Hospital records mothers' voices to soothe NICU babies

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Four-month old Luna Gharapetian is awaiting surgery in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite's NICU.  Her mother Amber's voice was recorded for a CD to play for Luna when she can't be with her.

Babies begin to recognize their mother's voice in the womb, months before they're ever born.

For many infants, the sound of their mother's voice is a source of comfort. At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite, music therapists have teamed up with a volunteer music producer to record the voices of mothers whose babies are in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

Lindy Agan's daughter Caroline is 4-months old, but the NICU is all Caroline has ever known.

Born early, at 33 week's gestation the day before Thanksgiving, Caroline has faced a series of medical complications. Lindy drives 80-miles round trip every day from her home in Cartersville, Georgia, to be with Caroline.

"Leaving Caroline in the hospital, and going home without her, was very difficult," Lindy Agan says.

The former school librarian says you have this image of how your new baby's life should begin.

"And it's happy, and you're surrounded by your family," Agan says.  "But, when it doesn't happen that way, you feel really scared. You feel like a part of you didn't get to come home with you."

So, in a conference room around the corner from the NICU, Lindy Agan sings "You Are My Sunshine" into a microphone, as Children's music therapist Hannah Bush plays the guitar.

"We chose to sing 'You Are My Sunshine' [because] it's one of my favorite lullabies, that I sing to her all the time," Agan explains.

David Tenenbaum, a volunteer with Children's "Little Lullabies" program records a series of songs from each parent like Lindy Agan. It takes him about a week to edit the music on a CD that will be played by each baby's bedside.

"They often turn their head to listen, which shows they recognize that voice," Hannah Bush says.  "They may start kicking their feet."

If parents don't feel comfortable singing, Bush sayshee can read stories to their babies.

There's a pile of bedtime storybooks on the conference room table. Amber Gharapetian wanted to record something for her 4-month old Luna Snow, who was born a month early, without a fully-formed esophagus. Luna, too, is one of the "longtimers" here in the NICU, who hasn't had a chance to go home.

"It's been tough," Gharapetian says.  "It's actually 125 days, that she's been here.  And, it's very difficult. I'm a very attachment-parenting mom, and, I hold my babies all the time, when they're little. I can't do that with her."

Gharapetian, who lives an hour away in Sharpesburg, Georgia, says she can only come to see Luna 3 days a week. Her husband works, and they have at 4-year old and a 6-year old.

So, Amber reads "Good Night, Moon," into the microphone, as Tenenbaum records her.

She's hoping the CD Tenenbaum will create will soothe Luna, when it's time for her to go home to Sharpesburg.

"Having to walk away from her, especially when she is awake, and she sees me leaving, that makes it hard," Gharapetian says, her voice choked with emotion.

Lindy Agan says it brings her comfort to know her baby Caroline can hear her voice, at night, when she can't be here with her. She dreams of the day when she can tuck Caroline to bed in their home, this baby who is everything.

"I want her to be healthy and strong," Agan says.  "I was her to come home and live a beautiful, wonderful life with her family."