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Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Birthday Party, An Unlikely Community

Not many people get a party to celebrate their actual Birthday, the original. But Noreen was born in November, in spite of being due mid-March. So when she reached her "Birthday" this week, at 1800 grams triple her birth-weight, we decided to celebrate. Her mom has spent most of her days and nights for over three months in the nursery, and I wanted to honor that effort. So the night before I baked two cakes, and gathered a balloon, candle, noise-maker horn, and bubbles. The interns and nurses all congregated and we called Noreen and mom in and sang. Then the doctors served all the moms of all the babies and all the nurses and staff cake. For that half hour, the NICU was more like a community than a ward, eating and laughing together. I hope Noreen will live to "blow a thousand candles" as they say in Uganda . . . but at least she's had one party, one day to give God glory for protecting her tiny life. I also hope some of the people who cared for her along the way see this post and are encouraged. I hope that the dozen-plus other moms with admitted babies sensed that Jesus cares for them too. I hope the staff gains a sense of teamwork and accomplishment by seeing how far they've come.
Because many of the stories in the NICU are sobering. We have about five babies now who will not likely survive their first year of life, or if they do, only with significant impairment. We were chastised by a senior doctor this weekend for admitting a one-month-old Somalian baby with major congenital anomalies who can not be "fixed". I agree that we often struggle to admit our limitations, and push too hard for solutions that burden families. However, I've seen from the moms of these almost-sure-to-die cases that there is a value to their stay that goes far beyond the medical accomplishments. Some need the safety and space the NICU provides to adjust to their new reality. They need to learn to care for a fragile baby. They need to know the exact extent of their baby's problem, and have it clearly explained. They need to be treated with respect and see people valuing their "damaged" child, tenderly and expertly handling their baby, using his/her name. Mostly they need to be in the circle of the community of mothers, bunking in the adjacent ward, sharing meals, clustered in the nursery every two hours giving feedings, knowing they are not alone.
So while we strive to offer the best medical care possible, to test and interpret and examine and prescribe, that is only part of nursery care. We are also creating a little pocket of warm, humid, clean, nurturing space where women and their infants can rest, can sense support, can heal and grow. Or for some, can come to terms with the sadness of dashed dreams, in the context of feeling valuable. If a birthday party for a less-than-four-pound little person helped accomplish that, I am satisfied.

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