The amazing, healing power of holding

The lift doors lurched open and I stumbled out. The posters on the board opposite were different to those I’d seen last time. That meant I was on the wrong floor.

I pressed the lift button again, and waited.

It wasn’t fear I felt. Something more than fear made my legs feel shaky, my throat sore, my stomach in knots. It was a sense of not being here any more, of life going on somewhere else, while this body of mine went on without me. It followed instructions of some sort, even when my mind wasn’t able to connect.

The bell pinged and the lift doors opened. My body stepped inside. My mind lingered, a ghost floating through the corridors, not quite sure where it was.

The lift went down. The doors opened. My body stepped out. The posters were the right ones this time: a number to ring if you had post-natal depression, another number for advice on breast-feeding. Parent support groups. The phone numbers were all for the same city as the hospital. I didn’t live there. Below the posters was a row of orange chairs. Nobody was sitting in them.

My body turned to the right and walked into a fluorescent-lit corridor. Beyond the windows was darkness. Between the panes of glass in the double-glazed windows was the reflection of my body and of my face, a reflection that appeared twice, the two images not quite lining up. A ghost.

Standing straight felt hard, shuffling along the corridor felt harder. I kept my eyes away from the notice boards, away from pictures of babies that didn’t make it, but whose parents wanted to express their gratitude to the nurses and doctors for all wonderful care they gave. There were other photos too, of babies that did make it, and who had grown into boys and girls – some strong, some not so strong. It was dangerous to look at them, dangerous to feel the hope they offered.

My body kept walking.

Beside the door to the Newborn Unit was a bottle of Hibiclens. I pushed down its pump and rubbed the gel onto my hands. Above the door, a sign read, “Do not enter if you have a sore throat or feel unwell.” My throat hurt, but I pushed open the door anyway. The sign didn’t apply to me, or so the nurses had said.

Scan 142200003-1I stumbled into the Newborn Unit. To the right was the reception desk, but I walked straight ahead and stood in the doorway of Intensive Care Level 1. The room was filled with nurses. One came to the door and explained it was shift change and they needed to do the handover. She showed me to a little room and told me I could wait there. I gave her the little plastic pouch I was carrying – expressed milk to go in the freezer, because my baby couldn’t stomach it yet.

I sat on a soft chair and stared at picture books and a toy with wooden beads strung along coils of wire. A bead maze, only I didn’t know its name then. I sat, feeling ashamed. The day before someone had told me that shift change was at 8 o’ clock. I should have remembered. Tears began to form at the back of my eyelids, so I closed my eyes.

When I opened them again, a woman was standing in the doorway. She wasn’t in uniform. “I’m Teresa,” she said. “You’re Louise’s mum aren’t you?”

It turned out that in spite of her lack of uniform, Teresa was a nurse, but instead of tending to the babies, she looked after their emotional needs. She explained that because premature babies had so many medical interventions, they came to associate touch with pain. She said that in the past, when babies went home after a lengthy stay in hospital, they were often bad-tempered. But now, there were ways to help babies learn that touch didn’t always mean pain, that it could be comforting. She told me about massage, which my baby was still too small for. She talked about containment holding, where parents laid one hand near or on the baby’s head and another on her back or bottom. She talked about kangaroo care, which was skin to skin contact, with the parent holding the baby at chest level.

She asked if I would like to hold my baby. I thought she meant containment holding, and I said yes.

But Teresa meant kangaroo care. She showed me to a chair next my baby’s incubator, and then she placed screens across. She and another nurse took Louise from her incubator, and carried her the short distance to where I sat, feeling terrified. As much as I wanted to hold my baby, it seemed far too likely that holding her could harm her fragile body. While fear rippled through me, the nurses made jokes about all the wires and tubes that dangled from my baby, saying she had been knitting. Then they placed her upright on my chest, and Teresa showed me where to hold her. I could feel my baby’s heart fluttering against my chest, and she seemed as fragile as a bird. 

The most amazing thing my body has done is hold another body to my chest, and, by some miracle, help that tiny body to relax. As I felt my baby’s feathery movements, Teresa told me her oxygen saturations had gone up. She was calming, and so was I. In the thirty-nine hours after her birth, I had felt lost, confused, as if some part of me was missing. Holding my baby, I returned to myself. 


Holding my baby in a Kangaroo cuddle

Holding my baby in a Kangaroo cuddle


  1. Yvonne. I am in tears. This was such an incredibly well-written, beautiful, and heart-felt post. WoW. I had no idea and just, wow. I’m not sure that I have the words to do this comment justice because I am beyond honored and amazed to have read such an important part of your history and your heart. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your sweet words Kristi! After reading a few of the Finish the sentence Friday posts, this just came out. It was a hard time, but Louise made it through, and I am so grateful for that. (And I was blubbing before I’d finished writing it too. 🙂 )

  2. Very beautifully written. I loved the descriptions even though it was such a sad moment. I’m glad that through the chaos, you were able to find a moment to bond with your baby that you so much needed to do. As much as your touch soothed her, her touch also soothed you.

    1. Author

      Michelle, you are absolutely right – holding her was such a relief for me. That’s what I remember most strongly. Thanks for your comment.

  3. This story was so very moving from the description of your body moving down the hallway as if you were not controlling it to the moment you held your darling baby to your chest. I can remember both of these feelings so very vividly at different time in my life. This post brought back so much emotion, both fearful and joyous. I hope Louise is still with you now.

    1. Author

      Sarah, yes Louise made it and she’s now almost 15. That moment is forever etched in my memory though – the relief. We had many terrifying moments over the next few months, but she taught me so much in those early days with her resilience and acceptance.

    1. Author

      Yes, Amber, kangaroo care is the best. It was part of what got me through that time.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. Wow! This gave me goosebumps while reading and am sure you must be beyond elated and grateful to have a happy ending!


    1. Author

      Oh, yes Ruchira, I feel so grateful our daughter survived. Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for your comment.

  5. I stumbled with you, senses dulled and heavy through this story until the vivid, delicate, warm end. I loved this story and I ached for you. I cheered at the end, so sweet. Thank you for this.

    1. Author

      Roshni, yes, it was amazing. I was astonished when the nurse said her saturations had gone up – couldn’t believe I could make that much difference in my tense state. Just shows a baby wants her mum, whatever state she’s in.

  6. Pingback: Thankful for machines and love - Inquiring Parent

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