The program for volunteers to read to premature babies in Winnipeg
A premature baby being read to in the NICU. (Source: Shared Health)
WINNIPEG -- When a baby is born much too soon, their life hangs in the balance as they are attached to wires in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Often these fragile preemies can't even be held, but a soothing voice can provide a lot of comfort, and now volunteers are reading to the tiniest listeners.
Scrolling through the pictures on her phone, Tiffany Richards is brought right back to the day her premature son was born. He was not much bigger than the size of a cell phone.
“I remember a nurse told me the first day he was born, she said when they're born this early it's hour by hour, it’s not day by day, it's hour by hour,” Richards said.
Her baby was only 27 weeks old and Richards wasn’t even in her third trimester. It was complications from preeclampsia that led to his sudden delivery.
“I went up to the hospital at like the 24-hour mark and I just remember celebrating that like inside myself, like we made it to 24 hours. This is huge. you know, And then it just got easier, like every day was a little bit easier, a little bit easier,” she said.
With his every breath a small miracle, Richards named her little fighter Knight.
Today he’s three months old and Richards has spent every day at his bedside in the hospital, talking and reading to him.
“The reading was a big thing because there's lots of times in the beginning where he was hands off, where physical touch wasn't an option for him,” Richards said.
After being in the hospital this long, Richards said the pages of a story book help when words have been hard to find.
“My voice was all he knew while he was inside of me, right? So, I liked being able to provide that comfort for him. And it showed on the monitors when he was on me when he heard my voice he was always really, really stable,” she said.
Reading to preemies has become an important part of the care offered in the NICU and volunteer baby readers are even enlisted to help.
Books from the Children's Hospital library are carted over to parents and they're also given reading kits made by volunteers.
“So we can give them a homemade book bag with a book inside. It's usually Goodnight Moon, and we talk to them about reading and how it's beneficial for their babies to hear their voices and brain development and language development too,” said Karen Netzel, the NICU family support coordinator.
Netzel said the hospital has a need for volunteers who've been in Richard's situation.
“We are looking for parents who have had babies in NICU to come and volunteer either in our family area as an ambassador, or to do our book cart. And so, we like that to be veteran parents because they understand the experience,” said Netzel.
When feeling alone in her NICU journey, Richards has found comfort herself meeting parent volunteers with preemie experience
“Not a lot of moms can relate to not taking their baby home after birth. So, those mums get it. And just like when I leave at the end of the day, you know, for somebody who can read to my baby and cuddle my baby when I can't. So that's really special,” Richards said,
Knight will be able to go home any day now and while he may not remember this part of his journey in the world, Richards will with much gratitude for the care and support she's found at his bedside.
“There's not really a lot of words you can put into place for that because it's just, it's just it's so great that you know somebody cares about your baby when you can't be there to do it,” she said.