Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kangaroo Care

Before my babies, I didn't put much thought into how and when I would hold my babies. I figured after they were born, someone would hand me my baby, and that would be the beginning of our lives together. But, my babies came out the size of bullfrogs, and J was so early that just our touch stressed him out. In his first four days, there was no holding at all.

When I first heard the words kangaroo care, I thought it sounded so exotic, when really it is the most natural of all treatments. All it meant was me holding J on my chest, his skin against mine. Sometimes I tucked him into a tank-top, and sometimes I snuggled him under a hospital gown. Sometimes we had a blanket over us. Sometimes we reclined, and sometimes we slept. Sometimes I'd look down, straining my eyeballs to focus on the baby under my chin, and I'd see his little eyeballs rolling around. He could smell me, hear me, and sense me. Sometimes this was our only peace in an entire day, the only moments when I truly relaxed. And then the monitors would ding or a nurse would say our time was up, and just like that, the spell was broken.

What did it feel like to hold a two-pound baby? Like snuggling a skinny, hairless kitten. Warm, smooth, bony, and fragile. With cords running every which way. It could also be stressful. For months, J would have an apnea spell and forget to breathe. We learned how to massage his back and talk to him, or how to prod him if he took too long to come back to us. We learned how to doze while literally keeping one eye cracked to watch the monitor with his stats. But, only once was he stressed on us; nearly every moment of kangaroo care, his numbers told us he was blissfully happy. High oxygen saturation, low heart rate. Our essence as humans makes us need that human touch, the warmth and comfort of a caretaker; yet, preemies as early as J have nervous systems that cannot handle the very touch they crave. So, kangaroo care is the simplest of all solutions: put a warm body with a steady, beating heart against the fragile body of a preemie and watch the preemie relax.

One of my frustrations was that kangaroo care was work for the nurses, and a few--just a few--of them let you know it. Some of them even discouraged it. They had to get the baby out and keep an eye on the baby's stats and put the baby back. That's all harder than if the parent just sat by the baby's bedside and asked nothing of a nurse. There was actually one spot in the NICU where doing kangaroo care was virtually impossible because there wasn't room for a chair. Discouraging kangaroo care for its inconvenience always put me in a foul mood.

I remember the last time I did kangaroo care with M. I knew it would be the end because she was just beginning to bottle-feed once a day. The nurses didn't want to overwhelm her, so we cut out kangaroo care and made bottle-feeding the only time a day that we handled her. I was holding her on my chest with one hand underneath her tiny, chopsticks for legs. My palm was on her diapered bottom, which easily fit in my hand. I lightly touched the reddish down she had for hair on her head with my fingertip, and I twisted my neck so I could look into her face. Her eyes were the size of my pinkie fingernail; her nostrils were dots. I memorized her and the feeling of her on me. It was dreamlike, because who can imagine she will ever hold such a baby? "I will remember this moment forever," I told my husband.

The value of kangaroo care simply cannot be understated. For the baby or the mama.

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