Real Medicine

The Greatest Commodity

It’s cold in Cape Town today. It reminds me of a time where hundreds of South African babies died for  a lack of incubators. Incubators are wonderful things, the way they protect the little children who arrive in the world a little too early.

Something else that saved a lot of lives was the simple knit beanie. Babies have huge heads compared to their bodies, and they love a lot of heat through it. Volunteers knitted and donated beanies to NICUs, and suddenly babies thrived.

A lot of money is spent to keep neonates alive.

But the most valuable commodity in the Neonatal ICU is not the incubator or the oxygen tank or even the doctor.

It’s the mother.

I’m in awe of those little bodies, but I’m absolutely dumbstruck by the mothers who sit by their tiny babies, holding them skin to skin even when they can’t nurse. The babies who have contact with their mothers thrive. They breathe more easily, they understand human touch, they regulate their temperatures better.

There are those mothers who don’t go visit the NICU. Some of them are stuck in an ICU of their own and really have no choice. Others… I don’t know. Do they not care? Has nobody told them that there baby needs them? I don’t get to judge them. I don’t know their story.

But mothers? Mothers should be invested in. They are more vital to the child’s survival than any other thing the medical sector might devise.

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14 thoughts on “The Greatest Commodity”

  1. Beautiful post!
    I agree, the mothers make a huge difference and often they don’t even know it because they are just doing what they can for their child. And they don’t really get enough education or time invested in helping them. I think the NICU nurses (at least here) do a great job in encouraging the moms. They deserve it!

  2. My baby was in the NICU for the first two weeks of his life. We were lucky in that his problem was (relatively) minor — turned out to be GERD. But we saw the tiny, tiny preemies, and in our two weeks there we saw how many of them were wheeled in one day and were gone from the ward when we returned the next. It was heartbreaking. As a mother, I thank you for the recognition, but I have to add that the nurses were vital in supporting and allowing me and my husband to be there for our baby. Even though holding him meant that his monitors were constantly getting dislodged and pulled off; even though we were physically in the way; even though things would have run more smoothly without our presence, they were always kind, patient, and cheerful. We rarely saw the doctors; it was the nurses who helped us to survive those two weeks.

    Now I’m all teary. I should send them a card.

    1. I agree, a good NICU nurse is extremely valuable. I was in the NICU for a few days after birth too, and my poor parents weren’t allowed in. It made things really difficult for them, especially as they were first-time parents. I think NICU-nursing has grown in leaps and bounds, and I’m sure they would appreciate a card very much!

    1. Good point. I think fathers are definitely undervalued – this week I’ve only seen one dad in the ward. Babies need attention, even from a parent without breastmilk. When my mom was exhausted post-partum with us kids, my dad used to take over keeping us calm. And last year I met a man whose wife died during childbirth, and he was doing KMC with the baby.

      But… I don’t think hospitals are attuned to including the father yet, at least not in public hospitals here. Perhaps that should be the next step.

  3. Oh, yes! I can’t imagine why a mother (or father) wouldn’t visit their baby in NICU. Perhaps, as you say, it something we just couldn’t understand. My husband was always the first to hold our daughters, since I had two c-sections. 🙂

    1. Yes, I guess especially in third world countries such as my own, there are so many other things parents have to contend with… it’s a great opportunity for a dad to be able to hold his child right after birth also.

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