I’ve been trying to think of how to describe the NICU for my fellow knitters. So many different words come to mind: scary and unfriendly came first, but they’re not really all that accurate. I must just be out of sorts today.
Sure, when I think back on my own experiences there as a mom, there was definitely some fear and trepidation involved — mostly because there was so much I didn’t understand — but there was also a sense of wonder, thankfulness, and camaraderie.
Have you ever seen a preemie? My goodness, they’re beautiful! Picture thin, delicate skin, tiny little chicken-wing arms and legs, and this funny little wrinkly old-man-like face and neck that melts your heart when they turn their heads. (Body fat sure does make a difference in appearance … As I learned after being pregnant with twins — ugh.) They have tiny little noses, and their fingers are so slender and small that they remind me of inch worms. It’s pretty easy to fit daddy’s wedding band over a preemie wrist or even an ankle.
Sometimes it was scary, not knowing what outcomes we might have with our kids, but mostly (and especially when they weren’t in any danger), I felt privileged to view a stage of development that most parents only experience through a padded, heartburn-filled belly. Sure, there were some downsides, especially when my twins were born at 27 weeks and needed ventilators and other modern miracles of medicine, but I can actually look back fondly on my experiences there. (It’s three years since they were born. I can say that now.)
One of the best things about the NICU, besides the ridiculously small amount of privacy while trying to breastfeed an infant who won’t latch on, was the abundance of knitted preemie hats and quilted preemie blankets floating around. At the time, I took them for granted, but in retrospect, and as a knitter myself, I am awed by how much time and effort some caring people took to do something purely for someone else, with no credit or thanks to themselves. I will never know who knit those little hats, but I still have them years later so I can marvel at how tiny the kids were as infants. They are family keepsakes.
So, as a knitter and a mom of four preemies, I hereby bestow upon myself expert status and offer you my advice:
When you knit for preemies, make the hats beautiful and colourful. The NICU is a drab place, no matter how many teddy-bear wallpaper borders they put up. Add some colour to a family’s day and keepsake box in the form of a preemie hat that makes them say, “OOOOOoooohhhh!!!! It’s so adorable!” in little high-pitched voices. Seriously. They’ll thank you.
Also, when you’re knitting preemie hats, unless you know a micro-preemie, don’t knit as many of the tiniest sizes. Those little bitty micro-preemies are the cutest to knit for because the hats will make you think you’re knitting for a tiny doll, but… well, those tiny ones will likely be stuck wearing slightly weird-looking hospital hats that are specially designed to hold up their CPAP machines. Make some small hats because some small babies have different needs for breathing help (or not), but if you’re going to go crazy making a gezillion tulip hats, make them in the bigger sizes. It’s sad for me as a knitter to admit this, but the hospital can usually use the bigger ones more than the small preemie hats.
When I knit for preemies, I pray for them and their parents. I want every stitch of that hat to be filled with love. I want my preemie hats to be visually stunning, but I mostly want those parents to know that they’re not alone. Can a viking hat do that? Maybe not immediately. But, once the crazy days of worrying and wondering are over and life has gone back to normal and their little wizened old man has blossomed into a chunky baby who cries and wakes them up at night in their own home, they’ll look back and know that something amazing carried them through that whole roller coaster experience.
Was it a hat? No, it was the love and care that surrounded them. And now I get to be a part of that for someone else. And you do, too! Have fun knowing that you’re knitting with purpose, and send me pictures of your preemie hats.