There is something about the first time your baby is placed on your chest, skin to skin, that feels almost holy. The fragile nature of it, feeling your baby for the first time, beginning to truly bond, whispering little words of love; it is magical. Amid the reality and harshness of the NICU, Kangaroo Care is one of the most loving, tender experiences you can imagine. That most special moment for me occurred more than four years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was a Friday. James was almost 6 weeks old (39 days to be exact). Andy was back at work a few days a week and I was at the hospital by myself that day. Kangaroo Care had not been discussed, other than in future terms. “It will be so awesome when you get to…” At our hospital they typically begin doing Kangaroo Care when babies reach 30 weeks gestation. James was only 28 weeks. In NICU terms, two weeks might as well be a lifetime. You didn’t dare to dream about things that might happen in two weeks.
James was having a tough day that Friday. He had been taken off the oscillator (high frequency ventilator) and placed on a conventional ventilator two days before. That was a huge step for him. James did ok at first, but was really struggling by Friday. His blood gasses weren’t good and they had just about maxed out the settings on the new vent. His nurse, Genna, was concerned that James would be back on the oscillator that night, and would be on it for quite some time. James could be Kangaroo’d on the conventional vent, but not on the oscillator. I was absolutely shocked that afternoon when she asked if I wanted to hold James. I really wanted Andy to be there, but it was either then or wait, possibly weeks, so of course I said yes.
I scrubbed and sanitized, then sat in the comfy kangaroo chair and watched all the commotion as they prepared James to be placed on my chest. This was a big deal. Several nurses came to assist Genna. I remember feeling a slight panic as I watched them and saw how involved this was going to be. I thought something must be very wrong with James if they are going to all this trouble to let me hold him. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I finally worked up the courage to ask if James was okay. I couldn’t quite get the words out before tears started to fall. Thankfully Genna knew what I was trying to ask, and she assured me James was fine.
It was a very coordinated effort as they moved James to my chest. One nurse moved James and his breathing tube, and other nurses moved the rest of the wires and tubing he was attached to. After all the preparation, the actual movement took only seconds. The nurses worked together to secure his tube and wires, and made sure he was satting okay. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe how tiny he was. It was the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced. This was my baby. My sweet baby boy. They propped up a mirror so I could see James and watch his face. His eyes were huge! His body hadn’t moved that much since his delivery. I’m sure it rocked his world as much as it did mine. Before long James relaxed, his oxygen evened out, and he slowly fell asleep. It took me a little longer, but I relaxed too. Skin to skin contact does amazing things for babies and for Moms. James could finally hear my heart beat and breathing again. Familiar, comforting, sounds he had been missing since birth. I felt more like a mom than ever before. I was providing actual comfort to my baby; something I hadn’t truly been able to do until then.
Many more days of Kangaroo Care would follow that one, with both Dad and me. And James did not go back on the oscillator that day. Maybe it was a coincidence, but I like to think Kangaroo Care that afternoon had a little something to do with it. I believe somewhere in his brain it connected us. He knew he wasn’t alone, and somehow he found the strength to fight on.