The most helpless I ever felt was right after my daughter was born eight years ago.
Although she was considered full-term at 38 weeks, she was only 4 pounds and 2 ounces at birth and was born with a congenital heart defect. She experienced respiratory distress upon entering the world, and was immediately intubated and taken to the NICU. Just a few hours later she was transferred to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at a children’s hospital in another state, while I stayed put.
I was discharged the following morning after only one night hospitalized postpartum, so that I could go see my daughter. My first baby. (Did I mention this was Christmas Day?) My family drove me the hour plus route to see my little girl. All I could do while there was sit at her intensive care unit bedside. She was hooked up to so many tubes, wires, and IVs. She was surrounded by medical equipment. I could not hold her in my arms due to the set-up. All I was able to do was wait with her and gingerly stroke her little hands.
With each passing day, we saw improvement in my daughter. She was weened off the ventilator and disconnected from many of the machines. She stepped down from intensive care to the general pediatric cardiac floor. But, we knew hospitalization would be long since she needed an open heart surgery. Due to her tiny size, the surgeon wanted her to grow before getting the procedure she needed, since her little heart was holding its own for the time being with the help of medication and other supports. More waiting.
She needed to be in an isolette until the time of surgery. The more hours in the isolette the better, we were told. We were able to hold her then, but limited in the amount of time she could be exposed to the room air. I was also told that she would need to be tube fed until surgery and that I could not nurse her. This was another blow I received as a new mom trying desperately to bond with my newborn. I chose to pump my breast milk. It was all I could do.
Then one day we were assigned a nurse who had previously worked in the NICU. I believe her name was Lynn. She asked us if we had ever heard of Kangaroo Care. “What’s that?” we wondered. She explained that Kangaroo Care was the act of holding your baby skin-to-skin. No one had mentioned this before. No one had given us this option until Lynn. She explained about all the physical and emotional benefits of Kangaroo Care. “Yes!”, we said. Of course we wanted to try that.
Kangaroo Care changed everything.
Kangaroo Care helped me to feel more connected to my new baby, who honestly seemed to belong more to doctors and nurses than to me.
Kangaroo Care allowed me to bond with my newborn and feel her tiny heart beat against my chest, experiencing the closeness that we both needed.
In a time where it felt like there was nothing I could do for my own child, Kangaroo Care gave me purpose.
It truly changed my experience as a new mom. And for that I will always be grateful.