A Cleansing Experience
|By: Deb Waltman|
|When Harrison was in the Nicu last year, I
learned the true meaning of the word Helpless. I have never felt so scared, impotent,
powerless, HELPLESS, before or since. There was not much I could do for my tiny precious
son, born 14 weeks early and weighing less than 2 pounds.
I would sit beside his isolette daily, an innocuous presence to the various nurses, doctors and other parents. I read to him sometimes, I sang to him, and touched him through those tiny portals, always anxiously watching the monitors. Always fearful that something I did would set off those blasted alarms, harming this boy that seemed to belong to everyone but me.
I even did kangaroo care, holding him against my skin, under my shirt, and those times were priceless indeed, but also full of stress . I could not relax, listening to the beep beep beep of the monitors, watching his sats, waiting for his "real" mothers to take him away from me. Then something happened that turned the delicate fragile infant into my son. I gave him a bath.
I will never forget the feeling of first bathing my son. I was initially terrified, of course. His primary nurse was a very easygoing woman and wanted me to be hands on, which was helpful. I was as hands on as I was allowed to be- always took his temp for the nurses, changed his miniature (yet still too big!) diapers , dutifully giving them to the nurses to be weighed or checked for the occasional terrifying trace of blood. But a bath was a whole different animal.
He was so small and I was so afraid I would break him. I watched the nurses flipping him around like pizza crust, but I was scared to turn him from back to belly. How in the world could I handle him enough to bathe him?
Rose (his nurse) had me get the "tub" water, showing me how to test for temperature. I say tub, yet the basin was so small that in my minds eye it is the size of a container for butter. It is plenty big enough for Harrison.
We have the sample sized baby soap I was so eager to bring and use. We lay it and the towels out carefully, as if for a surgical procedure. Rose turns on an overhead heat lamp- it gives off a surreal glow but the warmth is comforting. All we needed was the baby. Rose chatted all the while, as we prepped for the big event, but I was as tense as a dentist being asked to perform heart surgery. How could I do this without messing up- not drowning him of course, I could not be that incompetent .
What if I let him slip somehow and frightened him so much that he would be scarred for life- afraid of bathtubs or water in general?
Who let me be a mother in the first place without taking some kind of competency test?
As I scrolled through my reel of paranoid daydreams, Rose began turning the monitors off. Whoa. Wait a minute there. How can we tell if he is de-satting? What if his heart rate goes nuts? I ask these and more as she patiently begins taking off the peanut sized socks I have put on him. Off go the smallest preemie outfit in the world, shrunk twice by my mother in an extra hot dryer, yet still big on my son. Next go the tubes and wires and tape (TAPE! I may never get over seeing tape all over my childs virginal paper thin skin.)
Suddenly he is there- just Harrison, aside from the ever present ng tube. He is there in all his beauty, the way he came into the world, taken from me before I could see him and claim him. He is there and he is all mine, and suddenly I am calm. I am not scared Debbie, frightened, helpless preemie mom who is all thumbs. I am just a mother, about to bathe her child for the first time. I am Harrisons mother.
I place him in the warm water and he lies back in it and lets me float him there. Maybe it reminds him of a place where he is safe and secure, tucked in my swollen belly, surrounded by amniotic fluid. I dont know.
All I know is he seems happy, for the first time that I have known him, and it is because of something that I have done for him. The moment is transcendent, a gift of grace that I will never ever forget.
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