Play in NICU (click here to read more)

The play is defined as any kind of freely chosen activity, intrinsically motivated, and personally directed. It is vital for physical and motor development, but also social, emotional and intellectual development.

Play in NICU might be challenging due to baby`s clinical state, which might not be suitable for doing some activities; due to distracting noises, the equipment connected to the baby, the regular procedures that the baby is undergoing or lack of space for keeping the toys. In our case, the play was an issue because Aurora and Victoria had chronic lung disease and they used most of their energy on breathing. However, we tried to stimulate them in a way that wasn’t too demanding and stressful for them.

Apart from talking and singing to them whenever it was possible, we made sure they also had the toys that were suitable for their age and also, recommended by the play therapist and occupational therapist — for example, sensory lights or musical instruments. We even used an application on the telephone for visual stimulation.

Aurora playing with the sensory lights provided by the hospital.

Our play sessions in Nicu represented a great time to bond with the girls, to see their psychological progress and to share smiles, which we enjoyed a lot. If the girls were awake at the same time and in a good mood, we use to put them together on a play mat and observe them, making sure the water from the tubing that belonged to the breathing machine, was not going into their nose.

Aurora and Victoria playing together

Sometimes, we use to put them next to each other in their bouncing chairs and entertain them by playing peek-a-boo, reading a story or show them different toys. We used to facilitate play by putting the girls in a comfortable position, for example making rolls for their head, so they felt their head safe, which also helped with the correction of their head shape. As you know, babies are at risk of plagiocephaly, because of their relatively soft skull.

Play session in NICU

When on the play mat, we use to roll a towel and put it around them to encourage movement, bringing hands together or touching their feet. In term and healthy baby, these things happen naturally, and the parent notices his baby already rolling over and putting his feet in the mouth. A premature infant instead, needs help with the smallest things to build up his mobility, strength and confidence, and play represents the best way to achieve these things.

Once Maria was allowed to visit her sisters, she used to bring her toys so they could play with them and to pretend to be a doctor and treating them. It was fascinating to see how play connects the children and helps them communicate. When she was around, Aurora and Victoria kept watching her and smile, showing they loved her presence.

Maria playing with Victoria

It is important to know that a premature or sick baby has his rhythm to play and parents should respect that and follow it, to make sure the baby is not overstimulated and distressed. Whenever the baby looks overtired, or I pain, he should receive the opportunity to rest and recover, until he shows he is ready to play again. Aurora and Victoria as well, had days when they just wanted to sleep, to be held, and not being interested in any toy or activity and we just listened to them.

Aurora had a period when she was continuously fed via an NJ tube because she got stuck from the breading point of view and doctors considered it would help her lungs if her tummy was empty and the possibility of vomits was reduced, which prevented the aspirations to her lung. The insertion of the NJ tube required a lot of attention, ability, and an X-ray to make sure it is in the right place. During that period, we have been extremely cautious with the way we moved or let Aurora play because nobody wanted her NJ tube to come out, and restricted at the same time by the feeding pump that was pushing the milk.

Aurora having Nj tube.

In conclusion, play in NICU is crucial, although sometimes it is so difficult to achieve. I found it upsetting and stressful to take care of so many tubes and wires; to make sure I do not pull something or harm the girls. I dreamt to the day when I could run in the park with them, let them roll over and lift them to the sky, without any restraint, without any impediment. I desperately wished that freedom, and when it came, it was such a relief.

Thank you for reading!


About family and emotions

What family means to you?

A family is a place where we find support, kindness, love, magic, guidance, joy or sadness and disappointment. It represents the rope that can take us out of the deepest and the darkest places. Also, the crown that crowns every moment of happiness making it unique, special and long-lasting. We all seek family in our hearts, earlier or later in life. We all want to create ‘’family’’ around us and need somebody to rely on, to share our feelings with and to be comforted by.

Being an immigrant means to make the sacrifice to let your family behind sometimes, no matter how painful it is. Some people are apart from their wives or children and count the days until they will be together again. Throughout our journey in NICU, we met so many parents who were alone, without any support, but also, parents who had a bunch of people to welcome their baby, even if it was a very tiny baby. So seeing these people it reminded us how much we missed our families, not only because of the support that could give us but also because they lost the moment of a life coming to the world, a moment that reminds us about GOD`s power and blessing.  However, a family is not about being together and happy all the time, but also to transcend difficult situations. Moreover, is when we are apart we realise what we mean to each other and enjoy, even more, when together.

Aurora and Victoria spent over 230 days in the hospital, and each hospital had its own rules regarding the visiting time, strict rules were applied for siblings to prevent any viruses spread. At UCLH, in NICU, a level 3 UNIT, the winter policy was adopted on 3rd October 2017, so after that time Maria was not able to see her little sisters until spring would come. At Whittington Hospital, level 2 unit, it was adopted on 12th November, but the girls came in on 14th. It was very challenging to manage to be everywhere, and we almost forgot the feeling of being together, because one of us had to look after Maria, and the other one, to be at the hospital. There were days when Maria did not see her daddy as he used to wake up early in the morning to go to work and visit the girls after work. Rarely, we had time to talk face to face.

In the middle of the winter, I got a cold, and I was not able to visit Aurora and Victoria, so my husband had to spend more time at the hospital. Instead, I spend more time with Maria. On a Sunday, I told her that we will go to pick up her dad and will spend the rest of the day together, and she said: ‘’But I do not have a daddy anymore. Daddy stays only at the hospital’’. It was heartbreaking for me to see how much she needed both of us to be with her.

When the doctors asked about Maria, we told them what she felt, so they allowed her to come for an hour to visit her sisters when there were not too many babies at the unit and she did not show any sign of a cold. It was 4th of February 2018, a chilly afternoon when Maria and I came to the hospital. When we got there she asked me: ”Are you sure I can go in?”. She was so curious to see how much Aurora and Victoria have grown, and I was so excited. For an hour we could look at each other, talk and laugh without having to think what are Aurora and Victoria doing, without feeling guilty for being in a place, but not at the other…After a long time, we felt a complete family again. Throughout that hour we recharged our batteries, filled the empty spots in our hearts and collected memories where we could go back any time we wanted to be together again until the spring came, and Maria was allowed to visit again.

Sometimes, the quantity is not as important as the quality. Little things made with love, dedication and loyalty, are precious and unforgettable.

 Also, because every picture tells a story, please find attached some of ours from that day.

Maria, Aurora and their dad.

Maria and Victoria bonding.
Maria, Victoria (left), Aurora (right) and their dad.

All of us…as a family that we are.

Thank you for reading!