Skin-to-Skin Care and the Touch of God.
By Rev. Dr. Teresa Allissa Citro
Founder and President of Thread of Hope, Inc.
Justin, my son, was born 2.5 months premature. Weighing in at 4lb 11oz and going down to 4lb 2oz. He was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for 6 long weeks.
Let me just pause and give some medical information so that you can understand where I’m going. Babies are fully developed by 32-33 weeks. Justin was born with hair on his body, typical of babies born before 32 weeks. He was a preemie. This baby hair is called lanugo. It’s a very fine hair that disappears after 32 weeks. Justin still had his. Lanugo hair protects a baby’s skin from amniotic fluid that constantly touches the skin.
In addition, and typical of preemies, his lungs were not fully developed. He needed help breathing. Keeping him warm was another major concern. He needed to stay in an incubator, but the greatest concern was trying to teach him how to eat. Babies born this early have major problems learning how to eat. It took Justin 6 weeks before he learned how to take his bottle. This kept him in the NICU.
I explained all this so you would understand the importance of skin-to-skin care. Another term for skin-to-skin care is called kangaroo care. This is what I had to do with Justin. Every day they took his clothes off, left only his diaper and I changed into a hospital gurney. He laid on my chest, skin-to-skin. Immediately, you could see his heart rate drop way down, becoming normal. Keeping his heart rate and breathing normal was extremely important. Also keeping him warm by body heat was just as important.
By implementing skin-to-skin care, it resulted in Justin relaxing, and this made him fall into a much deeper sleep, thus giving him the much-needed strength for him to have the energy to drink his milk. Drinking more milk helped him to gain the weight that he needed to come home, and the overall objective was to get and keep him healthy and leaving the hospital.
Having a medical background can be a dangerous thing. I knew too much information. I was scared to death and worried sick seeing all those tubes attached to his tiny, tiny body. But the moment he was on me, Justin calmed down. It was immediate. I prayed hard as you can imagine. Nurses and doctors were celebrating every time I got him to drink the tiniest of extra milk. I could see his heart rate go up when he was using his energy to suck the milk bottle. He would stop, and I would freak out because I could feel and see on the monitor the change of heartbeat.
All this to paint you a very vivid picture between a child and their parent (this works with dads, too.) The past two weeks, God kept bringing this up in my mind. Today, I felt God say, “Write!” I’m writing.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Mathew 11:28-30
Let’s break this verse down.
1. “Come to me.” This is an invitation from God Himself. He is asking that we move near to Him. Move closer. These are action words. There’s something we need to do. Get near to Him. You remember John the Apostle? “Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved,” John 13:23. Just like Justin and I.
Justin was leaning on my chest. John the disciple was doing the same. Talk about the best place for us to be. Leaning on Him. There we can feel his heartbeat. There is where we gain the strength. Are you getting this incredible connection? Justin’s breathing and heartbeat became normal at the touch of my skin and heartbeat. Jesus is inviting you and me to come to this incredible place of complete peace. What’s stopping you?
2. “I will give you rest.” This is where we find complete relaxation. It’s where we can sleep in complete peace. It is here where we rest, where we find peace, where we are fed emotionally and spiritually. This was where Justin was able to get complete and deep sleep. He was secure as he lay on my chest. John was doing the same. Justin gained the physical strength that he needed to be able to take his bottle. He never cried on my chest. He was completely contented. The deep sleep gave him the strength to take his bottle. He was drinking more and getting stronger. You understand? Jesus wants us physically and emotionally healthy. What’s stopping you from receiving these incredible gifts for survival in an emotionally and physically sick world?
3. ”Take his yoke.” There’s a specific way to work the oxen when the yoke is used. Oxen are built with great strength. Did you know there are 300-400 million oxen used globally today? They are practical and extremely capable to get the work done. They are used in the modern world as an alternative to machines, too. They are gentle and easy animals to work with. They are built for such works.
The yoke is a wooden beam. It’s placed between two oxen. This yoke enables them to pull the load together, and in working together there’s no strain on the animals. Thus making the person who’s directing the oxen stress-free of heavy labor, too. The key thing is the oxen aren’t hurt, and neither is the person. They are working together.
You understand? Justin wasn’t hurting me when placed on my chest. I had a reclining chair. I was very comfortable holding my baby that I loved dearly. In fact, I would speak to Justin. “Son, I got you. I’ll never let you go. I love you more than I love life. Come on now, trust me. Relax, my little love. Rest on me. Hear and feel my heartbeat. You can do this, son. You have to learn to drink your milk, ok? Mommy is here. I’ll help you. Together, we will do this. You must little by little drink this milk, and keep it in you.” That’s what I said. Every two hours he needed to eat. Every two hours I said the same thing. This is what Jesus does with us when our hearts are unsettled. He gently reminds us that we aren’t alone. We can go through the fire and it will not burn us. We can go through deep waters and we will not drown. What is keeping you from listening and obeying His instructions?
4. “You will find rest.” Look at that. Jesus says it twice. There are no "ifs," "ands," "buts", "maybes," or "mights." The keyword here is “will.” This means you will discover God’s faithfulness. You will come to see His love. You will find what’s in His heart for you. And in a world where we fact-check everything, you will find the true facts of who He is. He is truth, love, loyal, He is attentive, and trustworthy. He shows us His humility, steadfastness, and allegiance to us. He showcases His great care that He has for us. What’s stopping you from feeling all those things?
In conclusion, He has taken the yoke of hardship on Himself. In doing so, He takes us by our hand and leads us to places of victory. He promises to work all things out for our good. “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken,” Psalm 16:6-8. What a promise, what a gift, what a beautiful place to be at.
Those days in the hospital with Justin taught me a lot about the love God has for me. Today, He’s reminding you and me that His desire is for us to be like a little helpless baby and for us to lay on His strong chest, feeling His heartbeat, and trusting Him in the middle of hardships and confusion. He is with us.
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