Skin-to-Skin

When my son Pearson was born, he weighed five pounds and four ounces, had a wheezy cry and pink skin with just a little too much yellow. Shortly after the miracle of birth (which I have previously described as “pulling a frog out of a butterball turkey”), they whisked him and his sister away to get cleaned up and swaddled. Later that day they would take my boy up to the NICU and observe him, occasionally putting him under biliruben lights that reminded me of the heating lamps in fast-food restaurants.

And then the nurse told me to take off my shirt.

I was unaware that one did such things. The nurse directed me as one would tell a newcomer to the Royal Court the proper method of curtsey: “now you take off your shirt and sit in that chair over there, and I’ll put little Pearson on you for some skin-to-skin time.”

Of course. What?

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Paternal skin-to-skin contact, as it turns out, calms and comforts a newborn. Mothers and doctors cite the bonding that occurs as the infant takes in the warmth and smell of the parent. It is meant to aid in reassuring the newborn after the traumas of birth, which assists in breastfeeding and even (some theorize) long-term child-parent relationships. (1)

I was a little nervous. My experience with newborn babies, let alone my shirtless experience with newborn babies, was limited at best. (2) But though I was nervous, I felt that this was something good to do, something I was supposed to do, so off went the shirt and I held Pearson tight against me, hospital swaddle covering us both. His little chicken arms stretched, and tiny hands grasped at my chest. His breath, still wheezy from early lungs that were yet-unpracticed, was fast and shallow at first but began to slow and deepen. He was warm and small and so light!

I only held him for a few minutes then. I don’t know whether our time together made him a better nurser, or whether it bonded him to me, but I know it bonded me to him. The experience is now indelible in my mind. To this day I seek every opportunity to snatch up that little boy, hold him close, listen to his little breaths and nuzzle against his hair. Any time he wants to be held I will drop what I am doing and hold him. I secretly love it when he wakes up in the night and wants comfort, because it means he might end up in bed between me and Sumer. Whenever he wants to turn to me, I will turn to him.

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I’m a young father, and I guess not all fathers are like this, but I believe in a Father in Heaven who feels this way. Sometimes when I read the scriptures I hear a Father desperate to hold us in his bosom:

God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him.

And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

I don’t know how long my son will be willing to let me steal hugs and nuzzles. I suspect as he gets older, he will begin to slip away; but I also suspect that my bond to him will not slip away so easily. Perhaps God feels this bond to us, and though we strike out on our own and pretend not to need his love, he needs it still. He must feel something for us, because we read: “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” That is a love that surpasses my own. I cannot imagine loving another so much that I could give my son, but this is the love of our Father.

I expect that whenever my son wants to turn to me, I will welcome it. Whenever I have turned to my Heavenly Father, without exception, I have found him there welcoming me. Sometimes I feel like I can’t turn to him, that I wouldn’t be welcome; sometimes I feel like there is too much in the way: the world, my own sins, sometimes even his church. But if God feels for me anything like what I feel for my son, I know that he will never not embrace a son or daughter who seeks to press against his bosom. This all-surpassing love is completely amazing to me.

Ours is not a God without body, parts or passions; we have a Father who sees and loves us. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”

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—————–
(1) There is much literature on this topic. See, e.g., ScienceDaily (June 12, 2007), summarized at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070611113914.htm

(2) It still is pretty limited.

Comments

  1. one of my favorite memories of the birth of our third daughter is of me waddling from the bedroom to the shower and seeing my husband sitting shirtless on the couch, our hour old baby curled up on his chest (though it was for warmth and not for intentional bonding). my mom took pictures, which are some of my favorites from her first days. there was something so striking about seeing my husband doing the skin-to-skin thing that about melted me.

    i’ve had a rough go this election season and when i doubted my heart, the same imagery of god that you presented is what helped me the most.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Those are lucky kids.

    You can add to your list the story of the prodigal, where the father ran, literally ran, to embrace his son.

    Thanks Steve.

  3. I love posts with pictures, especially good posts.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I had never heard of the skin to skin bonding thing. Makees sense. Did you also have a chance to do the bonding thing with your daughter?

  5. Thanks Steve.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    Kevin, yes — but she was still shy for some months.

    Mark, the prodigal son is maybe the best of all the scriptures on this. I can’t believe I missed it!

  7. If you want happy children you’ve gotta love them to death with physical affection–lots of hugs and kisses. And when they’re little–lots of time just cuddling.

    You know, it’s good for the parents too!

    Beautiful post, Steve.

  8. I actually had to double check the author of this post… twice. I said myself “That doesn’t sound like Steve Evans.”

    In all seriousness though, that was very nice. You have lucky children.

  9. D. Fletcher says:

    Wait, where’s the skin to skin shot? Let’s see that bod, Steve.

  10. Nice try D.!

    Trevor, I like to keep ‘em guessing. If I were an unpardonable monster in every comment and post, y’all would get bored.

  11. It sounds exactly like the Steve Evans I know. Thanks for sharing something so lovely and personal.

  12. This was beautiful; thanks.

  13. That’s a beautiful post and a beautiful baby.

  14. Steve, you made me cry.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Kathy, you deserve it.

  16. Take your compliments like a man.

  17. Beautiful stuff, man.

  18. Beautiful

  19. Lucky dad.

  20. That was a sweet post, thanks.

  21. sniff. Beautiful, Steve. I’m glad that every once in a while, everyone else gets to see the side of you that we BCCers know very well. Those are very, very lucky kids.

  22. You may have just restored my faith in the bloggernaccle’s ability to uplift and edify. Beautiful. Thank you.

  23. Lovely thank you. I especailly enjoyed the pictures. What a special kid. Cuddle them both as long as they will let you.

    Before we adopted Hong Mei (who was three when we got her) I read up on all the attachment issues. The experts recommended lots of holding and skin contact. Whe we received her she was not like a little kid, but an angry old Chinese woman. She was totally independant and did not need our help, thank you very much. It took several weeks of me first getting her to trust me so I could hold her. Then putting her in nursing postion with me in a light tee shirt. She would look at me like I was nuts. There were times I doubted she would let me hold her like a baby. Finally she relaxed and let me hold her. She would (still does) suck her thumb, rub my arm, stick her toes in my mouth etc… We spent hours that first year rocking and holding. The house went to pot, but the social workers are amazed at how well an abused negected starved toddler has learned to love her family and feel like she belongs.

  24. Its true, Cynthia. I can’t tell you the number of times that Steve has picked me up and nuzzled me.

  25. John C, oh you are terrible. sheesh.

  26. Steve, my son was sick with a strep infection at birth and I had much the same experience, though he is 14 now and much less inclined to let me pick him up and snuggle him. This post took me back to those baby years that I still think of as the most wonderful time of my life. Thanks so much for that.

  27. Ah thanks for making me cry… remembering my preemie baby {Who is now a beautiful 8 year old}… when she was only 3 lbs. and her Dad held her skin-to-skin in the NICU. She was hungry and began rooting for something to eat and promptly latched onto my husband’s hairy nipple and began to suck! Poor guy… hurt like crazy and scared him half to death! He was a new Dad and all! I have pictures of him holding our tiny daughter on his bare chest, some of them sleeping in our bed curled up together. She fit in the palm of his hand, she was so tiny. They grow so fast. She has grown into this beautiful, intelligent, amazing little girl who is growing faster than I can keep up with.
    wow, thanks for making me cry too and for the trip down memory lane.
    For tiny preemies Kangaroo Care is what they call it and the skin to skin contact actually helps preemies to build immunity, regulate their body temperature, improve their aility to suckle {as some preemies can not suck properly} and helps them to grow and gain weight faster than those who are not held. We spent a good 10 days in the NICU and saw many many babies whose mothers never came and they were never held.

  28. Wow Steve, those kids are so lucky to have you and Sumer as parents. Just beautiful. (And great shots of the cutie pie too….)

  29. My nurse called this triadic bonding. I did it with my older daughter, the nurse didn’t tell me to do it with my younger daughter and body conscious guy that I am, I missed the opportunity. But I did it when we got home from the hospital.

    Cool post

  30. Julie M. Smith says:

    sniff sniff sniff

  31. Thanks, Steve.

  32. Love it.

    And maybe this is why we are advised to parent, not as some benevolent service to God to provide bodies, good homes and testimonies for needy spirits, but for what they offer us about the very nature of God. We adult parents have a lot of growing up to do.

    And those precious pictures make me baby hungry :)

  33. This is wonderful, Steve – simply beautiful.

  34. Thanks for this–it reminded me how wonderful life can be.

  35. Thanks for sharing.

  36. “And those precious pictures make me baby hungry”

    Damn you Evans!!!

    (Great post by the way.)

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Apologies to those whose spouses may be driven baby-crazy by my post. Any such child-madness is purely unintentional.

  38. Aw, Steve. Excellent post. Just in time for Finnish Father’s Day.

    A scripture that often occurs to me as a father is Matt 7:9-11:

    Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

    Not that I’m trying to feed my kids rocks, but I need to offer what they need (time, attention, encouragement, physical contact).

  39. Well done, Steve. I have four daughters and not one of them ever allowed us to cuddle them as babies. Not one!

  40. Beautiful, Steve. Made me smile and reminisce and cry a little. It makes me hopeful that some day I can return home to feel the love of my Heavenly parents’ hugs. It makes me want to hug my own daughter and son.

  41. This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  42. All this talk of skin to skin and all we get is a photo of you in a t-shirt. Free the topless Steve Evans.

  43. Free the topless, waxed Steve Evans.

    Good stuff, Stephen.

  44. I heart Steve. Lovely post.

  45. It’s sad that our society has almost criminalized touch. Last Sunday I noticed 3 of the teenaged boys hugging their parents. One came up to his mom in the hall before Primary and gave her a big hug before class. Another, taller than his dad, slouched down in the pew while his father had an arm around him. He snuggled in and just beamed. My teenaged girls were uncomfortable with these “PDS’s,” but human beings need this. Thanks for the reminder.

  46. PDA’s. oops.

  47. Researcher says:

    Thanks for the post. Having a good nurse, NICU or otherwise, is a real blessing.

  48. Peter LLC says:

    Free the topless Steve Evans.

    Be careful what you pray for…

  49. Thank you. It makes me feel even better about my one year old snuggled up asleep on my lap now.

  50. Great to hear this. Thanks. The cuddling will last for a while, if you let it. Though different personalities will cuddle more or less.

    My six year old boy still cuddles us, but my ten year boy won’t. He will however play “tickle and tackle” a game he loves where he tries to pin me down and I defend myself by tickling him. It’s even more fun when the two boy gang up on me at once.

  51. Well, who would have thunk. This post may reverse my ill advised image of you Steve. I tried the skin to skin thing but my 18 year old hated it. -

  52. Dammit, Steve, you’ve ruined me for snark for, like, a week.

    Double-length Police Beat next time!

    (Kidding, of course. This post really helped me get excited for our forthcoming baby–an unexpected pregnancy arriving at a hectic time, the result of the inverse relationship between my wife’s fertility and her math skills…)

  53. Steve Evans says:

    Jeremy, I aim to please. We’ll redouble our snark efforts for the next PBR.

  54. I think the nurse just wanted to see Steve’s rock-hard abs…

    On the serious side, I don’t remember any chest skin-to-skin bonding per se, but I do remember wearing short-sleeve shirts in the wintertime so I could feel my newborn’s skin against fine.

    Good thing that bonding took place so strongly. He’s now approaching twelve and there are days where I’d feed him to the wolverines if it wouldn’t get me into trouble.

    That and I don’t think we have wolverines around here. Would a possum do the trick?

  55. As a kid, I would instantly be soothed and fall asleep if held by my dad (newborn to-well, now, I think).

  56. Beautiful post, Steve.

  57. Great post.

    My husband was really hurt when our oldest wouldn’t let him hug him anymore. My husband is a really affectionate guy and our oldest is like me—definitely not affectionate. Try not to take us don’t-like-to-be-touched people personally.

  58. Beautiful–thanks for sharing.

  59. nasamomdele says:

    Good stuff. I confess I am one who loves to take in the touch and smell of my little ones (16 months & 3 months). The love bubbles up…

  60. That really is inspiring. I’ve given my husband the link. We are expecting our first and I so want him to feel connected and to bond with our little baby girl. I’ve read so much about fathers feeling left out since they aren’t typically as involved in things like feeding and whatnots…

    Beautiful.

  61. Patricia Lahtinen says:

    Amen, Mel S. (#32)! We need to have these experiences in order to become perfect, COMPLETE!

    Beautiful post, Steve.

  62. #45 – BiV, one of my fondest memories of the often painful times trying to help a son deal with his struggles from an abusive past was sitting on the couch holding him as he sobbed. He was a full foot taller than I am and MUCH stronger, but I will treasure that moment my entire life.

    You better believe I sit in church with my arms around my wife and as many of our kids as I can reach. My 20-year-old and 18-year-old boys still rest their heads on my shoulders occasionally in PH opening exercises after a long Saturday night – and I hope they will allow me to return the favor when I use a walker to reach our pew.

  63. Steve

    I am so proud of you.

  64. What a beautiful post. Thank you. I have two kids who are still affectionate and two who are “don’t touch me,” so I am especially grateful that I didn’t hold back from when they were tiny. I loved how as they grew older and were weaned they would find other ways to be close–working their tiny fingers just under the bottom of my sleeves to rub my arms, or wrapping their hands around my neck as I would carry them.

    Sometimes–especially with the “no touch” kids I sneak into their rooms at night to caress their cheeks and kiss their foreheads.

  65. very nice. thanks for sharing.

  66. Great post, Steve. Thanks for sharing!

  67. Merci, merci.

  68. Gorgeous, dude.

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