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NYT's Neonatal Nursery

NYT's Neonatal Nursery

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Published by LauraNovak

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Published by: LauraNovak on Dec 10, 2009
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12/8/09 1:09 PMA Family Gone AWOL and a Baby Gone Awry - The New York TimesPage 1 of 3http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/29/health/29CASE.html
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009
 A Family Gone AWOL and a Baby Gone A  wry 
By LAURA NOVAKPublished: Tuesday, April 29, 2003
Our only child was born seven years ago with a rare birth defectrequiring multiple surgeries and three months in neonatal intensivecare. When Max turned 4 and trotted off to preschool clutching a plasticdinosaur, I returned to the hospital as a nursery volunteer.During Max's life there, I was consumed by the numerical minutiaeof his case. Unconsciously, I felt that if I obsessed about the scienceof his body, I would protect myself from falling in love with his soul.Just in case.I was an intensely vigilant mother. I knew the caloric value of every cubic centimeterpumpedinto Max's bod y . I wascross-e yedfromexhaustion,yet Icould not imagine mothering a hospitalized baby any otherway. Cuddling needy babies became the payoff for my private agony. It was the inverse of my mothering experience. With another woman's baby, I could ignore the medical detailsand allow myself to feel something safely.Some nursery babies live short lives or have simple diagnoses, leaving those caring forthem little time to attach. Others with birth defects, diseases or incurable complicationscan inhabit our hearts for a year. Some infants are opiate dependent, with mothersserving time. Some mothers go AWOL, overwhelmed by the colliding social and medicalforces of their lives.For several years, I managed the emotional vagaries of volunteering. I brought homephotos of favorite babies. I bonded with mothers and hugged foster parents goodbye. Buteach time, I detached. Each time, by giving back, I let go.That is, until the morning I met a baby whose life threatened to undo mine. He washidden under a quilt cover, connected to myriad machines. The nurse helped drag thetubes and wires to a rocking chair, where I cradled his disfigured body. She said his 
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12/8/09 1:09 PMA Family Gone AWOL and a Baby Gone Awry - The New York TimesPage 2 of 3http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/29/health/29CASE.html
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amy no vs. ou oue my ours or mThe boy had been a micro-preemie, born under 24 weeks and resuscitated againstmedical advice. He was blind, deaf, brain damaged and spastic. As the months progressed, his normally upbeat nurses grew increasingly morose andsullen. Two of my son's doctors pulled me aside and said the baby was an emotionalsinkhole. They advised me as a volunteer, and as a mother, to quit the case.I foolishly ignored their wisdom. One particularly bad day, I pinned down the baby'sthrashing arms as the nurse retaped his endotracheal tube. I impulsively hissed aloudabout the mother tolerating his suffering."She never sees it," scoffed his nurse, ripping off her latex gloves.Staff members, typically discreet, grew openly distressed. A rare meeting with the family had fueled their irritation. Support services were offered to help bonding begin.Transportation was not an impediment to visitation. Time away from work was not theissue. As the family's absences punctuated the boy's chart, I searched for ways to connect withhis soul. I stroked his limbs in familiar patterns and plied his sense of smell by spritzingthe same perfume before each visit just as I had with Max.Just as the doctors predicted, my insomnia began. The baby's tortured body permeatedmy thoughts. "You don't need to do this," my husband said after one particularly sleepless night."But he doesn't have a mother," I whined."Actually," my husband corrected me, "he does." As I raged against this woman's choices, I had to wonder whether, perversely, I really envied her detachment and the seeming insouciance of her decision to let others sweat itout. She had escaped the daily trauma and I, among others, had assumed it for her.One morning, I accompanied the baby to surgery. The family was customarily absent. He was agitated and writhing. The numbers on the monitor dropped and I told a surgery tech that those were not this baby's normal levels. I could name his recent test results. Icould spout the titration of his meds. Suddenly, I realized that I knew too much.The next week, after I scrubbed in, I was stunned to find the baby's crib empty. Hisnurse resignedly said that he had gone home (to a family finally ready to take him). Forso long, I had mourned this baby's presence. Now I grieved his absence.The nurse hugged me and I pressed my face into her gown and cried. Then for the firsttime, I left the numbers and emotions behind and walked away.
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Steve U added this note
An incredible story, all the more so for that it happened. I have no basis on which to compare emotions and experiences, here. I admire the courage, the dedication. Wow.
LauraNovak added this note
No one can really judge another's journey, can they? We can't always appreciate what difficulties lie beneath others' decisions. I learned so much from these nurses. And from the other parents. Thank you for reading and imparting your own hard-won wisdom, Jed.
Jed Diamond added this note
Thanks Laura. We had challenges when we adopted Angela when she was 3 months old. Her first few months were difficult and it was only the beginning. We learned to love her and struggle through our own internal conflicts with ourselves, each other, and her biological parents. She just turned 38 and is a mother of three. What a journey we are on.
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