Like most mothers with newly married daughters, it wasn’t long after the wedding ceremony that I obsessed on becoming a grandmother. Being Italian, it was very important to join that rank of becoming a “Nonna”. It was two years and 6 months later that my daughter and son-in-law dropped by and announced that they were expecting. By July 4th, the anticipation day, I would be holding my first grandchild. Such excitement!
The day came a little early, June 29th which was my father’s birthday. More excitement! We waited for the ‘good news’ (a boy or a girl?) but did not expect that our first grand-baby — a boy — was in one of our finest hospitals – in the NICU. I didn’t know what that was but quickly learned it meant a neonatal intensive care unit, also known as an intensive care nursery specializing in the care of ill or premature newborn infants. Neonatal refers to the first 28 days of life. Neonatal care, as known as specialized nurseries or intensive care, has been around since the 1960s. Here we were in 1995.
Our new baby, named Daniel. was a small being covered in wires, tubes and other apparatus in a small incubator. A blood disorder was the suspected cause; only family members were allowed in the room lined up with other incubators. Mandatory clean linens and masks were distributed to be in that room – and immediate family only.
Daniel’s parents were there all the time. She was nursing Daniel and brought him her colostrum, the first secretion from the mammary glands after giving birth, which is rich in antibodies and very good for infants. She continued to do this every day. The traveling back and forth, the worry and stress from not bringing a baby home after it’s birth is tiring and disturbing to a new mother. It is a challenge to all mothers who have everything in place except the baby.
The Fourth of July arrived five days later . Normally, this holiday is a big family picnic day affair, but there were little changes in little Daniel. We all talked the new mother into attending the picnic – a much needed change of scenery. We all attended and it did help. After a couple of hours I excused myself and left. To get home, I had to go past the hospital. I parked and went into the NICU. There was little traffic that holiday afternoon and less in the hospital. Since it was a holiday, the hospital was small-staffed that day. A baby was crying in the isolation room when I arrived and the nurse, who recognized me, told me that was my grandson.
She said since the NICU was under-staffed and Daniel had come off all his attachments, he had been crying on and off all morning. I asked if I could hold him – I never had that pleasure yet. She got a hard chair for me to sit on in the middle of a small unused room. She left me and then returned and placed Daniel in my lap. He was so precious and beautiful without his wires, I became overjoyed with tears. He drew in a big breath and sighed loudly. Almost sounding relieved. I pressed his papoose-wrapped blanketed little body close to my own heart and hummed lullabies and rocked him until he fell asleep.
He slept while I held him for the next 3 hours. The nurse came by and asked if she could take him and put him back. Reluctantly, I said OK. He didn’t wake up; he had kinda worn himself out. She thanked me for helping out and said, “Have a good day”. I answered, “I already have”. When she took him, I felt the very warmth of his body still next to my heart.
That feeling of warmth and love for Daniel has never gone away – I still feel it after 23 years.
Marie Coppola March 2019