There are souls in the NICU. I have felt them. They are large and they are loud. Sitting in a tweed chair in a glass and metal lobby, I wait for my turn to enter. Visitors are limited. One parent plus one other relative at a time.
I have a notebook with me. I always do. But no words come. None has ever come on this subject. Not until now, thirteen months after my grandson Tyler was born to my daughter by emergency C-section two months before his time. The bun was not ready to come out of the oven.
My hand draws figures. They are ghost-like and ephemeral. They have oval heads with large almond eyes black and deep as rabbit holes. Amorphous bodies with long rubbery limbs.
I fill page after page with these aliens, each slightly different, all somewhat the same.
There are souls in the NICU and they are large, though the human they hover over are small. Smaller even than newborn puppies or kittens.
About a decade ago, Heidiles Als
, a psychologist at Harvard University discovered that there was a connection between later learning problems and premature birth. These tiny creatures born before their time did not have the chance for their nervous systems to develop. The bright lights and noise in the busy hospital setting short circuited their neurological pathways and caused permanent disturbances.
By the time Tyler was born two months early, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,
a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, the standard operating procedures of the neo natal intensive care unit included soft voices and dim lights, minimal stimulation and a womb like atmosphere for all of the babies.
Little bodies with tubes and electrodes protruding from their transparent skin rolled into a fetal position, each in a private temperature-controlled space capsule.
Entering, I wonder, what is the mind-body-soul connection?
Jung writes of daimons, the emissaries between man and God, guides who usher us from the nether world to this one and back again. Some believe that the daimon is our very will to be born, an urge so strong that it brings the unlikely pairing of THIS father, together with THIS mother to make THIS unique person the daimon knows it must become.
Once we are shepherded into this world, our daimons become quiet, harder to know. But here, in the NICU, they stay close, hovering over the tiny beings who are so helpless they cannot even breathe, suck and swallow at the same time.
The nurses are so clever now. They trick the babies into sucking by inserting a pacifier between their tiny lips while their mothers’ pumped breast milk is funneled through a tube in their noses, dripping the nourishment down into their throats.
Each new mother sits in her own corner of the NICU, not talking to any other. Each pretends not to hear the other’s bad news. A breathing spell. A hemorrhage. A stroke. They do not console each other. They do not commiserate. They pull in tighter, peer more intently into their baby’s isolette, and mutely mouth whatever prayer finds its way to their lips.
Once a day, the baby can come out, but only for a short time. Kangaroo time, the nurses say, as they lay the tiny child tubes and all, naked onto his mother’s chest.
My sweet daughter.
There are souls in the NICU. Spirits and daimons.
Some will stay and some will go.
There was a glint in Tyler’s eye.
I felt his soul in the NICU and it was strong and joyful and a bit mischievous.
Just like the toddler he is today.
Just like the man he will one day become.
|My grandson Tyler, soon after his birth and one year later.