Holding babies on a Sunday morning….
I volunteered this morning, holding babies at the step-down ICU at a local pediatric hospital. It was the weekend so it was “quiet”, meaning the tide of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, consultants, and therapists is stemmed drastically. The babies, and therefore all their leads and tubings, are left undisturbed and so the beeps, alarms and buzzes are less frequent The only noise is the idle gossip of the nurses gathered near the front, some of them holding babies as they chattered. I walked in to the thin mewling of a 6-week old, hungry and sleepy and needing comfort. The nurse went into his private room, putting him in my arms and explaining he had just been bathed and he needed help falling asleep. I spent the next hour and a half rocking him gently against my chest, my chin tucked into his silky black hair. I kept my hands and arms pressed around him, propped on a pillow, watching his heart beat and breathing rate on the monitor, watching the clock tick away the minutes. Sometimes he just lay there, eyes open but not moving, sucking quietly on his pacifier, and other times he actually slept. I could tell by his breathing rate when he was actually asleep.
I looked around his room as I rocked, noting the pair of red adult shoes, the overnight duffel bag, the childish drawing tacked up. This child was far luckier than most of the babies there. I listened to the disjointed gossip of the nurses outside the room, shifting my weight carefully, breathing slowly for this baby held against my heart. I willed this baby health and happiness. After an hour and a half, the baby sleeping deeply, I carefully put him back in the crib, stomach down as he had been against my chest. I fussed over him to make sure his crib rails were pulled back up and his lines weren't tangled. Then I tip-toed out, peeling off my gown and emerging back into the bright lights of the unit. I carefully sanitized my hands and then began slowly making circles around the unit. I peeked into cribs and rooms as I went, looking for babies needing any comfort measures. I could peer at a monitor in a private room and tell by the jig-jags and spikes that a baby was in distress. Each time today, the answer was simple – a lost pacifier. Digging carefully around the blankets around a baby's face, I could find the pacifier to pop back in. I'd adjust the blankets in such a way that it was less likely the baby would lose the pacifier, and then move on. I felt like a pacifier fairy as I repeatedly replaced pacifiers for the last part of my shift. When I left, I felt more at peace that I had been in a while. Sitting there, alone with my thoughts and sleeping baby, is a wonderful way to spend a morning.
I've been asked by several people how to get a volunteer position holding babies. The easiest thing to do is contact your local pediatric hospital and ask how to become a volunteer, period. Typically you can pick the area you'd like to volunteer in, and you can then choose a ward such as a special care unit, that is filled with babies. Don't specifically say you just want to “hold babies” at first because from what I hear, hospitals aren't thrilled with that…even if ultimately, that's exactly what you end up doing. I do want to point out that these areas ARE somewhat intimidating – lots of beeping monitors and tubes and lines. But you get used to it quick, and these babies can use every ounce of love you have.