My first night at home was very uncomfortable. I got very little sleep. First, I was anxious that my phone would ring in the middle of the night…and it would be the hospital…with bad news… Thankfully, my phone never rang. But, I was pumping breast milk every 3 hours; then sterilizing the breast pump parts; labeled the bottles to freeze and catalog the time and quantities of milk expressed. I was exhausted! Plus, I missed my adjustable hospital bed that I had grown accustomed to over the last 7 weeks.
But my level of discomfort was nothing compared to what my son was going through.
When I got to the NICU by mid-afternoon the first day after I’d been discharged, my son wasn’t in the traditional incubator. His new digs was open and it had the overhead UV lamp. The overhead ultraviolet light shone blue and he still had the green ultraviolet light that was placed underneath him. In place of a diaper, a surgeon’s mask was still wrapped around him, and it still looked obscenely huge.
I stood several feet back away from the incubator staring at my son. I was so scared to approach him. I had wanted to hold him, touch him, caress him, promise him that everything would be okay.
I took two steps closer to the incubator. I rested both of my hands on the of edge of his new bed. I watched as his chest rose and fell in sync with the respirator. I watched in awe as his chest cavity retracted inward in time sequence.
Very hesitantly, I nervously extended one hand and reached into the incubator and put my hand on one of his little feet.
He instinctively curled his little leg up closer to his body and began to wail.
It was the first time I had heard my baby boy cry. It was a heartbreaking moment. His wail was weak yet so mournful. His dry lips stretched open forming a circle. You could see a filmy string of saliva stretch at the corners of his mouth as his mouth opened.
I immediately withdrew my hand. My heart was shattering. It was the very first time I touched my baby…I made him cry.
Several moments passed and he seemed to calm down and relax his legs. I reached in a second time to put my hand on his little foot. Once again he curled his leg up, into his body wailing.
His rejection of my touch killed me. He was rejecting me and I took it personal. This was the very first time that I was attempting to physically bond with my son. And he was rejecting me.
Then it occurred to me. He thought I was going to hurt him. All he knows is pain.
For the past six days, anyone who has touched him has just given him pain. First, he sustained multiple bruises and contusions from the battering of my uterus from the weeks of unrelenting pre-term labor contractions. Then he suffered a birth injury during the delivery which resulted in nerve damage to his neck and arm. After that, he was poked and probed for blood work, his temperature, the insertion of an IV and eventually a PIC line. Then, the ultimate pain of having a collapsed lung and the doctors inserting a chest tube to save the damaged underdeveloped lung…without the benefit of anesthesia.
My poor baby. He doesn’t know the soft caress of a mother’s touch. He doesn’t know that I, his mother, would never cause him such pain. He doesn’t know that I would never hurt him. But he doesn’t know who I am.
After the awful realization, I became determined that this child will now who his mother is! He WILL learn the softness of a mother’s touch. More importantly, he will know the softness of MY touch, HIS mother’s touch. He will know that I am his mother and that my touch will not cause him pain.
Once again, I grabbed his little foot. Once again he tried to recoil. This time I did not let go. In a cracked voice I whispered to him “I am your mommy and I will not hurt you. You can trust me that I will not cause you pain. I am your mommy. Mommy won’t hurt you.” By this time I was bawling. Oprah would’ve called it an ugly cry. Tears mixed with mucus… Couldn’t tell them apart.
All I could keep saying was “I love you baby and I am so sorry you are so much pain. Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you…”