There’s a Pause Button, Just in Case

“It’s green. Really green,” said my midwife just after my water broke. The amniotic fluid was meconium-stained, and my mind went to the worst.

“So he’ll end up with some in his lungs?” I asked. 

She threw out a percentage of babies who aspirate meconium, and I don’t recall the exact figure, but it was in the 20s. And she said of those, not all babies have problems from meconium aspiration.

That was enough to keep me from worrying. After all, I had work to do.

My midwife told me that she would have the neonatal team at the ready, just in case. Of course, I wasn’t focusing on much of anything at that point, except getting the baby earthside.

When my sweet boy was born, there was no cry. Nobody in the room smiled. Instead, there was a mix of hesitation and silent commotion. Everyone faced the warming table, where the neonatal team was hard at work trying to stabilize him.

The nurse came over to tell me that I could hold him briefly, but that he would need to go to the NICU right away. When she handed him to me, I held him for just a moment, gave him a kiss and willingly handed him back. He was struggling, and I didn’t want to waste another second. I wanted him to go wherever he needed to go to get better.

We later found out that my baby had a collapsed lung and had to stay in the isolette under oxygen therapy. I couldn’t hold him for three days and I couldn’t nurse him for four.

I worried that the separation would tamper with our biological bonding mechanisms. I wondered whether he felt secure and comforted. I wondered how this would affect my hormones and my milk supply. I worried that he felt abandoned.

I wondered if it hurt to have a hole in your lung.

For my baby’s first few days, I would sit near his isolette, occasionally reaching in to trace his little fingers with mine.

On the third day, the nurse told me that the doctor thought that kangaroo care (holding the baby skin-to-skin) would help him make some strides toward recovery. I tried hard to keep it cool, but I failed hard – I burst into tears right then and there. I had waited so long to hold my baby boy.

When the nurse handed him to me for the first time, I felt that rush of love you hear about – that same surge of emotion that I felt right after the birth of my first two babies when the nurses handed them to me.

All this time, I thought I had missed my window. But it was there, waiting for our little reunion.

There was no doubt that that feeling was our bonding hormones at work. I knew because it was familiar. I had felt that before with my first two babies and it is an indescribable feeling that cannot be replicated. As for more concrete evidence that the hormones were in working order, I had been pumping 0.2 or 0.3 mL of colostrum at a time (drops!) and after I held my boy I filled a full 3 mL.

The next day, the doctor suggested I try to nurse him. I expected a learning curve, as he had gone days without learning to breastfeed instead of initiating within minutes of birth. But I was wrong. The little champ latched like a pro right away.

My sweet boy is now off of the growth charts, strong as a bull and he’s the happiest and most loving baby I have ever seen. All you have to do is make eye contact with him and he’ll give you a big cheeky toothless smile that just puts you deeper under his spell. And I have every reason to believe that we have established a secure attachment that we will build upon for a lifetime.

I hope I’m not diminishing the importance of bonding immediately after birth. Mother and baby are primed for bonding during this time and should make the most of those short minutes and hours if they can. Just know that if you have to wait a few hours or days to begin getting to know each other, it will be okay.



Author: Courtney

Courtney Sperlazza, MPH, has worked in health research and is currently a write-at-home mom to two of the most beautiful and charming kids on the planet. Her most recent project is baby number 3, due early October. If you liked what you read, you can find her blogging about parenting, homeschooling, winemaking and more at Project Courtney.

8 thoughts on “There’s a Pause Button, Just in Case”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. It is true that you can have a wonderful bond and your child can thrive because of all the lepta TLC. My daughter was 8 weeks early and whisked off to the NICU quickly after her birth as your son was. I felt and do still feel bad for all the time she spent without her mama before I could see her. BUT, she is 2 1/2 now, still nursing, still snuggling as we co sleep, crazy smart, wonderfully attached…all the things you hope for you and your children. The 20 days in the NICU we so terribly hard and painful but all can turn put wonderful!

  2. Thank you for this. I had a very traumatic delivery, and I was the one who was struggling to recover, and I was so prepared to hold him immediately, nurse him while we waited to cut the cord, do the skin to skin bonding I read so much about. But circumstances changed for me. I am so glad to know that now your baby is as happy and your bond as strong as those blessed with perfect births. I treasure every second with my baby and let go of a little bit of the trauma and disappointment of my labor and delivery every day.

  3. Great topic. My baby was taken to the nicu also. I didn’t get that “golden hour” everyone talks about and my family got to hold baby even before I did because I was in surgery. I look back and wish I did things differently but fortunately baby is healthy. I also become sad to think how my girl felt when her parents weren’t holding her.

    I’m glad you were able to have that special moment.

  4. This made me cry. A lot. I had a normal pregnancy and expected a run-of-the-mill birth, and was careful to construct my “birth plan” so that it was clear I wanted her on my chest right after birth. I planned to try to initiate breast feeding within the first hour. Birth did not go as expected and my girl was hauled away in an ambulance to a hospital with a NICU not too much later. I couldn’t go to go with her. Once I was finally transferred to the same hospital as her I wasn’t allowed to hold or feed her for three days. And then when I did get to “hold” her she was perched on a pillow on my lap with a million wires and tubes and I was instructed to not move her from the pillow–or really to mover her at all. (She had a birth injury that left no long term damage, but her situation was precarious for a short time.) It was nearly a week before we could do anything remotly resembling proper skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding was totally mucked up and she ended up being bottle fed breast milk for the first three months of her life (not AT ALL what I wanted) until we finally got nursing in the traditional manner sorted out. In the early days it felt as if nothing went as planned.

    Well, almost nothing. The ONLY thing about my daughter’s birth and early days as a newborn that felt right was our bond. I have never questioned it, and as far as I can tell, my daughter hasn’t either. It was strong before I was able to hold her. I *felt* connected to her physically and emotionally, and I’m convinced she felt connected to me too. For DAYS (that felt like an eternity) the only physical contact we had was me sitting in a wheel chair with my arm raised up over my head to reach my daughter in her way-too-damn-high NICU bed. (I couldn’t stand without passing out and she could not be moved out of her bed.) I rested my hand on her chest and tummy and talked to her. I know that she knew it was me. We were fully bonded. She calmed to my touch and voice in a way she didn’t for anyone else. I KNOW she looked forward to our visits and felt an extra peace when I was there with her even though I couldn’t snuggle her properly and couldn’t be with her nearly enough. She’s three years old now and a healthy, confident, loving, sweet and adventurous soul. I will admit to worrying about how it affected her to spend her first week of life in a NICU in pain and with not nearly enough holding, but I don’t worry at all about our bond–it is good and strong and healthy.

    I get annoyed when people seem to assume that a necessary ingredient in early bonding is a typical and snuggly and nursey time right after birth. After giving birth to my second child I did have the deep honor of skin-to-skin snuggling and nursing right after birth. It was precious and meaningful and just thinking about makes my heart poof up–I’m not saying it’s not amazing–I’m just saying it’s not the only way bonding can happen. And conversly, I’m POSITIVE there are women out there who did get skin-to-skin time with their newborns right after birth and feel like bonding didn’t happen as expected. It doesn’t mean they didn’t do something right–it’s just that bonding is complicated–for sure more complicated than ensuring skin to skin contact immediately following birth. There’s so much more to it than that.

    So I guess that’s my super long winded way of saying, thank you, for acknowleging that bonding can happen normally when events right after birth do not go as expected.

  5. A beautiful and much needed reminder! Of my eight babies, the were rushed off to the NICU for various reasons. It certainly made for more difficult bonding.

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