Saturday, July 01, 2006

A tiny bit of comfort

Last weekend's road trip brought some wonderful, long stretches of time to reflect, talk with my husband about everything under the sun, and of course, to knit for miles and miles. Unfortunately I forgot to bring a crochet hook like I'd planned, but I had a couple of sets of size five needles and some lightweight yarn to make a few baby things.

After finishing a couple hats and a pair or two of booties, I wanted something a little bigger to focus on, so I cast on as many stitches as my needle would hold - in this case, 60 -- and started the old standby basketweave pattern. It's simple: a few rows of garter stitch base border, and then a K 5 (for side border), followed by P5, K5 until the last five stitches. It doesn't matter if you end with a P5 or a K5; just K the last five stitches to establish the other side of the garter stitch border. Do this for five rows, purling in the Ps and knitting in the Ks...then switch, and knit in the Ps and purl in the Ks, repeating this for another five rows. You get the idea. It works with any set of stitches in multiples of 5.

So this was what I did along I-86 in western New York, using a white Wool-Ease with royal blue flecks in it. And by the time we passed Jamestown it was pretty evident that the piece of knitting emerging from my needles would be too small for even most preemie babies - so it would become a bereavement blanket. Which brings me to the point of this post.

We all know that most babies are born healthy and happy -- but some, for any number of reasons, don't make it. About five years ago, when I first got involved in service projects, I realized that many hospitals do have a need for tiny gowns, wraps and blankets for little ones whose parents can only hold them briefly before saying goodbye to them. I learned that in the absence of a size-appropriate wrap, the only thing the hospitals can give these grieving parents is a receiving blanket sized for a full-term newborn...and the irony of wrapping their tiny, fragile baby in a blanket that's far too large only sharpens their sense of loss.

I learned that there were many, many volunteers out there who trade patterns and ideas for these items. And I 've since learned that, when a nurse or a hospital social worker can bring an appropriately-sized blanket or gown to a grieving parent, they feel a tiny bit of comfort in the midst of their heartbreak. That comfort may only last a moment, but it's there.

There are many names for these small items - burial gowns, blessing garments, angel wraps, etc. etc. Hospitals tend to refer to them as "bereavement" items. Call them whatever you like...but if you can make them, please consider doing so.

Some volunteer crafters, perhaps because they've been through a painful loss themselves, can't bring themselves to make these tiny items, and that's OK. But if this is something you can do, I think you'll find it to be a very special experience. I started making them years ago out of a sense of thanks for all the big, healthy babies that my family has been blessed with. Rather than being a sad chore, it brings -- at least for me -- a grateful reminder of these blessings, and a sense of quiet responsibility to those who may be going through a loss.

As with all special-needs projects, contact your local hospital for guidelines and items they may need before you make them. If the words don't come easily to you, just ask the volunteer office about their need for neonatal bereavement items, and they'll know what you mean. In general, though, think soft and small-scale -- a heavy yarn can make a tiny baby seem even more fragile.

There are some good links out there for other items to knit, sew and crochet. I invite you to let me know of your own experiences with this very special service work.


Zoanna said...

This post is timely since every year since 1996 at the end of June is a sad reminder of the death of my sister's first baby. He had a rare nerual tube defect. EVen though he was stillborn she held him for two hours. He was the szie of a jelly jar and weighed 14 ounces. When I found out that his life was ending, I quickly worked through a night and a half making a quilt for him. I borrowed my daughter's 7-inch baby doll to help me keep the size appropriately small. Both my sister and the nurses say it really gave the baby dignity to have a special handmade blanket to be wrapped in. They took pictures and asked permission to circulate this type of practical comfort to social workers who could spread the word. By the way, I made his little quilte in a shamrock fabric since his last name is Scottish/Irish. It might be good to think seasonally when choosing prints so the hospital can give out one like that if they don't have pastel guidelines.

Zoanna said...

She had him at 21 weeks; that size was about normal gestationally I think . Might want to check.

Barbara said...

We recently lost a baby during pregnancy and I can well understand the comfort parents would find in being able to dress their baby in something special and appropriate before saying goodbye.

Wormie said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I do a lot of crochet for charity, but haven't done any bereavement pieces - I suppose its too sad to think about. Now, though, I see it's even sadder to think of these tiny lost ones and their family and having to say goodbye when they've barely been able to say hello. It never occured to me that preemie sizes might be too big. Can you post something about the sizes needed and what items are best - do they need blankets or gowns or something else?

Joe said...

Anne, what a touching post. As your brother, I share in the grateful knowledge of the many healthy babies in our extended family...most recently little Berneice. And, as your brother, I recognize your wonderful heart to describe this so well. Thanks for sharing part of yourself here!!

Marge said...

Anne, as your sister, I am proud to learn of your most recent contribution to help others in a great moment of need. I think I would call them "Angel Wraps." What a sweet and lovely thing to do!!


Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful project. A soft appropriate item, made with love by someone who cared, will provide a bit of comfort to a family. And, indeed, it helps all of us give thanks for the blessings of a healthy baby. Thanks, Anne, for the reminder... your sister, Karen.