“Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”
– Frederick Buechner
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been volunteering at one of the local hospitals as a baby cuddler in the Neonatal ICU. I’ve felt a tug on my heart for about a year to do this. It took awhile for my courage to catch up with this tug, not to mention it taking quite a few months to be cleared as a volunteer, but here I am and I am loving my days that I spend giving love to these tiny humans. Here are some initial reflections/reactions to what I’ve experienced so far:
- Nurses are amazing. I’ve always been drawn to the medical world on some level – at different points in my adult life I’ve wondered why I didn’t think to pursue medical school (maybe my lack of joy in studying/academia) – and I’ve enjoyed being in the midst of the bustle of nurses doing their work of compassion and competency in the NICU. There are so many professionals who come through the doors of the NICU and I’m still trying to sort them all out – PT and OT, nutritionists and social workers, doctors and massage therapists…So much care and attention and I’ve caught glimpses of how deep this commitment goes as they tend to the basic and extraordinary needs of these little ones–sometimes for days and sometimes for months as the babies are in their care. I’ve especially appreciated the nurses who have taken the time to orient me and have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and appreciated and recognized my interest in what they’re doing and why. Nurses are amazing.
- These babies are so vulnerable and resilient and precious. This may be obvious. But as I’ve held these sweet bearers of God’s image, I recognize that their start in this world has been anything but easy, for so many varying reasons. Some stories are so deeply hopeful as I’ve watched tired parents joyfully (and a bit nervously) prepare to take their child home after weeks or months of hospital monitors, gowns and gloves. I’ve also heard fragments of stories of many infants who don’t have a home to go to, who are detoxing from drugs and who have an uncertain future in a system that may truly desire the best for them, but is limited in its resources. I was shocked the other day when I went to hold a tiny one who was still so much smaller than my own son at his birth and I saw the date of birth on the card by the child’s bed that said they were already 2 months old. I could just imagine the fight they had already fought to get to this point. I hold these babies and I think and breathe and internally speak words of blessing and hope on them – not to bestow something they lack, but to be committed to seeing what is already there, so deeply precious and fundamental, and to hope that they will go into their future with others surrounding them who will see it too. Such beauty and strength, struggle and promise.
- And I’m learning that my own heart is spacious and brave. After my first day in the NICU, my own personal grief welled up in a way I hadn’t experienced in a long while. I had, to some extent, anticipated this. I can’t be around babies or pregnant women without feeling the loss that has marked my own journey of parenting, even if it’s mixed together with feelings of joy for the journey of others. And so I knew it might be hard, but I also knew that opening myself in this way might be part of my own healing and might be a way to live out love in the world. So I’ve kept going and I’m finding that there is room in my heart to feel many things. I’m starting to get the sense that grief can open up in really brave ways (courage, after all, has a lot to do with the heart’s strength) and, where grief initially only allowed me to fold into myself and tend the brokenness and pain I found there, the more I go and hold babies, the more my grief is opening out to new paths of compassion and strength.