Toby, Eleanor and Callista’s first holiday season was spent in NICU. They were a month old, still required oxygen support and feeding tubes, and our days were spent waiting for them to outgrow episodes of apnea and bradycardia.
I wanted nothing to do with Christmas or the season, but as the days wore on, little surprises kept showing up at their bedsides – Christmas hats knitted by a blog reader, Santa hats knitted by a community group, little ornaments from various anonymous sources, crocheted blankets from “NICU elves.”
Little by little, Christmas came to us from others who took it upon themselves to lift us up when we were exhausted by simply surviving.
Life in the NICU, no matter how many people there became family, was foreign. It was a complete deviation from everything I had come to expect at Christmas, which is typically a time dripping in tradition. We couldn’t do Christmas how we normally did, and I was OK with that. I was also incredibly grateful that my babies had a Christmas, regardless of it being a Christmas entirely new to us and pieced together by family, friends and strangers alike.
I didn’t know then that we were receiving the gift of a new tradition.
Each year since, I have returned the favor by dropping off a bit of Christmas cheer for the babies at our NICU, and my kids are now old enough to join in the family project — candy cane ornaments, this year.
They don’t really understand what NICU life is like — I am thankful that most people don’t. But they know there are babies there with families who want nothing more than to be home together, they imagine how different Christmas in the hospital must be, & they want families to know we are thinking about them.
I don’t remember what our tree at home looked like that year — I don’t even remember decorating one, and I only have a vague recollection of picking one out. I don’t know what gifts I bought for others or received from that year. My memories of that Christmas are mostly soaked in tears, but I also remember the kindness, and I unpack our NICU treasures with reverence each year.