***image1***While respirators hissed tiny breaths for underdeveloped lungs and monitors glowed with blood pressure and heart rates of babies not ready for this world, Terry Webb slipped between the isolettes of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and pulled a cardboard box from a wall cabinet.
She placed the box and a shopping bag she carried side by side in a chair – and began to unpack the contents of the worn box making sure the delicate, tiny items were ready if need be. After neatly reorganizing, she began to add to the box from her own bag, tiny gowns, bonnets and blankets for babies who would never make it out of the NICU of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Terry Webb, Ramstein American High School substitute teacher, has been making the gowns for about seven years, carrying on the work of a husband and wife team that worked at Landstuhl years ago; he in labor and delivery and she in the NICU.
“They realized there was nothing to put the babies in when parents held their babies for the first and last time,” she said. “All they could do was wrap the babies in hospital blankets because these babies were the size of a coffee cup.”
To make the gowns, Mrs. Webb uses a method of needlework called smocking.
“It’s a really old technique, using embroidery on top of pleats which holds the pleats together, but still has a lot of give to it,” said Mrs. Webb.
The sizes she makes are extra tiny, tiny and small; the small size is even too small for a regular preemie, she said.
***image2***“Some of the babies I’ve seen come to the NICU (who would need these gowns) are only 500 grams,” said Maj. Sherry Moore, LRMC NICU head nurse.
The gowns she makes are often used as burial gowns because finding clothes small enough for the tiny bodies is nearly impossible, she said. But sometimes, just sometimes, for the lucky ones it’s just the first of many outfits.
The blankets Mrs. Webb makes are 12-inch or 18-inch squares and she’s hoping to start making caps for the baby boys as soon as she finds a pattern, she said.
Mrs. Webb estimates she makes 12 to 15 gowns a year for the babies of LRMC’s NICU, more or less of the blankets and bonnets; and that her group, which meets once a month to make the gowns, produces an additional two to four gowns each month.
“Part of the group focuses on teaching smocking so others can make the gowns; I leave in two years, and I can’t meet the need for those babies by myself,” she said.
Mrs. Webb has children and grandchildren of her own, but has never lost one the way some parents lose babies in the NICU.
“I do this because it fulfills a nice need,” she said. “Being a mother, I think it would be hard to lose a baby.”
She said NICU nurses have told her when she makes her visits to refill the cardboard box how much the gowns are appreciated by parents.
At the NICU she smiled over the sleeping, translucent bodies of preemies silently fighting to make it through the day.
“I’ll keep doing this as long as I’m here,” she said quietly in the hush of the NICU. “It’s the least that can be done for these parents.”
Those interested in making gowns, bonnets, caps or blankets for the babies of the LRMC NICU can e-mail Mrs. Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.