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Parents craft lullabies for their NICU babies at the UW Medical Center

Little Kassie Turner was born three months early, at just 28 weeks. Since her February 5th birth, Kassie has remained under a doctor’s watch at the University of Washington Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, growing and getting stronger by the day. Her dad, Shannon Turner, drives up from Poulsbo every weekend and her mom, Danielle Turner, has been with her every moment since she was born.

“The couch pulls out into a small little bed,” Danielle said, as we sat in the small room she’s sharing with Kassie at UQW Medical Center. “They have a freezer and a refrigerator here so I keep food here and and can do laundry and a shower.”

Being away from home, and her other children, has been tough. Not to mention being cooped up in the hospital. But Danielle has found some relief from Gayle Cloud, the NICU’s dedicated neurological music therapist. Cloud, and her trusty acoustic guitar, works with parents to create custom lullabies to sing to their babies.

“I work with parents to help them select the right words, the right sentiment, the terms of endearment that have special meaning to them,” said Cloud. “In Shannon and Danielle’s case, they picked the names of their children because it became a family affair that the whole family was going to be engaged in singing to little Kassie.”

She helps them pick a simple and memorable melody.

“I knew that we wanted to do something faith-based so we chose ‘Jesus Loves Me’ because it’s an easy melody to follow,” Danielle said. “Gayle is so brilliant. She came in and I said, hey, I’m not good about making rhymes but this is what I want to tell our daughter, [something] she can hold on to and grow and listen to. So she was able to pull these beautiful versus and rhymes together. When she sang it I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, yes, I love it!'”

Creating and singing a lullaby has all kinds of benefits.

“I can honestly say that Gayle helped bring my wife back to herself,” said Shannon. “Being locked up in a room basically 24/7, you have no control over what’s going on around you. This program provided an outlet. It’s a great opportunity.”

Lullabies also help babies heal faster.

“Science has actually shown that because lullabies are both metrically and melodically and rhythmically very, very simple, they also have a lot of repetitive elements to them that can be very calming and very physiologically and emotionally beneficial for babies,” said Cloud. “Music can help reduce stress responses so it can help lower blood pressure. In the NICU it can also help increase oxygen saturation levels or help with sucking and feeding patters.”

But when Danielle and Shannon sat side by side, cuddling baby Kassie in the NICU, softly singing her her own lullaby, it was less about science and all about love.

“It was a way for me to establish that connection,” said Shannon. “It took me away from everything else that was outside. It helped me focus, it got me relaxed. This was something that was really meaningful because this was something that my mom did for me. To have this opportunity to carry it on and give it to Kassie, it’s meaningful. Touching her and singing to her and having her feel the vibrations from me. [Sometimes we get] the small smile, we’re even getting one eye open. It was great because she knew me, she felt me and she knew that I was here for her.”

Danielle and Shannon are hopeful that they’ll be able to take Kassie home by the end of the month, which is when she would have reached full term.

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