Friday, August 31, 2018

In Baby and Me, parents craft a lullaby for hospitalized infant

By Louise Kinross

When a child is born premature or with serious medical problems, parents’ plans go out the window. Instead of getting to know each other in the relaxed and quiet safety of their home, parents sit at a hospital crib, unsure of how to interact with the newborn beneath the wires and noisy equipment.

While their baby is in intensive care or rehab, parents may miss some of the most basic bonding experiences.

For example, a mother attending Holland Bloorview’s new Baby and Me program, noted that when she lay down beside her child on a mattress in the program, it was the first time she’d ever snuggled in bed with her baby. The baby was seven months old.

One morning a week, inpatient babies up to 18 months and their moms or dads meet in Holland Bloorview’s music therapy room for 45 minutes of creative arts psychotherapy, which includes art- and music-making.

“We started the group to facilitate creative and playful opportunities between caregiver and child,” says Eunice Kang, a registered psychotherapist and music therapist at Holland Bloorview. “We offer a means of coping with trauma and help parents connect to their infants through song writing and creating art. It’s an opportunity to stop and take stock of their journey so far—to talk about the difficulties and celebrate the achievements.”

The session begins with parents playing soothing bells of different pitches. They then choose to compose a personal lullaby for their child, called a "song of kin," or paint and decorate a piece of canvas to honour their baby.

Eunice and Andrea Lamont, also a registered psychotherapist and music therapist, learned the "song of kin" technique from Dr. Joanne Loewy. Last year they attended Dr. Loewy's continuing education program in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. They then worked with Shawna Perkins, Holland Bloorview's therapeutic playroom coordinator and art therapist, to adapt the techniques for the growing number of infant patients we see here.

For the lullaby, parents are asked to choose a favourite family song, then work with Eunice and Andrea to create meaningful lyrics for their child. “The baby has experienced a lot of stress being in new hospital environments, and we know that listening to Mommy or Daddy sing to them will help the baby regulate their emotions and bond,” Eunice says. “While we’re making the lullaby, we listen to the family’s concerns and issues. It’s a quiet time, with no beeping alarm sounds or interruptions, that can also be emotional and cathartic for parents.”

In addition to the lullaby, parents and babies work on their art canvas with Shawna, adding patterns and textures and photos of the baby. At the end, Shawna takes a picture of the child and superimposes it on the canvas, adding the lyrics from the family's lullaby as a border.

The facilitators play instruments to accompany parents singing their lullabies. “With their consent, we record the lullaby and send it to their e-mail or phone,” Eunice says. “Some of the families tell us they cry the first time they hear it, and they cherish the moment they share it with the baby.”

For more information on the Baby and Me program for inpatients, please contact Shawna Perkins at ext. 6268. This project is funded by donors through Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Foundation.