Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finding Your Voice

Dear Ellie,

You found your voice a lot sooner than I thought you would.  The endotracheal tube came out just a little over a week ago and already, you're letting us know what's up.  I remember your two older neighbors had stunted voices for quite some time after their ET tubes came out.  Their cries sounded more like sighs or whines.  Granted, you can't belt it out like a newborn, you still sound a lot louder than I expected you would at this juncture.

For months, I was looking forward to hearing you cry.  I'm not sure why, exactly.  I think a baby's cries are meant to evoke certain emotions in parents--- to spur them to action--- and I was curious what that would feel like.  Well, now I do.  And while hearing you cry does in fact make me want to comfort you, there's not really anything I can do.  In a way, being in the NICU is a strange perversion of parental instinct.  Outside of the NICU, hearing you cry would be something to listen closely for.  A cue to take action.  In here, its something to ignore.

A baby cries because its needs must be met.  To cry is the only way it can communicate with the world.  It can mean "feed me," or "warm me," or "something is hurting me, make it stop!" but in here, there is nothing we can do to end the source of your discomfort or distress.  You are fed through a tube at designated times, so your cries of hunger are ignored.  Your temperature is taken at regular intervals and you are moved based on a similar schedule, so cries of discomfort are unimportant as well.  And if we prick your foot to gather blood for a blood gas test, you'll wail in such a way as to say: "Help me!  Something is stabbing me!" but your cries of pain are only met with more sticks and more pain, causing you to shriek ever louder.  It brings me nearly to tears.  Whenever I hear you cry, I'm left with this piercing feeling of hopelessness, knowing that something in your little baby brain thinks that we can't hear you or that we've abandoned you.  Each time you cry I hear: "Please come back!  Don't leave me!  Something is still stabbing me!"

In a way, you are in the same situation that we are.  Your cries may be irrelevant, but the things that parents can normally do to quell them are irrelevant as well.  In the same way that the deeds spurned by our parental instincts are replaced by technology and expertise, so too are your cries.  We don't listen for your voice, but instead listen for the alarms that tell us whether you are too hot or failing to breath.  In away, the technology that sustains you knows you better than you know yourself.


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