The longest running program in the Jackson Junior League is the Rockin’ Mamas.
Junior League members visit the premature infants in UMMC’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Intermediate Care Nursery at Wiser Hospital to provide stimulation, affection and human touch when mom can’t be there.
Started in 1980, the program has continued for 36 years, when most are turned over to other organizations at the three-year mark. Each year, Leaguers host a gathering to give parents an opportunity to reunite with neonatologists, NICU nurses and Rockin’ Mamas who participated in the program.
“The Rockin Mamas are a great asset to the NICU,” said Emily Clark, a registered nurse, certified, in the neonatal unit. “They are often here for our precious babies when families are unable to be here due to circumstances beyond their control. Babies in the NICU benefit from one-on-one time that these nurturing volunteers spend with them.”
Melissa Ridgway rocked babies from 1988 to 1990. At the Rockin’ Mamas Reunion Party, Saturday, Sept. 26, Ridgway shed some light on why the program is still so popular.
“When you’re a mom, you have so much to give,” said Ridgway. “There’s nothing like the heart of a mother who has a child of her own.”
Ridgway said that the program evolved from the Neonatal Cradle project. The Junior League raised money to purchase an ambulance for transporting premature infants from around the state to local hospitals for access to neonatologists.
“That happens a lot with the Junior League. One project leads to another. We bought the Neonatal Cradle, saw the babies’ need for physical stimulation and bonding and moved right into the Rockin’ Mamas.”
Mary Kathryn Christian Rainey is a provisional member in her first year with Junior League and is hoping to have the opportunity to become a Rockin’ Mama next year.
“When I saw that this was one of our projects that we could sign up for or be elected to, I contacted the chair of all of the projects and told her my story and what it meant to me to be able to give back to the place where I was born,” said Rainey.
Rainey was born at UMMC on December 20, 1984, at 27 weeks and weighing only one pound and nine ounces. Doctors told her mother, Kathy Christian, that she would probably not make it.
“They told me she wouldn’t survive, not to get my hopes up. It just wasn’t going to happen.”
A school teacher with two other children at home, Christian, like many other parents of preemies, had to return home to Greenville shortly after her baby was born.
“My mother would ride with me every Saturday to see Mary Kathryn in the NICU,” said Christian. “We couldn’t touch her or hold her. We’d just stand there by that little box and watch her for a couple of hours. There was an alarm attached to her leg, and when she’d stop breathing, the alarm would go off. The nurse would come over and tickle her or shake her foot, and she’d start breathing again. Without that, she wouldn’t have survived.”
Because many premature infants are not able to regulate breathing, the physical contact that the Rockin’ Mamas give is important. Ridgway said the interaction aids babies’ developing nervous system and prevents failure to thrive.
“We were trained by physical therapists exactly how to bond with them and how to move their little arms and legs and exactly what to do and not to do,” said Ridgway.
“One of the most privileged things I’ve gotten to do is to love those babies when the mamas couldn’t be there. When you are sitting there rocking that baby and singing to them like they are your own, you know the mom is loving them vicariously through you.”