I first held Hazel when she was 33 days old. There was no skin to skin when she was born, or even shortly thereafter, no kangaroo care, no breastfeeding. The most she got was a gentle hand placed over her tiny frame. "Hand Hugs" they were called, and they were just as important to her nurturing and development as skin to skin - but let's face it, it isn't quite the same... nothing really is when your baby starts their life off in the NICU.
But then I remembered the ring sling I had tucked away in the room that was to become Hazel's nursery. At only 23 weeks pregnant I hadn't bought much, but there were a few things I had tucked away in the closet that would some day become hers, one of which was my ring sling. I felt so disappointed that I hadn't been able to use it. At this point Hazel was on CPAP and would still be in the NICU for several months to come. I accepted that I might not get to use my sling, and in chatting with one of her primaries one day at Hazel's bedside I expressed my disappointment in not being able to use it yet.
"Why not?" said her nurse. "Bring it in! I don't see why you wouldn't be able to use it". And in that moment I wondered why I hadn't thought to ask. Maybe it's that in the NICU you get so used to things being different than the outside world that you just assume it won't be an option. In any case, that night I went home and I watched hours upon hours of tutorials. I read endless blogs and walked around the house practicing with a stuffed teddy bear.
The following morning I brought my ring sling into the NICU and with hesitation asked her nurse if it was still okay that we try using it with Hazel. As always her nurse was exceptionally supportive and as I threaded the linen through the ring she asked how she could help. Together we got Hazel secure in the sling and she snuggled into my chest and fell asleep. My heart was instantly at ease. What's more, is the sling allowed for a way to tuck in all her cords, and leads, it was a way to secure the tubes of her CPAP equipment and during feeds it gave a place to secure the gravity fed syringe.
Each day therein I wrapped Hazel in her sling for our long snuggles, and most days I rocked. I would stand for hours and sway back and forth because it was so much easier to do so with all her medical equipment she was attached to.
Baby wearing gave me back a small sliver of those newborn skin to skin moments we were robbed of. Yes, it wasn't skin to skin, and no she wasn't a newborn - but it gave me something else - a way to bond with my baby in a way that most parents can't. It allowed me to take the weight of her leads and her IV, her feeding tube and her respiratory equipment and bear that weight for her, giving her the gift of just being a baby. She was able to snuggle in tightly, blocking out the world around her of bells and alarms, of doctors and nurses and a dozen other parents and babies. When I was wearing Hazel against me everything else faded away
When Hazel came home, she was still on low flow oxygen and because the flow was so low we were instructed not to use the longer extension tubing which meant carrying the o2 tank wherever Hazel went (which meant where I went) and again, baby wearing was a source of comfort and ease. At this point I found the stretchy style wrap to be better suited to my needs. Hazel's oxygen tank was in a bag with a shoulder strap and I found it often pushed on the ring so we stuck to stretchy wraps and every time I needed to move around with Hazel she was in the wrap. It became her source of comfort too, and when she was fussy I would put her in the wrap and within minutes she was sound asleep. It was the one place we both knew and recognized, no matter what changed in her health or our routine that was a constant.
Now that Hazel has gotten older and mobile we are back to using our ring sling and have built up a collection of 3 from True North Slings because we use them daily. Hazel hates being in the stroller and since she is a little behind in her gross motor skills it allows me to give us both more mobility and freedom to move about. She still to this day will rest her head on my chest and snuggle in for a nap, but these days there is also so much more curiosity and I love being able to watch that wonder from her eyes while holding her near.