Sometimes all anyone needs is a cuddle.
Mums, dads, babies, nurses, doctors.
I could do with one or three after two nights of rubbish sleep, a long day at work and a few days of having forgotten to take my tablets. I didn’t write yesterday because I was so worn out from Squidge refusing to sleep at night or during the day and also because I barely got five minutes to myself. The only time he did sleep was when I cuddled him in bed with me for a few hours on Friday night and when he sat in my lap for half an hour yesterday and snuggled.
I have been giving out lots of cuddles this week.
Today one of the mums at work was far more in need of a cuddle than I was.
I stood in the corridor with her while she had a little cry on my shoulder. Nothing serious had happened to her baby, she was just worn out with worrying about her little boy.
From everything he’d been through; surgery, multiple procedures, attempts at allowing him to breathe for himself.
Seeing him covered in wires and tube and sticky surgical tape.
Not being able to do things that other mums take for granted like picking him up and dressing him.
Proudly showing him off to friends and relatives.
Not even changing his nappy without worrying about disturbing wires or equipment.
Knowing that he was going to be spending his first Christmas in hospital.
Not really feeling like his Mummy.
She wanted to hold him and cuddle him, to comfort him and let him know that she was there but she thought that he was ventilated that she shouldn’t. Lots of parents think this or worry that they’ll interfere with the equipment and hurt their baby but it just isn’t true. So long as the baby is reasonably stable then there is very rarely anything to stop mum or dad having cuddles, even though it might take two or three nurses to lift the baby from the incubator and make sure they’re in a comfortable position.
She apologised for being so silly; that she knows it’s our job to look after the babies and it is. But it’s not just about that. We support the whole family for the whole time their baby is on the unit, not just when the baby is critically unwell or when difficult decisions need to be made.
Part of supporting the parents is making sure they have as many cuddles with their baby as possible, knowing if mum or dad haven’t had cuddles because they’re not ready or because they don’t think they should. Sometimes they’re desperate for a cuddle with their baby but think that they’ll be making more work for us or that they’re not allowed so they don’t ask.
Even though the babies are tiny or sick or both they still need their mummy and daddy. Cuddles, especially if mum and baby can have skin-to-skin contact has been shown to settle baby’s heart and breathing rate, help them control their temperature outside of the incubator and to help with their stress levels or with painful procedures such as blood tests.
Having a baby on NICU is stressful for the parents but it’s also stressful for the baby. They’re separated from their parents, put in a cot or an incubator on their own in what can be a bright and noisy environment. Alarms go off almost continually, sometimes quite loudly. The staff talk, other babies cry and sometimes we need to use bright lights to be able to see for complex procedures.
When there’s an emergency it’s about as far from a restful environment as you can get.
We try to keep noise and light to a minimum; we put padded covers on the incubators to block out the light and muffle any noise but sometimes just closing the incubator door is enough to start a stress response in a tiny premature baby.
The NICU experience for parents is stressful from start to finish. Even years later if they visit the unit or hear a noise that sounds like one of the equipment alarms it takes them right back to what, for most was the most stressful time of their lives.
In many cases the parents manage to stay strong through the most difficult and stressful times but once their baby is getting better and life starts to become a little more certain then they begin to struggle. When their baby is critically ill they are focused completely on their little one pulling through but once the adrenaline and the stress hormones wear off they find themselves feeling weepy and in need of reassurance.
In need of a hug.
This Mum and me, we talked through how she was getting on, how her little boy was doing really well from being so unwell when he was born. That even though his face is partially obscured by his breathing tube you can still see what a handsome boy he is.
That she can have as many cuddles with her little boy as she wants, that him being on the ventilator is no barrier and that he needs her and she needs him. He needs him mummy every bit as much as he needs to medical interventions that we give and as silly as it sounds, her touch has healing powers for him.
She smiles through her tears, telling me that I’ve told her just what she needs to hear; that it is important for her to feel like his mummy, that she’s not being silly or taking our attention away from him.
I’ve got mascara on the shoulder of my uniform.
But she feels better.
And so do I.