Letters from Neonatal Units

Love, and the magic of Christmas, inside the neonatal intensive care unit

Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) and Special Care Baby Units around the country will be visited by Santa this week – he’s just made up of a lot of people who care. Emily Writes shares the story of the NICU Secret Santa. 

As Christmas cards are handed out around the country, a few will have some particularly special messages in them. It’s an unusual Christmas card that includes “Keep Calm and Breathe”, or is signed by babies with their weight added, or “Love from Eddie (ex 26 weeker, now 2yrs)”. But when you’re in the neonatal unit, nothing seems particularly normal.

Trying to make a difficult and isolating time less tough on new parents is a focus of the work of The Neonatal Trust, and this year their annual new parents Secret Santa project is as popular as ever.

This Christmas hundreds of families across New Zealand will spend their baby’s or babies’ first Christmas in a neonatal unit. There are over 350 incubators and cots in neonatal units (Neonatal Intensive Care Units ‘NICUs’ and Special Care Baby Units ‘SCBUs’) across the country. While the unit is the best place for the care of their babies, like all families, those there would love to be home at this time.

Neil O’Styke, Executive Director of The Neonatal Trust says the decision to run the Secret Santa event was an obvious one despite the effort involved in pulling it all together.

“We wanted to acknowledge the day and make it a little bit more special, that’s where the idea for the ‘Neonatal Secret Santa’ came from and last year it was a huge success,” he said.

“Key dates like Christmas Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be particularly tough for families with a baby in hospital. Many who have experienced this directly understand the emotions and juggle and will be supporting The Neonatal Trust to make this initiative happen”.

Justine Brooker of The Neonatal Trust holds one of the cards with the hand written messages of support. Justine herself had four premature children and experienced Christmas Day with a child in a neonatal unit.

It’s those Trust volunteers who have been busy creating and delivering over 350 packs to all neonatal units in New Zealand. Each family in care will receive one. There are goodies of course, but the most treasured gift is the heartfelt messages from the parents of neonatal unit graduates.

The messages from NICU and SCBU graduates include messages like “Wishing your family a Christmas filled with joy and peace. While this probably wasn’t in the plan, we hope you can enjoy this special day together.”

Former neonatal unit parents know what current neonatal unit parents need. It’s a powerful community with a focus on giving back.

Justine Brooker, who herself experienced Christmas Day with a son in a neonatal unit, said “I just love this initiative. It’s such a stressful time, and knowing others have been there before helps and so it was great to add a message of hope for the cards.”

One card reads “Thinking of you in this time of ‘not normal’ and know that you are doing everything you can to get home to what should be normal with your beautiful family. Take the time, love one another and remember that soon things will be just as they were supposed to be,  kanga cuddle if you can your little one, hold them tight and give them all your love.” Another says “We will be thinking of you and your families this Christmas. Although this year hasn’t gone to plan, next Christmas will be extra special. Love Amy, Adam and Beatrix (born at 32 weeks, now 20 months old and there’s no stopping her!)”

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Approximately one in 10 of babies born in New Zealand every year arrive early. That’s one every 90 minutes, and over 5,000 in total. Many arrive very early – some as early as 17 weeks early (23 weeks gestation).

Charlotte, was born at 23 weeks 3 days. She weighed just 650grams and spent 132 days in NICU before going home for the first time. Samuel, was born 23 weeks 3 days, weighing 668 grams and 116 days before going home for the first time.

They’re just two of the hundreds of children who will be celebrating Christmas with their loving parents outside of the ward. For those still inside, there’s love being sent their way.


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