It’s never quiet in the NICU. The heart and lung and respiration monitor chirp endlessly. The machine that delivers my daughter’s antibiotics beeps. The privacy curtain blocks out light, but not the conversations happening in the hall: other parents, doctors completing their rounds, receptionists manning the perpetually-ringing phones.
I wash my hands and go to my daughter. My baby girl is somehow sleeping peacefully. I brush a finger over her tiny, perfect cheek. She wakes, and blinks, and looks up at me with gray eyes. She asks without words what is happening. I don’t know what to tell her. It all happened so fast. An otherwise uncomplicated labor was interrupted when I developed a fever. Immediately after her birth, she was whisked away from me. We both need rounds of antibiotics to fight off infections.
I am released two days later, but the baby had to stay. And I had a 2-year-old at home who needs me, too. My family works out a routine. I wake up and feed my 2-year-old breakfast, then leave her with my husband and mother. I drive to the hospital in time for my newborn’s 9 a.m. feeding, with last night’s pumped milk in the cooler. I stock the baby’s in-room fridge, and wait for the doctors’ rounds. I pepper the white coated crew with questions: How is my daughter today? When can she come home? And then I leave the baby, and go back to my 2-year-old. I stay with my firstborn from lunch through bedtime. Once she’s asleep, I leave her with my mother and return to the hospital. Most nights, my husband comes with me. Sometimes I went alone.
The morning of Thanksgiving started out the same way as all the others before. But that morning, there was something different about my baby’s stark hospital room. I notice a quick flash of color: a small, mauve blanket was wrapped lightly around her swaddle. I touch it gently. It is as soft as my daughter’s skin.
I ask a nurse where the gift had come from. “There are volunteers that knit for the NICU,” she said. The nurse nods towards the bassinet. “I think she likes it.”
Words escaped me entirely. The combination of sleep deprivation and gratitude and post-partum hormones finally overwhelmed me, and for the first time since my baby’s birth, I start to cry.
I was stunned by this random act of kindness. I couldn’t believe that someone made something so beautiful for an infant they’ve never met. A stranger brought a blanket to comfort a baby when her mama couldn’t stay.
I breathe deeply, and miraculously, I am calmer. I touch the blanket again. It seems to radiate hope. And it was that moment when I started to believe that everything would be okay.
She recovers. She is discharged right before Hanukkah, and she, baruch hashem, continues to thrive. Today, she is a healthy preschooler that loves challah and Disney princesses and coloring with markers. She has a terrific sense of humor and a mop of hair that refuses to behave. Her Hebrew name is Ahava, and I call her “my little love.” Every day, I am thankful for the doctors and nurses who cared for her until she was healthy enough to come home to me.
And I’m thankful for Blankie.
She still has it. Blankie is one of her most cherished possessions. It’s come with us on trips and to parties. It joined her at daycare, once again soothing her until her parents could return. She still sleeps with it every night. “I want that Blankie, Mama,” she says, pointing. “I want to snuggle with the little pink one.”
I realized recently that I never got to acknowledge that hospital volunteer. I never even asked their name. I wish I had a chance to thank them. This person understood that little gestures–and little people–matter. They gave my daughter, and me, a priceless gift.
So to the volunteer, if you’re out there somewhere and reading this, please know that I will always be grateful for you.