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Looking Back, Moving Forward

severely premature newborn
Previously I wrote on two topics that touch all of us – how our lives can change forever in a heartbeat and how staying calm empowers us to carry on. Lest we forget, the universe sends reminders from time to time.
The World Turned Upside Down
At birth, every child transforms the lives of its family. Daily living will never be as it was. That’s a given. When a child arrives at 25 weeks, two days gestation weighing 1 1/2 pounds, the world turns upside down. Obviously unexpected and clearly life-threatening, the situation requires everyone to remain calm, despite intense emotions. Keeping calm makes carrying on possible and insures the best possible outcome.
Entering A Parallel Universe
Most families never experience such an event. Those who have known how terrifying it is, even when the birth occurs in a hospital with top tier neonatal facilities. Such Neonatal Intensive Care Units are marvels of technology staffed with specially trained doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Each infant is cared for by her own highly skilled nurse. To enter such a unit is to enter a parallel universe. Going there for the first time took my breath away.
My daughter-in-law recalls being in shock and feeling queasy on her first visit. Overwhelmed by monitors displaying information she didn’t yet know how to interpret and afraid to look at her daughter, she remembers the compassion of the nurse as she gently encouraged her to stop looking at the monitors and look at her baby, saying “I’ll look at the monitors. That’s my job. You look at your baby.”
I recall feeling apprehensive about being there and about what lay ahead for our only grandchild. Astonished by her delicate beauty, thick hair, and skin so thin I could see her heart beating. And dismayed by the enormity of the challenges she faced.
Acknowledging Feelings
That’s an invitation, however ill-timed, to acknowledge all the feelings that come with this experience. Doing so is essential self-care – imperative for keeping calm and carrying on. This journey is the ultimate rollercoaster ride. I’ve never relished the ups and downs, twists and turns of a rollercoaster, and even those who do can appreciate the difference between living on a roller coaster and a thrilling ride at an amusement park.
Counting Blessings
Our family has been blessed by what hasn’t happened as well as by what has. That’s life in NICU. The range of challenges is staggering. Every situation is unique yet shares common threads. When schedules overlap, parents become acquainted, exchange information, and offer encouragement.
 Although we do not know the parents and other grands, we appreciate their plight and exchange greetings in passing. Carrying on takes on new meaning when everyone is literally in “the same boat.” The journey is long and exhausting. A nod or a smile brings comfort and encouragement. Small gestures make a big difference.
Bundle of Joy
Ciera and her parents began enjoying skin time when she was four weeks old. She contentedly snuggled. My best Christmas gift ever was being able to hold her on Christmas Eve, the day she turned seven weeks old. By 36 weeks gestation, she had shed many tubes, lines, and leads.
Celebrating Milestones
After a nurse moved the feeding tube from her mouth to her nose, she became giddy with joy. She delighted in being free from that nuisance. This is not our imagination. She smiled more than ever and took joy in testing how far she could stick out her tongue and how wide she could open her mouth.
Discovering Likes and Dislikes
Ciera likes the sound of words beginning with “p” and “s”, an observation her mother tested out after I reported her delight in the word “purple.” She smiles every time she hears the word. She also likes the sound of peaches, pears, and plums, but not of broccoli.
Settling In 
She left the NICU at three months old, only to be readmitted six days later. After 12 days, she was once again in her own bassinet, adjusting to life on the outside. And so the journey continues. We’re all acutely aware that we’re still on that roller coaster, subject to unexpected, high speed twists and turns, and yes, that’s scary. But as her mother says, “we’ve got this.”
We celebrate each milestone and those professionals who worked tirelessly and compassionately to insure Ciera not only survived severe prematurity but thrives. Our favorite neonatologist reminds us to think of her age in terms of her due date, not her birth date. Wise counsel. That’s where she is. So newborn, first time parents, and never-expected-yet-delighted-to-be grandparents are all adjusting to our new reality, grateful for the opportunity to grow together.
Learning New Tricks
The first time she came to spend an afternoon with us, all went well, despite the learning curve that comes when the time between becoming parents and grandparents is 40 years. We laughed when our son called to express his gratitude for the free time and said, “Mom, did you realize you’d put her diaper on backwards?” “Son,” I replied, “do you think I’d have done that if I’d known front from back?” Four decades ago his diapers were cotton, secured with pins, and worn under plastic pants. Current diapering practices are but one of the new tricks we old dogs have learned.
We focus on how “baby girl” lights up our world and delight in holding her, sharing family stories, reading snippets of Dr. Seuss, and singing the purple people eater song, a fave for the girl who likes the sound of the letter p.

 

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Shopping for an Infant

When shopping for books and toys for infants (0-12 month olds), think simple. Does the toy engage the senses and invite play? Babies like play involving materials of varied textures. Choose toys offering a variety of textures, colors, shapes, soft sounds, and materials (cloth/plastic/wood).

Here’s another consideration: is the toy easy to clean? After all, we all know how much babies like to mouth their toys and how often toys “hit the dirt.” Make play easier on yourself. Look for fabric toys marked machine washable. Some tumble dry safely; others line dry .

To illustrate toys that meet specific play recommendations, we have provided links to individual Infant/First Toys at PlayopolisToys. Follow these links for further information on quality toys that support child development.

Simple and Soft Toys

Simple rattles and soft toys make perfect first toys. Babies delight in shaking toys and making noise. When babies shake or touch a toy and then feel and hear the reaction, they learn cause and effect. Machine washable Baby Paper represents an ideal first soft toy, Oball Rattle, a perfect first rattle and ball.

Baby Friendly Books

Good books for infants include ones with one or two clear images per page and simple rhyming stories. Show your baby pictures, and read stories, allowing him to watch your mouth and facial expressions as you read. Name and point to objects on a page, but don’t worry about finishing a whole story. Wordless books work well too, providing an opportunity for simply pointing to and talking about the object on the page. Relating the object to everyday life is another way to share a book with a baby. Such books include At the Farm, a wooden book, Garden + Pets,  a 2-pack of soft fabric books, and Things That Go, a chew proof, rip proof book. These sturdy books are easy to hold and stand up to mouthing.

Beakers and Blocks

Try  building a towers with stacking cups or blocks for your baby to knock over. My favorite stacking cups are Ambi Building Beakers, featuring a unique raised pattern on the bottom of each cup. Younger infants like stackable One Two Squeeze Blocks for their soft “squeezability, ” bold colors, and varied textures. Once ready for more challenge, children migrate to Stack and Play with their varied shapes and sizes.

Musical Instruments and Peek-a-Boo Toys

Musical instruments and peek-a-boo toys help infants master concepts such as cause and effect and object permanence. Rainbowmaker, a rhythm band instrument, provides auditory and visual feedback as baby shakes and rotates the tube. Musical Jack-in-the-Box rewards action, the turning of the handle, with a reaction, Jack popping up, and re-enforces object permanence. Jack is always in the box, whether we see him or not.

Mirrors

Mirrors are a must for encouraging visual activity, sense of self, socialization, vocalization, and gross motor activity. Consider both the Wimmer Ferguson Double-Feature Mirror and the lightweight and easy to grasp Ambi Baby Mirror.

If you could choose only three infant toys for a favorite child, what would they be? Why? Let us know.

Adapted from TRUCE Guide on Infant & Toddler Play, Toys & Media, with permission from the Child Life Council.

PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play