Parents ‘Last Good Bye’ Saved Their Baby’s Life

Sometimes a preemie doesn’t need to be hooked up to 10 different machines to be given the chance to survive.

When Carolyn Isbister put her 20oz baby on her chest for a cuddle, she thought that it would be the only chance she would ever have to hold her. Doctors had told the parents that baby Rachel only had only minutes to live because her heart was beating once every ten seconds and she was not breathing.

Mrs. Isbister remembers saying:

“I didn’t want her to die being cold. So I lifted her out of her blanket and put her against my skin to warm her up. Her feet were so cold.

“It was the only cuddle I was going to have with her, so I wanted to remember the moment.” Then something remarkable happened. The warmth of her mother’s skin kick started Rachael’s heart into beating properly, which allowed her to take little breaths of her own.

“We couldn’t believe it – and neither could the doctors. She let out a tiny cry.”

“The doctors came in and said there was still no hope – but I wasn’t letting go of her. We had her blessed by the hospital chaplain, and waited for her to slip away.

“But she still hung on. And then amazingly the pink colour began to return to her cheeks.”

“She literally was turning from grey to pink before our eyes, and she began to warm up too.”

The sad part is that when the baby was born, doctors took one look at her and said ‘no’.

“They didn’t even try to help her with her breathing as they said it would just prolong her dying. Everyone just gave up on her,” her mom remembered. Ian Laing, a consultant neonatologist at the hospital, said: “All the signs were that the little one was not going to make it and we took the decision to let mum have a cuddle as it was all we could do.

“Two hours later the wee thing was crying. This is indeed a miracle baby and I have seen nothing like it in my 27 years of practice. I have not the slightest doubt that mother’s love saved her daughter.”

Rachael was moved on to a ventilator where she continued to make steady progress.

Miss Isbister said: “The doctors said that she had proved she was a fighter and that she now deserved some intensive care as there was some hope.

“She had done it all on her own – without any medical intervention or drugs.

“She had clung on to life – and it was all because of that cuddle. It had warmed up her body enough for her to start fighting.”

Because Rachel had suffered from a lack of oxygen doctors said there was a high risk of damage to her brain. But a scan showed no evidence of any problems.

After just 5 weeks she was taken off the ventilator and four months she was released home.

She is currently doing well and enjoys cuddles, which her parents give whenever possible.

When a parent holds their baby on their chest – skin to skin it is referred to as Kangaroo Mother Care.

The benefits for all babies on KMC are that they stabilize faster on skin to skin care than in the incubator (they do not stabilize in the incubator in the first six hours of life)Then KMC babies have stable oxygen rates and breathing. The heart rate is stable. The temperature is most stable on the mother ( in skin to skin care the mothers chest automatically warms to warm a cold baby, and the mothers core temperature can drop if her baby has a temperature.)

You can read more about it at kangaroomothercare.com


About the author

Lisa Arneill

SAHM of 2 boys and founder of GrowingYourBaby.com and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!


  • a moms touch!! wow this is the best story i ever read! congrats to the parents I hope baby is well still she is truly amazing! i would love to see a pic of her now! 20oz wow, you have many angles watching over you!

  • God Bless your baby. I can also relate to your story, on December 12, 1997 I had my baby boy he came in early I was 6 months and he weighed 1 pound 15 ounces I was so scared when they asked me if I wanted to hold him on my chest (Kangaroo)at first I was hesitant because I did not want anything to happen to my son but now after reading your story I’m glad I did because perhaps in a way that help my son fight for his life. He went home after 3 months in the NICU they said he was fine except he did gain weight. When he went home he only weighed 3 pounds 15 ounces, his first 3 yrs of life were hard in and out of the hospital with breathing complication, but today my son is 10 years old and although he weighs like a child of 5yrs he is healthy and very smart. The doctors tell me because he is so active what ever he eats he burns the calories fast. I Thank God everyday for blessing me with him and I know that you guys are blessed with a miracle too. I’ve always felt that these kids born early and fight so hard to live they are here for a purpose. Only good things can come from here on. May God Bless you, your baby, family and all the parents of preemies.

    A Friend in NC,
    M. Rosado

  • The Value of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) and Skin-to-skin contact for premature babies has been known for some time. The doctors surprise may stem from their lack of familiarity with this research. I was sad to read that, having shown the mother and the doctors exactly what she needed, Rachael was then put back into an incubator.

    Anyone interested in this important topic would be well-served by reading some o f the works of Dr. Nils Bergman. To quote him ” Maternal-infant skin-to-skin contact, provided from birth and continuously, embodies and defines individualised neurodevelopmental care, and should be regarded as a fundamental right of every newborn, premature or otherwise. We should not surrender the technology we have mastered, but we should ensure the humanisation of premature infant care, and restore all mothers to their newborns31.

    Dr Nils Bergman. bergman@xsinet.co.za

  • Excuse me, “she had proved she was a fighter and that she now deserved some intensive care”?! That is just sick. It’s a doctor’s job to provide care, regardless of whether or not the patient has proved their fitness for life. I’m so glad that little Rachel is recovering. I look forward to the day when we realize that *all* babies need their mama and daddy’s touch.

  • This was an amazing story. These Doctors need a wake up call. Life is life and should never be treated underserving. Yet the Love of this mother was truly the best medicine. God Bless your little miracle and God Bless your beautiful family.

  • When my daughter was born prematurely 13 years ago, I was traumatised my the separation of having her in intensive care, in an incubator, and being discouraged from holding her as it would “tire her out”. Despite all my instincts shouting this was wrong and that she needed to be held by me, I was in no state to argue with the medical staff, some of whom, the nurses particularly, made me feel unwanted and in the way. A friend found me articles about kangaroocare, it made so much sense and I am appalled that more than a decade on this is not now normal practise.

  • Dr. Allemann, your comment hit the nail right on the head. We have a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the superiority of KMC, so why wasn’t she assisted ON her mother rather than removed from her mother at the point it was clear she was doing well. So irritating. It wasn’t that she somehow overcame a subobtimal situation–it’s that she accidentally was placed in an optimal situation for survival.

    My friend is 23 weeks gestation with an incompetent cervix and unreassuring prognosis. I hope that her hospital will be up to day on this research should she find herself a mother of a micro-premie.

  • Truly beautiful. I feel very cheated as when my six were born they brought us our babies only when time to nurse them or give them a bottle, Wrapped up so tight I was afraid to movethe blankets to take a quick look at the little feet. so sad the doctors then thought they were doing us a favor by not having the baby with us. If we had them at home they would have been laid by us. Here’s hoping the medical field will grasp the improtance of the kangaroo touch. grandmother of 15 and great grandmother of 15. Marilyn

  • Nature has so much to teach our medical profession. They are not Gods in Green, despite the heroics they profess to. Kangaroos have been successful for millineum birthing a 3/4″ baby/fetus that makes its way, ON ITS OWN from birth canal through fur up into the pouch, down to a teat and latches on totally on its own. We CAN DO THIS TOO and in many cultures DO…but in our North American Medical Model of industrialized birth we are never given the opportunity with 98% birthed in a high interventionist hospital… where every move is monitored and controlled by policies and procedures that work against us. Joeys (baby kangaroos) do this with NO interventions, amniocentesis, ultrasound, monitoring, epidurals, forceps, ventous, c-sections, stitches or plexiglass sensory depravation chambers. In Bogata Columbia they have had the same success; because they can’t afford our incubators. Strangely not far away in São Paulo the global capital of plastic surgery; where there is LOTS of money… they have an 80% c-section rate!… surpassing our 33% we will have to hurry to catch up…we are being beaten by our own game!
    We don’t we have the same success with neonatal morbidity and mortality as many poorer countries— WHY?

    Because….. We have a profit centre that must be maintained to insure a perpetual pension plan for medical professionals, cohort and suppliers…oh and their profit parasites: Patent Medicine.

    Nature is not good for the economy. Healthy babies need little besides love, skin-to-skin contact and warmth, heartbeat, elixir of life (colostrum) and later the milk of human kindness (mother’s milk) along with mother’s biorhythms to synchronize and strengthen the most important and viable bond that insures healthy happy babies and our survival. These babies realize their amazing potential and are honoured and loved to become whole and holistic, loving and caring individuals who do not make the headlines of the popular media. Healthy, peaceful and productive they don’t march off to war, the mall or the pharmacy.

    THEY JUST ARE NOT GOOD for an unsustainable economy.

  • In 1978, I gave birth to a Downs Syndrome baby who had many anomalies. She was taken immediately from me to a large hospital 125 miles away. I visited her everyday and it was apparent that she wasn’t going to survive. The day before she died, I finally asked to hold her. I had been denied this for six weeks,due to tubes and lines. It has been the greatest thing and the hardest thing I have ever done. To be able to hold her and to rock her all afternoon has been an indescribable joy and peace. She died the very next day. I can so relate to this story and I am so pleased that this one had such a good and happy ending!

  • This story is just more proof to me that GOD IS REAL. He works miracles every day and if we all would just look around more, we’d see them. Blessings to this family from me and God the Father. May you spend many wonderful years together in His care!

  • The power of love! Pure love! Children are gifts from God. Bundles of love wrapped in skin. Love has power over death and God has a purpose for each and everyone of us.

  • I am absolutely amazed at the fact that there has to be “research” done to know that putting a baby with its mother is the best thing there is! I had a daughter by c-section 12 years ago because she was breech. She was taken to the nursery immediately after the surgery. Once I was finally out of the recovery room, where I had been for about an hour BY MYSELF, I was wheeled to my room only to be told that it would be another couple of hours before they would bring her in to me! (They were concerned about the oxygen ratio in her blood.) One glance at my Husband and he was off to the nursery to get her. Other family members had been permitted into the nursery to see her and yet they didn’t see the need to bring her to me! I immediately held her, uncovered all her tiny little parts, and held her to me. At first I felt I was holding a stranger. I will never forgive the hospital for doing that to me.

  • I am the mother of this story and I thank you all so much for your wishes and blessings.
    Having a baby at 23 weeks is a traumatic thing and being told that your child is going to die, is something no parent should ever have to go through.
    I am happy to say that Rachael is now a lively 2 year old toddler who just started walking last month. She’s bright, happy and uses signlanguage to communicate.
    When we were left with her to die, it was pure instinct that made me put her next to my skin (or a higher power). The doctors never mentioned Kangaroo care to me but I’m glad I followed my gut.
    I truly believe that she’s here for a reason and thank god every day for blessing me with my little miracle.

    • I am a volunteer in the Neonat. Dept. of Sainte-Justine Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, and I am writing a book, entitled: BÉBÉS MIRACLES (MIRACLE BABIES) on premature babies, with all profits going to the Prema-Quebec Foundation. I would like to translate this great story to French and include it with the lovely picture of mom, baby and dad. Should this message be read by the parents, please send me your authorisation and picture to Joseph Kerba, B.Ph.Ph.Ch. at kerbapharm@sympatico.ca. Thanks a million. JK XXX

  • This is truly a wonderful and uplifting story. A testament to the power of a mother’s instincts and the tenacity of a newborn baby to fight for survival. I am a Breastfeeding Counsellor and advise women to use skin to skin contact immediately after birth to regulate their baby’s temperature, heart rate and breathing and to allow them to suckle as soon as they’re ready.
    If you are impressed by KMC, you should read about the man who first identified its importance in the care of premature babies, Dr. Nils Bergman. Check out http://www.kangaroomothercare.com

  • It’s bad enough that some people abort their children … saying they’re not *people* yet. But for a hospital to give up on a DELIVERED baby because it needed some extra, EXTRA attention is UNACCEPTABLE! I am so thrilled to see that Rachel and her parents are doing well but really, no thanks to the doctors or hospital! I’d never use them if I had a choice.

    What about the Hypocratic Oath???

    • I’ve lost a little girl, 22w5d gestation.
      I never had a chance to hold her. She passed away while the medical team was doing exactly what you deem acceptable.
      In some cases, doctors with experience that still have empathy will realize that the chances are slim for survivability and allow the mother and other parent spend that precious time with their baby.
      Where do you draw the line? I didn’t get to touch my baby while she was alive. At all.
      Oh and that oath? Either way they’re harming one party. First so no harm. Who will be harmed? The mother who will robbed of holding their baby while still alive? The baby that is robbed of spending any time with Mommy before dying – and likely feeling no love, just pain, in their fleeting life?

      Judgement calls are done each and every day. Doctors are human and some realize that Mommy and baby need some time together.

      Something tells me that if IN THIS CASE the doctors and nurses immediately separated mom and baby, this baby wouldn’t have survived! It was leaving the baby alone with the mother that saved her life! The baby, Rachael Isbister, is now 12/13 years old.

      My baby, Elizabeth, died never knowing my touch. Never feeling my kiss. Never hearing the words that would’ve been sweetly whispered “I love you Elizabeth”. She died being poked and prodded. She let out one weak cry and nothing more. Babies feel pain. Babies also feel love.

      You don’t decide. I think in these cases, during labor and delivery mom needs to have everything explained. What the odds are at different steps, different levels, different scenarios so the MOTHER can make an informed choice. Had I known what the NICU & med team knew upon my baby’s delivery? I would have chosen to love my baby with a neonatologist and nurse nearby. With oxygen levels and heart rate monitored painlessly. In a quiet, dimly lit room and on my chest!

  • Your story touched the depth of my heart and I agree wih jbdean, unbelieveable that the hospital didn’t do everything they could do that was available to them… Sad, Very Sad… Carolyn I have to say you deserve to enjoy Rachael and all your children for years to come, I will be praying for your family, I believe God has a special purpose and plan for her life and I look forward to following her story. I just read your article to my sister on the phone and she was touched as well! God bless you and your family!!!!!!

    The things we do for ourselves die with us and the things we do for others and the world remains and is immortal! -Albert Pines-

  • I am so glad that your baby Rachel is doing well!!
    As a nurse in a large NICU, we know from statistics that most 23 wk gest. neonates do not survive, and most have severe disabilities. But some can and do survive, and thrive.
    It is important to find out, and visit the hospital you will be using, does it have a NICU, what are their policies.
    Some hospitals do not resuscitate below say 26 weeks. I know in my hospital that if the baby is perceived viable, and the parents ask for everything done, we try our hardest. We will, and do care for 23 weekers. I do not know what hospital this was, and i am sorry to hear that they would treat a mother this way.
    We encourage kangaroo care, and breastmilk/breastfeeding. and we are looking into providing banked breast milk for the micropreemies whose mother’s are unable to produce milk (either for physical or medical reasons).
    We also participate in groups throughout the world (Vermont Oxford, and Ideal NICU) that study what NICU’s are doing to make vast improvements (in survival, in treatments, in infections etc…). We are a group of hospitals with very good success statistics, and we study share this info, so that other NICU’s can share the same successes.
    I hope that you all understand, we in the medical community want all these babies to survive and thrive and do well, we LOVE to see them grow, we love updates, and pictures, and visits… to see these “miracles” grow bigger and stronger.

  • I love this story. I had a similiar experience with my sixth child. I had to fight for the chance to hold her b/c she was a premie and sickly. Her temp was not going up and I knew as a mother that my baby needed my touch.

    I fought to hold her and NICU finally allowed me the opportunity. She immediately began to transform.

  • Here we can see what love and the kangooro care can make. All machines we have in the rich world is not always the best thing. Love is the greatest.

    I just wrote about this in my blogg 2 days ago (in swedish, unfortunately) and I have read about this type of caring before.

    It’s a miracle!

    Kao (from Sweden)

Leave a Comment