Any first time mum would be desperate to see their newborn child, so why could I not bring myself to see daughter? I was petrified of what I would see. I needed to gain strength and courage before I could make the biggest walk of my life, to see my newborn in the NICU.
It had been 12 hours since I had been rushed to hospital via ambulance and delivered a 1.8kg child at 32 weeks gestation. Imagine going to your OB because your baby’s movements seemed to have slowed down and an hour late being rush to surgery to deliver your premature baby.
To say I was in shock was the understatement of the year.
I had somewhat come to terms with the situation and had been shown photos of this tiny baby lying in a humidicrib, but no amount of photos can prepare you for the moment you first see your newborn in a NICU.
I walked up to the humidicrib and their laid my daughter, she looked liked a tiny perfect doll, except that she had cannulas in each hand, wires attached to her feet, a NG tube (feeding tube) tapped to the side of her mouth and the most prominent feature a Cpap machine that pushed continuous oxygen into her tiny, underdeveloped lungs.
I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation and a flood of emotions overtook me, but the strongest feeling was that of protection, as a mother my number 1 priority was to help my child get past any hurdle and obstacle that she would face and to give her strength to fight.
Each day I would shuffle to the NICU to see Charlotte and whilst I was recovering and getting stronger post surgery, so to was my daughter. She was always striving towards that end goal of coming home.
On the third day of Charlotte’s life was the first time I got to hold her, although it may seem so daunting and awkward to hold a baby that weights under 2kgs, it was neither. I sat upright in chair and a nurse very elegantly, considering all the wires and tubes put Charlotte into my arms. At that moment I felt like the first time mum that I was. It is the strangest feeling in the world to give birth to a child and then they are not there with you. Visitors would inquire if they could see Charlotte, but she was shut off from the world like a precious gift that couldn’t be unwrapped until it was Christmas day.
Each day we would arrive early and leave late and although there is not much you feel you can do as a parent for us it was just so important that we be there for her, sitting next to the humidicrib, waiting, watching but also learning, learning about our new daughter.
During Charlotte’s time in the NICU there were two highlights in my day.
The first was ‘cares’. Cares take place every six hours and this was our time to be a parent. We got to wash and clean Charlotte’s face and body with a soft, disposable cloth and we got to change her nappy. Nappy changes for most parents are I suspect, a hated experience, but when your child is locked behind a Perspex box for nearly the whole day, completing the simple parental act of a nappy change becomes a true highlight.
Initially my husband was petrified of trying to change her nappy. He was petrified because not only did you have to change this nappy on a baby who is so tiny and fragile and had legs that looked like little matchsticks that could be snapped if you weren’t gentle enough, but also you had to complete the task with each arm through a separate opening into the humidicrib.
I pushed my husband into helping with the changes, we had only limited physical contact with Charlotte and I relished any moment that we could be her parents and make physical contact with her and it was important that her dad had the same amount of time doing normal parental things, no matter how daunting it seemed.
The second highlight was the ‘kangaroo care’, the most blessed time of any parent’s day in the NICU – the moment that you get to hold your child. Because it takes so much energy for your child to be held, Charlotte would be taken out for about three hours. She could only be held once a day so we strategically planned whose day it was to hold her. I would sit in the most comfortable recliner chair and only have a hospital gown on the top part of me. Once she came out of the humidicrib Charlotte was placed onto the bare skin of my chest and then wrapped over with the hospital gown and another blanket to help keep her warm. This simple act of holding your baby – the most natural thing in the world for any parent – but for us it became our most treasured time to simply sit and soak in our beautiful child.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem