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alec vanderboom

One of the oddest things about depositing Baby Tess into the NICU, is that in one afternoon I was suddenly stripped of all mothering responsibilities towards this newborn. Tess was still my child. She was medically fragile and extremely needy.

Yet, I was excluded from almost all of her care.

For the first month of my daughter Tess' life, I didn't feed her. She got feed through an IV. I didn't do her laundry. Some else, picked up the soiled linens and deposited clean ones in her room. I didn't wipe the spit up from her chin. A crazy suction cup did that for her. I didn't vacuum the floor under her crib. A janitor kept the room clean.

Nurses tended to my baby's every need. Billions of doctors stopped by in rounds every day to make sure that Baby Tess had what she needed to stay alive.

My mothering job was limited to showing up next to Baby Tess' crib. Talking to her. Rocking her. Listening to a bunch of medical professionals talk about her prognosis. Kissing her head before she went into surgery. Waiting for her inside the tense surgery waiting area. Kissing her groggy cheeks when she came out of surgery.

Oh, and I pumped. Lots and lots of breast-milk that I carefully labeled and hopefully placed in a massive hospital freezer for my baby's "future use".

That was my mothering job- a soothing, calm presence and some breast milk.

At first the limited responsibility drove me crazy. I wanted my baby better. I wanted my baby home. I wanted to be the one who decided if she was hungry and whether she'd start using a pacifier at six days old.

After many, many trips to the NICU, I started to enjoy the "stripped down motherhood" phase.

There was an entire Hospital filled with doctors, nurses, pharmacists, surgeons, social workers, lactation consultants, janitors, and security guards--everyone there was intent on saving Baby Tess. Yet I was her Mom. I was the one who smelled like "home" in a scary place. I was the one who gave her the hope of returning "home" after a long, hard battle inside a hospital setting.

My role was clear and totally irreplaceable.

When my older children came home two weeks ago, it felt a little strange to go back to my old mothering routine. Suddenly, I cooked dinner instead of eating in a hospital cafeteria. I did the laundry. I cleaned the bathroom. I tried to make a walkable path on a son's bedroom floor by clearing thousands of legos.

I did all these normal mothering tasks, while keeping in mind the "stripped down" version of motherhood that I learned while chained to Tess' crib in the NICU.

Motherhood is all about being a calming presence to a child.

Providing brownies, breastmilk, and clean bedroom floors are only the nice "extras."