People take for granted the experience of going into hospital, having a baby and then coming home soon after, they really do! Okay..so all new parents have to humour the midwife/ health visitor for a period of time but once they realise you’re not a maternal failure or an incompetent idiot, a sort of mutual ditching occurs and all that's left to do is put in the occasional appearance at the baby clinic.
But whilst the vast majority of Mother's appear to move seamlessly from the role of 'Pregnant Woman' to 'Mother of Child' there are thousands of woman just like me who experience a different sort of shift. Yes, I'm talking about the shift from 'Mum-to be' to 'Hospital visitor.'
In the early months, following Smidge's birth, I'd enter the intensive care unit each day to find her lying in the incubator, her features not yet apparent for all the paraphernalia covering her face.
Beside her would be a dedicated
guard nurse, overseeing her care.
Sitting down beside her, I would brace myself for the inevitable progress download before asking if it would be okay for me to touch her today.
That was the start of our bond, but rather than it being an intimate and all encompassing experience that excludes all else, it was a nurse led, risk assessed, machine supported, supervised encounter with V.I.P viewing opportunities.
Even the lightest of touches would throw Smidge in to a state of utter distress, she'd refuse to breathe,set the alarms off and prompt all sorts of unwanted attention. Hardly the sort of reception I had in mind when I envisaged our early relationship blossoming.
Anyway, because of instances like this, nurses play an important role in facilitating the interaction between parent and baby. This of course makes it seem like they are the boss of your baby, a most curious dynamic that I blogged about in my December post 'Im the Mummy'
However as time moves on in the Intensive Care Unit, so do the babies and as they become more stable and Parents become more relaxed, the nurses become all together more liberal about the level of parental involvement. It is at about this time that a second shift seems to occur , the shift from 'Hospital visitor' to 'Mum with baby'
But this does not always come across as a natural and seamless transition, and in cases like mine you can turn up one day and all of a sudden it's like you're expected to be the Mummy!
Yes..no longer do you have to ask permission for a cuddle it seems, you suddenly get a sense that you are now permitted to make ground breaking decisions like weather to change a nappy or wait for it..a cot sheet.
But since the issue of maternal redundancy/role theft is one that is brushed under the carpet, the change in expectations is not always put to you in plain English.
Once you have decoded the unspoken word, one must act quickly to prevent judgement. For if one does not seize the opportunity to do ones maternal best at all times then one is putting ones self at risk of being deemed 'unbonded' or negatively affected by the NICU experience.
I'll never forget, one day, about eight weeks after Smidges birth, The nurse looking after her took me down the corridor and pointed to a wall that had pictures on it illustrating 'Kangaroo care' ( holding your baby skin to skin on your chest) She started to talk to me about all the benefits, like I'd never bloody heard of it!
'Are you trying to tell me I should take her out of the incubator for some Kangaroo care?' I said, frankly.
'I'm not here to tell you what to do', she said 'Only you can decide that'
So that night I went home and I mulled over our conversation, and concluded that I felt quite offended. It seemed to me that the tables had only just turned on me, and now, after I had longed to take the lead on her care for so long, It was being implied that I wasn't meeting her needs and I was really hurt!
See for me, bonding with my baby wasn't about what I did or didn't do, It was about being the one who decides what to do for the best. It was about taking on the role of nurturer, and nurturing how I wanted to nurture and a little bit of space, to work out how I was going to go about it certainly wouldn't have gone remiss!
What about you? did you have any issues with role reversal when parenting in the NICU? I'd love to hear...