Many people debate over what has become of the true meaning of Christmas. To the parents who have to spend this holiday in the NICU with their preemies, the joy of the season is something that might be missed. Hectic Christmas shopping and the tradition of giving presents are the aspects of this holiday that cause some to claim that this celebration of peace, harmony, and love has fallen victim to commercialism. The noise of the debates over whether the day has lost its true meaning in the heart of American society is rendered meaningless of itself to families who have to spend 2015 Christmas in the NICU. As neonatologist Dr. Steven Abrams of Texas Children’s Hospital observed, “Parents of a baby in the NICU are already under enough pressure that Christmas shopping isn’t at the top of their to-do list”.
In neonatal intensive care units across the nation, non-profit organizations such as The Gift of Life pay a visit of support around the holidays, handing out gifts, providing entertainment, and giving emotional, educational, and financial support to the families of the babies there. The Gift of Life is based in Orlando and provides services and support to those in Florida Hospital NICU. Since 2012, we’ve been delivering love bears and preemie hats to hundreds of families. This year we also provided bears and thermal tote bags to the moms at Ronald McDonald House by Winnie Palmer. The thermal bags allow the mothers to safely transport their fresh breastmilk to the NICU.
What was it Like to Visit the NICU for Christmas?
In an ideal world, perhaps the neonatal intensive care units of every hospital would be an empty, boring place to be – all babies born would come perfectly healthy and when they’re due. This is the third year that Rosie Moore and The Gift of Life team returned to the Florida Hospital NICU around holiday time in order to hand out gifts to the families there. This particular NICU happens to be the same one where Kaleb, Rosie’s son was once a patient.
Unlike the utopic version, the NICU was full and extremely busy – not only were there a lot of preemies, but a lot of medical staff and many concerned parents. Despite the hecticness, some of the workers remembered Kaleb from his stay there 6 years ago. Although Kaleb had to wait outside the NICU because only adults were allowed in, pictures of how happy he is helped to brighten up their day. Kaleb’s story may be a miracle, but it is the same success story every preemie parent hopes for – some of them get their miracle, but too many don’t.
The Spreading of Joy, Love, and Hope
Desires tend to pique around Christmas; some hope to receive elaborate gifts. For the parents of preemies in the NICU the greatest present they could have is their child’s wellbeing – the second best is the support of people who truly care. Hopeful thought dwindle for some of those whose preemie is in a worse state than most – then there are those parents who have trouble seeing the bright side right from the start. Whether the adults in the NICU choose to take an optimistic or pessimistic outlook, it helps when they get to see firsthand the success of someone who has been where they are.
Jackie and Ashytyn joined in on The Gift of Life’s 2015 Christmas mission to the NICU and Ronald McDonald House, along with Miracle Kaleb. Their presence is significant to the families we serve because Ashytyn, now 18 years old, was also born prematurely – Jackie is her mom. This mother and daughter have their own miracle story to tell, and they have made it a point to always give back to the preemie community during all of The Gift of Life’s projects and events. Hats, bears, and emotional support were given out by this spectacularly inspirational team to the moms in the three NICU’s at Florida Hospital.
The value of a gift is not just in its price, the intensity of the craving for it, or in its practical use, but in the thought behind it. Those with babies in the NICU require much more in the way of physical resources than just a teddy bear or knit hat for their preemie, but the meaning behind these simple presents is so powerful and real that they often become prized possessions. The parents spending 2015 Christmas in the NICU were elated by the visit from The Gift of Life’s team – they were glad to find out that there was someone who had gone through the same experience, and who cared enough about them and their babies to be on their side.
Moving Forward by Doing What Matters
The mere presence of Ashytyn, the chance to look upon her beauty and health and realize that she was once a preemie in the NICU, touched the preemie parents right at that emotionally hurting spot in their hearts and provided comfort. Their reaction of joy to The Gift of Life’s visit was inspiring and motivating to our team – it was live proof that our work matters and makes a difference. We want to do more; our vision is to have a place where we can hold weekly support groups for these parents – it is a much needed service in Orlando and the surrounding areas. The parents of preemies must be empowered through knowledge and support, as this can have a direct impact on their babies’ wellbeing.
For now, we are pleased to continue providing services to Florida Hospital NICU and Ronald McDonald House during the Christmas season, but we are only able to achieve this through the generous contributions of the volunteers and financial givers who support The Gift of Life. The demand for our services grows with each passing year. For example, this year was the first time we had the privilege of being contacted for services by families in Indiana and Georgia – we served them with gifts of thermal bags, hats, and bears, as well as emotional support. also Currently, we are seeking more volunteer knitters to knit the preemie hats and love bears that we give out. We also require more financial supporters who can help us fund the maintaining and expansion of our organization.
Be a Part of Our Christmas in 2016: Connect with The Gift of Life
A stay in the NICU can be emotionally, physically, and financially taxing. When the parents are finally able to bring their preemies home from the hospital, we support them by providing a care package. We also like to help them celebrate their baby’s release from the NICU by giving parents gift cards they can use for a celebratory dinner. Our ultimate goal is to reach out to every preemie parent in the state of Florida, but that requires a lot of resources. If you are not already, please consider becoming one of our supporters by making a donation of any amount.
Hospitals interested in getting involved with The Gift of Life can feel free to contact us for more information. Business owners who want to become corporate sponsors should download our Corporate Sponsorship form. Preemie parents who want to connect with us and receive support can join our Facebook group. Even if you do not have the financial resources to assist in supporting us, you can donate your time by becoming a Gift of Life volunteer.
Every life is a miracle. Every parent who has a preemie in the NICU should be shown that there is someone who cares. Love and encouragement are the best gifts that can be given. The Gift of Life is an Orlando-based nonprofit organization founded and operated by preemie parents who want to give back – won’t you join us?