It’s a mother’s worst nightmare. Long before her little baby has had the chance to fully develop within the safety of the womb, doctors tell her that they can wait no longer to deliver. For Houston, Texas, woman Yamile Jackson in 2001, the condition was preeclampsia, and the prognosis was bleak as she related in an interview for Oprah: “If you don’t have surgery, then both of you could die,” the doctors told her.
— Nurtured by Design (@nurturedbdesign) October 15, 2017
Yamile was an accomplished woman with a Ph.D. in engineering who had come from Colombia to seek the American dream. But now she found herself in a situation where she felt powerless. Zachary was successfully delivered but didn’t even weigh 2 pounds (approx. 907 g). He was so small and underdeveloped that he needed to be kept in an incubator in the NICU for several weeks.
She and her husband Larry were by their son’s side as often as they could be. Touching such a small baby isn’t easy, and preemies can become very averse to physical contact as they don’t have the usual contact with their mothers through breastfeeding. “The nurses taught me how to use my hands to comfort him. I can do that, but who’s going to do that if I’m not here,” she told Oprah.
That’s where the engineer in her came up with a solution that was as scientific as it was sweet. “I was in the hospital every day, all day, and I started noticing how nurses would improvise items to give protection and comfort to Zachary,” she told The Daily Mail. These included small stuffed toys and things that would help keep him warm.
Her genius idea was to combine the stuffed cloth items with the touch of parents, keeping the baby comfortable and helping them create that crucial bond. Taking some garden gloves and filling them with beans, she then slept with them in her bed to give them her scent, a vital ingredient for babies to recognize their mothers. Now, like any great inventor, she had to make sure her idea worked in practice.
The Zaky HUGs your baby for you when you can't. Leave your scent by placing it on the chest or behind the neck for an hour before leaving it with the baby.
It worked like a charm. “We would leave them inside the incubator with Zachary, Jackson said to Standing-O. “The night nurse told us how comfortable he was all night, he’s less fussy, he’s able to sleep.” Just when she had found this solution, mother nature turned against Texas as a tropical storm battered the Gulf Coast.
Zachary’s hospital lost power and his incubator shut off. His father, Larry, had to manually pump oxygen into it for hours. Yamile leaned on her faith in this trying moment. “I just started praying,” she told Standing-O. “That [sic] when I made a promise to dedicate my life to help babies like Zachary.”
And so began Yamile’s startup, Nurtured by Design, and the “Zaky,” which she described to The Daily Mail as “an ergonomically designed fleece pillow.” Whether their babies are preemies or not, parents can sleep with it to impart their unique smell. Then they can shape it however they like to fit in their children’s cribs or cradles to provide some much-needed comfort.
Jackson has kept the promise she made 18 years ago, when her son’s life was on the line, donating zakies to hospitals all over the world. “To see how many thousands of people Zachary has touched is amazing. But our mission is not complete,” she told Oprah. “I want to reach more babies, I want to be able to help more families.”
Every baby at the NICU at Houston Methodist received a box from Zachary full of essentials and we added The Zaky and…