#24 - The first time you hold your child

After her daughter was born one month premature, one mother shares her experience of holding her newborn for the first time.

Anchel holds Syona.

I had to complete a birth plan before preregistering to have our baby at our local hospital. It asked the standard questions about labour aids and pain management. But there was one question that had me completely stumped: Did I want my child to be wiped clean and wrapped in a blanket before holding him or her? Or did I prefer to have my fresh, new, messy bundle placed directly on me after delivery?

I struggled for a couple of days with the answer. I mean it would be nice to hold a neatly wrapped, non-slippery, clean baby, right? On the other hand, after all that hard work wouldn’t the one thing I wanted more than anything be to hold the baby right away? (I was prepared for a long haul. My mom was in labour with me for more than 30 hours and I fully expected that karma would be coming for me this time around.)

After lots of (hormone-fuelled) discussions with my husband, and flip-flopping back and forth about 700 times, I decided that I wanted to hold my brand new messy baby as soon as I could.

At the time, I didn’t know that neither of these options would actually be possible.

My daughter, Syona, decided to make her arrival about a month before her due date. When she was born via emergency C-section, she was just over 4lbs and, after a quick exam, was immediately moved into the NICU. Other than a glance after the doctor pulled her out, I didn’t even get to see my girl until seven hours later, when I could walk to the NICU. She had a special face mask to help her breathe and after seeing her hooked up to countless other tubes, wires and monitors, my hopes of holding her went out the window. I returned to my room a short while later and tried to rest (a.k.a. sedated myself with doctor-prescribed pills).

The next morning we went to the NICU again. The mask had been removed and she was stable. As the doctor talked about how she was doing, I half-listened and nodded appropriately. When he asked if I had any questions the only thing I asked was whether I could hold her. He said yes, and pointed to a semi-private area that was behind a curtain. I picked up my daughter, while my husband trailed behind, pulling both our IVs. I sat down on an old wooden rocking chair, barely noticing my own pain from the stitches. I took a deep breath and looked at this beautiful, tiny face. My daughter’s eyes were wide open and she was finally in my arms. That was the first time I felt such a strong sense of belonging — there was nowhere else I needed to be, there was nothing else I needed to do. As I had struggled to walk independently so that I could meet my daughter, she had fought to survive so we could both be exactly where we were meant to be: with each other.

Over the next two weeks Syona had her ups and downs in the NICU. But as she grew stronger, I held her more. When we got to take her home, there was never talk of “spoiling” her by holding her too much or while she was sleeping. Holding our girl was something that we never took for granted.

And now, more than two years later, we’re finding our way through Syona’s cerebral palsy diagnosis and have settled into our life. The life we fought for. The one she fought for.

And all the times that she wants me to cuddle and hold her, well those moments are the most precious ones of all.

How did you feel the first time you held your child?