Artificially warmed incubators fitted with beeping, whirring, life monitoring electronics filled the room. Just enough space between each to permit specialized neonatal nurses to keep close tabs on life's most precious cargo, tiny pink premature babies. Born before their 37-week due date, often with a number of medical challenges, preemies lack body fat and are less able to regulate body temperature. The clear-domed, high-tech, plastic incubators help keep preemies warm and safe from allergens, infection, excessive noise and bright light.
I suddenly felt claustrophobic. Those babies were so tiny. There didn't seem to be much maneuvering room in there for someone my size. What if I bumped into something? I was having second thoughts about the visit when my sister, UAB RN and "neonatal nurse extraordinaire" suddenly appeared at the door. She could probably tell by the look on my face I was a bit nervous, and laughed.
"No worries!" she said. "We can see the babies through a window over here." I breathed a small sigh of relief and followed her to a large window looking into the UAB neonatal care unit.
Sis explained how the incubators worked, how many preemies they had, why they were there, and typically how long preemies had to stay before being released. I was shocked to find out how many of the babies are born prematurely as a result of crack, meth or black tar heroin taken by the mothers.
The babies themselves may even be born addicted depending on the circumstances. Babies born into situations like this are protected by social services, the U.S. legal system, and are often released into the care of foster parents. Crack, meth or black tar heroin addiction and it's life-altering impact is a huge issue in Alabama too. Statistics indicate babies born to a drug addicted mother may never be successfully returned to that parent.
I had arranged to visit the UAB neonatal unit so I could see firsthand the tiny lives benefitted by my mother's efforts. For the past 18 years, Ms. Reba Harbison has organized the efforts of a loose knit (pun intended) group of senior citizen church ladies called Angel Babies that crochet caps, socks, blankets and outfits for UAB preemies, the Jasper Pregnancy Center, and cancer survivors.
A UAB preemie destined to be discharged from the hospital leaves "dressed to impress" on the first day of it new life irregardless of their situation. Ms D. and I contribute by providing yarn and crochet hooks bought in bulk online. Sis sees completed outfits are delivered to those in need. Definitely a family effort.
Sadly, Ms. D. and I recently returned from Uncle Vinny's funeral in Sunnyvale, California. While we were there we ran across the outfit Aunt Sara and Uncle Vinny's adopted son Jeffrey wore home from the hospital, over 50 years ago! Sealed behind glass, unbelievably, the outfit looked as new as the day Aunt Sara bought it. A two piece, canary yellow shirt and shorts set, the tiny shirt had "Take Me Home" printed on the front.
Given the recent loss of Aunt Sara, Uncle Vinny, and Jeffrey, we thought with all of the sadness it might be good to see Jeffrey's repurposed outfit on another baby boy headed home to a new loving family. A small tribute to a family that gave so much to so many.
So we brought Jeffrey's outfit back to Alabama with us. Ms. Reba crocheted a color coordinated bright yellow and white baby blanket and cap to go with Jeffrey's cleaned outfit. I captured the attached picture before they were wrapped for delivery by Sis to UAB's neonatal care unit.
There are people that believe angels walk among us. I believe they do. I've seen them. They are the everyday people that do the extraordinary day in, day out, sometimes for years, like UAB's neonatal nursing team, Sis, the senior citizen ladies of Angel Babies, and Ms. Reba Harbison. Alabama's own angels.