You have seen us everywhere, the most popular volunteer job that has gone adorably viral, a “Cuddler!” Who doesn’t want to hold sweet, innocent, newborns, needing love and comfort?! It touches your heart, even thinking about it.
In 2014, when I was first exposed to hearing about being a volunteer, to hold babies, it wasn’t presented to me in a form of popularity, as seen on social media and the news today. In fact, it was a needed job in our hospitals, because so many babies were born dependent on drugs, who needed extra attention. Our nurses and doctors were very busy, we had an overflow of babies in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and so many newborns were inconsolable.
Being a new parent myself, this was a heartbreaking moment, I will never forget. While I was there with my son, I looked around day after day, night after night, to see so many others, with not a parent in sight. I learned that these babies were suffering from “Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” symptoms of detoxing from the drugs they were exposed to, while in the womb of their mothers.
I watched a man, by the name of “Woody,” walk into the baby nursery one day while I was holding Rio.
He picked up a baby, to console it and I could see he had on a volunteer uniform. I asked a nurse, “who is he, and what is he doing exactly?” I thought it was so loving, and nice.
She replied, “he is a Cuddler, he comes in, and holds babies, whose parents can’t be here.” My emotions were everywhere. How could their mother not be here? How could they do this to their baby? I want to help too! Rather than questioning everything, I realized that the mothers can’t be there, if they are an addict, and that addiction is a disease. It could be me, it could be you, or anyone. Now wasn’t the time to point the finger, it was the time to help.
I contacted the Volunteer Services Department of UT Medical Center, filled out my application, and actually listed the nurses who took care of me many weeks in the hospital, as references. I was thrilled the day I was hired because the waiting list had been seven years long, so it felt like a miracle to get an opening.
So, you have to do forty-eight hours in another department, prior to working in the NICU. This takes you three months to complete, as you can only do four hours a week. You get to choose where you would like to work, so I started in “Surgical Waiting.” I truly enjoyed escorting patients to their room for surgical preparations, and later, escorting their families to see them, after surgery was over. I guess, I am a comforter by nature.
After this was completed, it was time to get prepped for cuddling!! You get all of your immunization shots, you train for CPR certification for infants, and you train with another Cuddler! This process, usually takes at least eight to twelve hours of learning.
Once you have completed your training, you find yourself, an official Cuddler! I am required to volunteer four hours a week, and I have enjoyed this so much, since the day I first started! I have learned, I have loved, I have cried, I have grown. I wanted others, to join my efforts, and help, but I also wanted to document, my journey, and see how I would change from this experience. I decided to start recording FB live post about two years ago, and still going strong! I have been able to recruit new volunteer cuddlers in America, and even other countries!!
This story has come full circle. I literally hold other babies, every week, in the same room, Rio was in, born a preemie. I comfort families, who are worried, and tell them they are going to be okay, just like volunteers did for me! You see, not only are all babies, “born to kuddle,” but I was also “born to kuddle.” This is my destiny, this my life I am devoted to, and I am so proud to be recognized as, “that lady who cuddles babies,” over any other mention. When you are recognized for what you do, but not who you are, you leave a legacy for others, and it creates an endless chain, of changes, hope, and love!
To volunteer near you, please go to our “volunteer,” tab on our website, and find your state! To volunteer at UT Medical Center, please visit https://www.utmedicalcenter.org/volunteer/ to apply!