For me, the most difficult aspect of our time in the NICU was my own confusion about what to do. I'm an experienced mom, a breastfeeder for the past twenty years, a vocal proponent of attachment parenting. And there, in that crib, with all those wires and tubes, was the most vulnerable of all my babies. We don't even own a crib. I was at a loss. I had to ask permission to hold her. I even had to call ahead to see if it was a good time to come look at her. The people in the NICU were wonderful, goodhearted, devoted people, but rules were rules, all for good reasons.
We tried to breastfeed but her heartrate and respirations suffered. She just couldn't suck, swallow and breathe all at the same time. The neonatologist and the nurses assured me that all would be well with the tincture of time. But I was hyperventilating as I waited. I needed to hold my baby and I was fairly certain she need me to do exactly that.
Within a couple of days we both learned about Kangaroo Care. Honestly, I think we both knew all about Kangaroo Care before someone taught us the lingo. Basically, Mom unbuttons her shirt and baby is stripped down to a diaper. Baby lies on Mom's chest and enjoys skin to skin contact. THIS I know. This is how I take care of all my newborns. This I could do. Happily. For hours and hours at a time, there amidst the beeping and dinging of the NICU, I held Sarah. There, a curtain pulled around our own little corner, Sarah and I became us. Her oxygenation levels went up. Her breathing was steady. Her temperature seemed well-controlled even though she was outside the incubator. And my milk came in.
I pumped and pumped and pumped. That milk went down the gavage tube. That milk went into those early bottles. The medical staff was absolutely thrilled to learn that I had just weaned my toddler ( due to pre-term contractions six weeks before Sarah's birth). Breastmilk when a baby was mere 24 hours old was regarded as pure gold in that NICU.
Over time, she did indeed learn to nurse and I learned that she needed a good half hour or more of Kangaroo time in order to nurse well. It was amazing really how holding skin-to-skin was so highly correlated with her newfound ability to suck, swallow and breathe.
The day before she was released, the nurse (who was also a lactation consultant) ensured that I was equipped with a Moby Wrap and we wrapped in the NICU. I discovered that this was how I could reclaim those last six weeks in utero for Sarah. There in the Moby she is snuggled securely against me. I wear a nursing camisole with a blouse unbuttoned over the Moby Wrap. (No pictures, I'm afraid--it's perfect for at-home but not quite suitable for public viewing.) Better still, I wear my pjs. The recommendation is that moms (and/or dads) enjoy Kangaroo Care at least three hours a day.
I never put her down:-)
Hmmm...If Sarah had been a boy, I would have named her Joseph. Seems she's a joey after all.