping them alive, doctors were determining their course of care, and nurses were doing the rest. Where did that leave me? For the first couple of weeks that left me perched on a stool next to one isolette and then the next staring and praying over my babies. I longed to do more. I longed to hold them, cuddle them, nurse them, feed them, bathe them – in other words, mother them.
During that first month, I held my babies’ tiny fingers through the opening in their isolettes or cupped their tiny heads in one hand and their tiny feet in the other. It would be a month before I could hold them against me outside of the isolette. Longing to do more than sit and stare, I redefined what mothering meant to me. I could not mother them the way I mothered my first child who I brought home from the hospital with me. I had to learn how to mother tiny infants in isolettes who could not breathe or eat or be held. I needed to feel like I was doing something. I needed to feel like I had at least a tiny bit of control over a situation that I knew I really could not control.
One of the first ways I did that was by bringing blankets and pictures from home. One of our friends’ church groups had made prayer blankets for our babies. I took those to the NICU and laid them over their isolettes. I taped pictures of our family and pictures their big sister had colored inside their isolettes. It made our little NICU bay feel a little more like “home”. I also bought inexpensive mp3 players and speakers and downloaded several soft, classical songs. When I left the NICU, I turned them on very low and set them inside their isolettes. I don’t know if they liked it or not, but it had to be better than the constant beeping of the monitors in the NICU.
During their care times, I let the nurses know that I wanted to do as much as I could. Our nurses taught us how to take their temperatures and change their miniscule diapers. Later in their NICU stay, our nurses taught us how to give them baths around the wires, how to change the cannula, and how to change the ng-tube since they were discharged with them. I tried to be at the NICU for bath times and feeding times as much as I could.
In those first days of sitting and staring, I would read books to them from the NICU book shelf. After a couple of days, we had read all the books on the shelf, and quite frankly, I was tired of reading childrens’ books. It dawned on me that the point was for them to hear my voice, not really reading comprehension at this point. I soon began reading books or magazines that interested me to them. When I was able to hold my twins, I sang to them. It wasn’t long before I ran out of nursery rhymes and Sunday school songs I could remember. I began bringing my iPod and listening to music when I held them. I’m sure the nurses did not enjoy my off-key singing, but it helped me keep my sanity. One can only sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” so many times before going crazy.
It took a while to feel comfortable reading and singing to my twins in front of everyone. Our NICU did not have separate rooms. Private, mother-child bonding moments like rocking, cuddling, and nursing your child often become public in a NICU setting. Monitors need to be checked, tubes need to be adjusted, feeding pumps need to be primed. Find ways that empower you to parent even when you can not hold your baby. Just remember – it is your baby; you are their mother.