Previously published: June 29, 2017
Every week, someone spouts an excited variance of, “I didn’t know you could volunteer to rock babies. Didn’t even know that was a thing. Can I do it?”
Why, yes, you can, and in a minute, I’ll tell you how. But first, I want to tell you why.
Marvel Lanagan was my wife’s friend, and so she was mine too. Marvel and I bonded over giggles and a deep love of other people’s babies. Neither of us had children, yet both of us loved them.
Marvel volunteered once a week in the nursery of St. David’s Medical Center in Austin, and she would share stories of how wonderful it was to rock babies.
“Oh, I didn’t know you could volunteer to rock babies. Didn’t even know that was a thing. I want to do that!” I often said.
“You should,” she often replied with a wide smile. “You’d be good at it.”
I never did.
One day at work, Marvel, at age 45, collapsed in her cubicle. Her heart suddenly stopped. A coworker found her, EMS was called, and she was resuscitated, but she’d been without oxygen too long.
Marvel died nine days after doctors removed all life support.
I remember grieving deeply. I remember not wanting to train for an upcoming triathlon. I remember crying at work. And I thought of the babies. Who’ll rock the babies now? I couldn’t do it.
Years later, after much introspection via a 12-week program called The Artist’s Way, I wrote down a bunch of bucket list items. “Baby rocking” was high on the list. So I began researching how to make that happen. Here’s what I did:
1. Choose a hospital.
I knew St. David’s had a baby rocking program, and there was a hospital 10 minutes away from my home. So I searched the hospital’s website and clicked on its Volunteering page. Turns out there’s A LOT of ways to volunteer. I had no idea. St. David’s has Community, College, and Teen Summer volunteer programs.
2. Choose a program.
Don’t let your eyes glaze over when you click on Volunteer Opportunities. At St. David’s, a person can volunteer for everything from the gift shop and information desk to the emergency room. You must be at least 25 years old to volunteer as a NICU rocker, but check out the official job description: “Provides compassionate nurture to NICU infants by rocking and holding eligible patients.” Sweet!
3. Apply online.
St. David’s has an easy, year-round online application process. Very convenient.
After I filed my online application, a Volunteer Services staff member sent me an e-mail to set up an interview. I sat in a small office with two women who asked me all kinds of questions. I knew they were trying to gauge whether I was a baby stalker nut. (I’m glad they realized I wasn’t.) It was a great conversation. We talked about the typical interview topics (“What’s your greatest strength/weakness?”) and then they got to the point: “Why do you want to rock babies?”
I told them about Marvel.
5. Undergo a drug screening and thorough background check.
Wouldn’t you want to know that the person rocking your baby isn’t a baby rocker stalker nut? Me too. So St. David’s takes a while to do a diligent screening, including carefully checking all character references. I had no problem waiting. It actually made me feel good that the hospital went to such great lengths to ensure that all volunteers are the people they say they are, and that their patients are safe.
6. Attend volunteer orientation.
The next month, I attended the all-hospital volunteer orientation held in the evening in a large conference room at the hospital. I got a free sandwich and LOTS of interesting information. I learned about facility policies and procedures, HIPPA patient confidentiality rules, and that Code Adam means someone is trying to run off with a baby and that I should immediately guard the nearest exit. (The black belt in me knew I could do this without a problem. Come at me, bro’!)
At the end of orientation, we took a test and then signed final documents in a thick agreement packet.
7. Get your flu shot, and prove that all your immunizations are up to date.
I couldn’t find my childhood immunization records. Could you? No worries. There’s now a cool blood test that can detect whether you have the chicken pox, measles, and mumps immunizations in your system. Ah, the wonders of science! (FYI: The flu shot is non-negotiable. You either get it or you don’t volunteer. St. David’s is serious about not spreading viruses and infections.)
8. Pick a day and time to volunteer.
In the NICU, volunteers are required to commit to a year of service for at least three hours a week. I’ve been rocking babies every Wednesday night, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., for almost two years and have no plans to stop any time soon.
9. Attend a training session in your department.
On a Friday afternoon in early December 2015, I started my journey by learning the importance of scrubbing thoroughly before entering the unit (protocol calls for washing your hands for 20 seconds; that’s equal to singing Happy Birthday twice). St. David’s is serious about halting the introduction and spread of infection. They even have little plastic filers to help scoop out dirt under your fingernails.
Next to washing my hands, the other important thing to remember was to always pull on surgical gloves before touching a baby. After that, I got coached on how to cradle a baby’s head to ensure good airflow and how to maneuver around wire connections. In no time the nurse trainer asked if I was ready to hold one. I suddenly got scared. (My mind was screaming, “Don’t break the baby! Don’t break the baby!”) I gulped, sat in a rocking chair, and she handed me my first patient. Rocking that baby was such a blast. I was so proud of myself!
My trainer was so nice, and she gave me small yet important tips such as, “Some premature babies have imbalance issues, so don’t rock so fast.”
My great nephew, Landon, was born in Corpus Christi that same Friday. He had fluid in his lungs, so he spent some time in the NICU. My niece was frantic. But I learned that Friday that some babies go to the NICU for this kind of stuff all the time. It’s common and temporary. Their lungs just need a little help learning how to breathe on their own. My niece was relieved when I told her that she didn’t have to be afraid. All those tubes and wires connected to her little boy were for good reason, and everything would be alright.
10. Rock on!
I hope this blog post helped answer some basic questions about volunteering as a baby rocker in your area. If your local hospital doesn’t have a rocker program, show them this blog post and ask to start one!
If you have any other questions, leave a comment below, or check out your local hospital’s website under Volunteer Opportunities.