Our visions of having a new baby are often about going for stroller walks in the sunshine while baby naps, rocking baby to sleep in our arms in the most beautiful chair money can buy, watching for those first smiles, first laughs, first gassy grins. As a nurse who has worked in pediatrics, intensive care and neonatal intensive care for 9+ years, I understand that occasionally our biggest dreams can be clouded by an illness of a baby.
I really believe that people can grow and gain from experiences spent in hospital. The experience makes you dig deep as a mom, makes you pull out your inner mama-bear instincts, and it allows you to find the beauty in the small wins. Through my experience as a nurse, I know that part of part of coping with the change is allowing mothers to continue to have as much autonomy and control as they can while in the hospital.
Creating “new mom” experiences is part of allowing moms to cope and heal when visions of perfect motherhood dreams go awry. Moms and partners have more strength in those quiet, difficult moments than the greatest superheros you could ever see in movies. I have seen this personally and professionally and I continue to see this every day that I work at the Children’s Hospital. When families are faced with hospitalization, the most important role of a nurse, a support person or outsider looking in is to continue to give them the small pieces of control that may diminish with an illness.
Encouraging moms to give the first bath is a huge milestone. Something we often think of as routine is a life changing moment to a mother who has spent 4 weeks looking at her baby through a warming bed. Initiating skin to skin is another experience that we can’t put a price on. Skin to skin promotes bonding, regulates breathing, prevents infection and encourages breastfeeding initiation. Giving mom the choice between breast or bottle feeding, keeping her interactive with her baby when she wants to shut down, encouraging mom to continue to sing, laugh and talk to the baby when they’re hospitalized can have so many positive impacts on moms and babies. There is even evidence to show that a pre-term baby can recognize and react to his mother’s laugh through a warming bed.
Giving support to a mom of a hospitalized baby is more than cooking meals (although I would never discount the gratitude in a home cooked meal). Knowing that risk for postpartum depression and anxiety increase exponentially with birth trauma is vitally important in supporting a mom. Being an ear to listen when a mom cries or being willing to quietly let her express her feelings in a safe place can increase empowerment a family dramatically. Most importantly, allowing them to make choices and giving her the space she needs to process will be a key element in supporting her through her experience.
To the mom who is reading this from the bedside of your baby— keep going—- keep advocating for yourself and your needs—- and know that you are far from alone.
Lots of love,