Cheri and Baby Sam
When my son Sam was about 9 weeks old (-5 weeks adjusted as he was born 14 weeks premature) the chronic lung disease he suffered with had progressed to a point that doctors began serious interventions. He had been diagnosed with cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus that can be fatal to immune compromised people like premature babies. His oxygen saturation was dropping below a safe level for a baby of his tiny size and age. His illness was spiraling out of control, and doctors told me the next step would be to chemically paralyze him.
It is a fairly common treatment in neonatal intensive care units to use an intravenous paralytic to keep infants completely immobilized so that they can heal, or to prevent them from fighting with medical equipment like ventilators. Sam was trying to breath against the vent, which was preventing the proper exchange of oxygen.
Physicians administered the drug, set his ventilator to the proper support, stopped his breastmilk feeding pump, and told me he would be sedated enough with another drug to stay asleep under the paralytic. They told me he needed to stay in the dark, with a closed isolette, and minimal stimulation. I had to stop reading to him, stop singing to him, and stop touching him other than the one time every six hours that I was allowed to change his diaper, lubricate his eyes (they were open all the time due to the paralytic), and switch his position a little.
I sat next to his dark box every day watching his numbers. He wasn't getting better. In fact, he was getting worse.
Sam's darkest days
After a week or so, his little body had retained about two pounds of fluid, which is a great amount for a little baby who is under four pounds to begin treatment. Sam's eyes had become swollen shut, his tongue swelled out of his mouth, and his head had ridges from not being able to move from side to side. Every blood vessel was visible through his pale body, and tears would stream from his eyes, down his face, whenever nurses would stick rigid suction catheters up his nose to remove the mucous he wasn't able to swallow due to the paralytic.
He spiraled downward to a point where doctors told me they had tried everything, and it wasn't going to work. On the last day of the paralytic I stood there, helpless, as they used a bag to breath for my baby boy. They switched his ventilator to a machine that shook his swollen, limp little body all over the place. They poked at him, assaulted him, and eventually threw their arms up and said they would try it all over again later.
I began sobbing. I could barely form words. It had to stop. I shouted, “Leave him alone! Just stop... It's not fair. Please just leave him alone.” I told the nurse to stop the flow of the paralytic and the doctor commented that, “We usually take them off the paralytic before 'unplugging' them anyway...” He had doomed my baby to death.
I pushed everyone out of the room. And I opened Sam's isolette. I rested my hand on his pale and puffy little belly, and started reading Horton Hears a Who over and over and over again. I sang to him. I stroked his legs. I pumped a tiny bit of breastmilk and swabbed his lips and the inside of his cheeks with it every few hours.
After about thirty minutes of our time together, his terribly low oxygen levels started to rise. By night fall his numbers were higher than they had been in over a week. As the paralytic wore off he began to show signs of life. He wrinkled his forehead like he was angry. It was the first time he had been able to move in days and he was not happy about it.
He began sucking on his vent tube and was soon able to open his eyes. His fingers and toes followed with wiggles, and eventually he regained all movement. Over the next few days my mom and I massaged his legs with lavender lotion, continued to swab his lips and mouth with breastmilk, and I read and sang to him until my voice was hoarse. I kept my hands on him every single second I could, and talked to him even while he slept.
Sam snuggling on his Momma in his wrap
Sam made a complete and total turn around. It was October when I started this care for my baby, and about a week before Christmas he was taken off the vent completely and able to breath on his own - finally!
Every specialist and doctor and nurse who had worked with Sam during his NICU stay would come in and tell me his progress and well being was because of my care and my dedication to him. I didn't need to hear this to know it was true, but it was nice to know that they recognized the efforts that saved Sam's life.
Sam's Daddy wears him in his Sleepy Wrap
Today, Sam shows no signs of an oxygen deprived baby. He's finally home after 205 days in the hospital, and even though he has some physical delays and small medical set backs, there is nothing he can't grow out of with time and love and gentle mothering.
It is fact that if I hadn't stepped in and taken over his care in the NICU the way that I did, my little Sam would have died. They call him a miracle baby. But to me it's simple, natural "medicine" - a mother's love and touch is the first treatment any infant needs to be well.
Happy Sam today!
Kangaroo Mother Care Notes
The process of holding a baby on one's chest, skin-to-skin, is referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care. However, it is a practice that all mammals participate in naturally (watch a cat with her new kittens or dog with her newborn puppies). Kangaroo Mother Care benefits all human babies as well, and especially NICU babies, in several ways.
*KMC babies stabilize faster with skin-to-skin care than in an incubator (very few newborns stabilize well within an incubator during the first fragile hours of life).
*KMC babies have stable oxygen rates and breathing thanks to the steady regulation of mother's respiration.
*A KMC baby's heart rate is stable (mother's heartbeat regulates baby's heartbeat).
*A baby's temperature is most stable on his mother - in skin-to-skin care mother's chest automatically warms to warm a cold baby, while her core temperature drops if baby is too warm and needs to be cooled.
*Sleeping within an arm's reach of baby (as long as a parent does not smoke) also regulates all of his physiological needs in the same way ~ they are kept steady thanks to Mom's warm, even-paced body. We lose far fewer babies to prematurity, irregularity of breathing or heartbeat after birth, and SIDS all with the natural help of skin-to-skin holding, or Kangaroo Care.
Read more about the skin-to-skin benefits for all babies (full term and premature) at KangarooMotherCare.com.
Related Books on KMC:
The Premature Baby Book
The Vital Touch
Related Articles on KMC:
Kangaroo Mother Care
Kangaroo Mother Care Saves 2lb Premature Twin, Baby Jamie
Mother's Skin-to-Skin Goodbye Saves 20oz Baby
Exclusive Human Milk Diet Benefits NICU Preterm Babies
Cheri Lee is mom to two children, Baby Sam, and her 14 year old daughter. Sam was born at 25 weeks, 6 days gestation, weighing 2lbs, 5oz. He was classified as a "micro preemie," with chronic lung disease, retinopothy of prematurity stage 2-3, CMV, reflux, multiple pneumonias, and patent ductus arteriosis. Lee says she "can say for sure that DrMomma.org has helped Sam and I in so many ways! Between the information and support at peaceful parenting - it all came just in time!" Lee also heard of mother-to-mother milk sharing at peaceful parenting, which has come in helpful after her many months of pumping for Sam. Today, he is growing healthy and strong thanks to donor milk from mothers at Human Milk 4 Human Babies. You can read more of Sam's story at Sam I Am on Facebook.