When you have a premature infant, there is no flourish of excitement waiting to have your fresh baby settled onto your chest. Even term c-section mamas get the pleasure of a close-up view of their baby, often snuggled by a proud daddy.
We were lucky. We only had to wait four days to hold our babies. I held Toby while Rob held Eleanor in the chair next to me, then we moved onto Callista’s area, and I held her. The next day, I held Eleanor while sitting next to Rob holding Toby.
Kangaroo care, they call it. You sit in the NICU and bare your skin and wait while a nurse unravels wires and tubes, tells you how to sit with all the equipment without disturbing it, then, bliss.
My babies weighed between 2 and 2.5 lb. when I first held them. They were around 15 inches long, but they curled up against me and spanned from their heads tucked perfectly under my (ducked) chin to just below my breast line.
I cupped their little bottoms with my hand and was able to stroke their upper backs with the thumb of that same hand.
I stayed as still as possible and reveled in the tiny impressions Toby’s fingers left in my skin that first time.
Kangaroo care is magical. It heals the mother as well as the baby. I don’t doubt that Eleanor’s turn for the better didn’t coincidentally coincide with the start of kangaroo care.
I lived for the hour I could hold one of my babies each day (early on, our care team set us on a one-baby-a-day-for-one-hour schedule, so they were held once every two days).
Then it got old.
Kangaroo care means holding a baby on your chest, and your view of said baby – the closest, clearest view you’re afforded in NICU – is limited to hands and tops profiles of heads and faces. You can’t really see your baby, and suddenly seeing through touch just doesn’t cut it.
It was four weeks before I finally held my babies in my arms, “Just like I’m supposed to,” I remember saying that night. It was a happy accident. The nurse bathing Toby needed to change his wet bedding and had to run to get a replacement piece. It was easier to have me hold him while we waited. He was wrapped in a standard hospital receiving blanket with the blow by oxygen positioned near his face, and I melted.
She let me do the same for Eleanor, who came next in the bathing rotation, then Rob got a turn with Callista, who was third.
Holding my babies for the first time as tiny kangaroo joeys was soul-centering. Pieces fell into place, and I was home. Holding them for the first time in my arms was explosive. While kangaroo care felt magical, holding them in my arms just felt right.