Leaving the secure if somewhat claustrophobic bubble of the NICU after three months was tinged with many conflicting emotions. We so desperately wanted to be a “normal” family, yet in our hearts we dreaded the day that the enormous responsibility of caring for our daughter would be placed on our shoulders alone. Our parenting journey to date had been filled with medical emergencies, medical interventions, enough medical personal to fill a football team and very little family time to enable us get to know Amelia.
“No society can long sustain itself unless its members have learned the sensitivities, motivations and skills involved in assisting and caring for other human beings.” -Urie Bronfenbrenner
The process of becoming a caregiver has always intrigued me, ever since I decided, many years ago, to become an early childhood special educator. As part of this process I volunteered at schools, institutions, and sheltered workshops that provided services to both children and adults with physical and learning disabilities. I was struck by the comments from family, relatives, friends and even individuals, newly introduced to me, when they discovered that I was interested in becoming a special educator. They often praised me for my interest in caring for these children and adults. This praise was usually followed by “I could never do that, it would just be too difficult for me;” or “It takes a ‘special’ kind of person to do that kind of work.”
Feeding is a developmental milestone for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) – both for those born prematurely, and for those born with medical problems. Even though we are saving babies who have more medical problems, or who are very premature, the average gestational age that babies are able to eat everything and go home continues to be around 36–37 weeks. Babies born with medical problems are often not able to eat everything until closer to their due dates (40 weeks).
My perceptions of motherhood prior to the birth of Amelia were filled with moments of touching, loving, holding, breathing in her smell, caressing and caring, however, the reality that I was faced with was so very different. For three months I traveled 90 minutes each way to spend 12 to 14 hours sitting at my daughter’s incubator. There was very little touching or caressing her tiny frame. The only smells detectable were the smells of the hand sanitizers, the hand wash soaps and the unit’s cleaning products. I didn’t get to hold Amelia until she was four weeks old even though my baby girl lay inches away from my tear stained face. I reached out to her in my head and heart and I’m certain that you could hear my heart beating in my chest every time her monitor alarms triggered.