I have what I think is the best volunteer job ever.
In fact, I frequently tell them that it should be a paid job—that is, I should have to pay them for the privilege of being a volunteer.
I cuddle babies at the local hospital.
Once a week I put on a hideous maroon polyester jacket with the hospital name emblazoned on the pocket, clip my hospital badge on and face the traffic and parking challenges of getting to the hospital. I walk in, sign in and offer my services in the NICU.
I walk from pod to pod in search of that special baby who needs just a little bit extra love, time, and attention.
The rules are that I am not allowed to pick the baby up out of the crib, change her diaper, or, obviously, do anything medical. So, like a princess, I sit in the rocking chair, a pillow (kindly provided by the nurse) under my arm and I get to know a fabulous new baby. Sometimes the baby cries the whole time, sometimes, she sleeps contentedly in my arms, sometimes she gazes deeply into my eyes, often it’s a combination of all of the above.
In the hour or three hours I spend with each baby, I sometimes just listen to the sounds of the NICU including the nurses chatting and the doctors doing their rounds.
I spin a tale for the baby, I encourage her to get strong so she can go home. Often I suggest she ask for a pony for her sixth birthday (I’m pretty sure she won’t remember that, but not positive). I talk to her about what her bedroom might look like or who her siblings are and how happy they will be when she finally comes home.
Sometimes the baby is a strong baby within a day or two of going home, sometimes, as today, it’s a baby who has been there for many months, fighting to survive, and sometimes it’s a baby with a severe and obvious birth defect. They are always beautiful and they are always fighters. From the smallest most delicate newborns to the bigger bruisers, these babies fight, sometimes for every breath they take.
They even fight sleep, I watch as their eyes gently shut and then they startle awake ready to fight, to take on whatever is challenging their very existence.
It is always the most powerful part of my week.
I do other volunteer work, other deeply meaningful work, and I connect with many people about whom I care deeply over the course of a week. But, there is nothing like that hour or two or three that I spend in the NICU.
It touches my soul, heals my heart and renews my energies.
Here’s my call to action: do good in the world, earn money, love others, care for others and then find something that helps others but that you do because it feeds your soul. How amazing to do something that is so rewarding and fulfilling and to have people thank you for it.
If not that, hold a baby, whenever you can.
Author: Wendy Kuhn
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Teppei Shimokawa at Flickr