When was the first time you held your baby? It was a question posed some where on one of my social media feeds last night. Most of the replies were happy stories of a magic moment. I was unsure how to answer the question and had been thinking about the day since I read the question.
Charlie was ten days old when the nurse asked if I would like to hold her for the first time. Up until then, I hadn’t bothered to ask. I assumed that because Charlie did not tolerate touch, holding her was out of the question. My nod sent the nurse off to gather a few things.
During the wait, Charlie’s dad had wandered into the NICU from work. We stood side by side as we peered in Charlie’s isolette. Our faces were expressionless and our affect flat from exhaustion, shock, and sadness. “I’m going to get to hold Charlie” I muttered to him. The nurse suddenly appeared with a hospital gown and instructed me to put it on backwards.
I started to take off my shirt. Charlie’s dad look around at the people present in the open NICU and admonished, “You’re not going to put that on here, are you?” I replied, “These people don’t care. The nurse would have told me to go elsewhere if I should.” I continued to put on the gown as told.
Dressing in the NICU was my silent act of rebellion. Over the past several days, I’ve come to resent those other people. They were the ones that walked by my baby’s isolette and stared. Despite my presence, they made insensitive comments like, “I didn’t know babies that small could live” or “That baby is going to be here forever. I’m glad I’m not its parent.” They watched my very private moments (such as the first time I met Charlie) like it was their personal entertainment. If my privacy didn’t matter then, why should it matter now?
The nurse soon joined us in the few feet of space beside Charlie’s isolette and it became crowded. Charlie’s dad left to make room as the nurse untangled tubes and wires from the isolette. After she finished, she placed Charlie on my bare chest.
My right hand covered Charlie’s entire body as she laid motionless on me. During our cuddle, she stopped breathing twice. I had to rub her back and nudge her to remind her to breathe. I was only able to hold her for ten minutes before she was returned to the isolette because she was so unstable.
I cried as I handed her back to the nurse. I wanted to yell that it wasn’t enough time. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to hold my baby and dote on her as most parents get to.
Charlie’s dad returned and he could tell by my tears it did not go well. He didn’t bother to ask any questions. We had become accustomed to bad news. The nurse gently told me to keep up with kangaroo care as Charlie gets older.
I followed her advice and tried to hold Charlie about once a week after that first failed attempt. They went as poorly as the first attempt with frequent apneas, bradycardias, and desats.
Finally, when Charlie was about a month old, she tolerated kangaroo care. Finally, she was able to perch on my chest for hours at a time. She cried out and swiped in my direction each time the nurse grabbed her to put her back to bed.
We don’t have a magical story of our first kangaroo care session. But, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth telling.