Community Corner

Florida NICU Workers Deliver Festive Feelings To Babies, Families

A pair of night shift workers at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare crafted elf costumes for babies to bring joy to families at the holidays.

Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare)

TALLAHASSEE, FLA – As the only hospital in Florida's Big Bend region to offer a neonatal intensive care unit and high-risk labor and delivery unit, Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare makes sure that it provides as welcoming and comfortable of an environment as it can for the babies and families the hospital serves.

Hospital officials realize that having a baby in the facility's NICU can be stressful, especially in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. So at a time of the year meant for joy and peace, two members of Tallahassee Memorial's NICU night team decided to try to bring some holiday spirit to families with a baby in the NICU.

Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Photo courtesy of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)
Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Photo courtesy of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)
Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Photo courtesy of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)
Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Photo courtesy of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)

Jocelyn Forehand, unit secretary in the Tallahassee Memorial NICU and Yamanda Williams, a nurse in the unit, worked to create festive onesies and hats that were provided for babies in the hospital's NIUCU. Infants can spend anywhere from a few days to up to four months in the NICU, which Williams said, can begin to take a toll on parents. Because of the ongoing pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, patients in the NICU are limited to one parental visitor at a time, which made the decision to again dress babies up for the holidays an easy decision for Forehand and Williams.

Between the two of them, 22 elf costumes were made, including personalized "lettermen" hats for the babies Williams refers to as the NICU veterans or seniors — those who have been in the unit for four months and are preparing to go home, just in time for the holidays. The mother of another nurse knitted the socks that were provided to the infants in the unit.

"We wanted to create a memory (for parents) that they could feel like their little one is still getting some love and still showing some love and to kind of cheer them up a little bit in spite of them not being able to be together," Williams told Patch on Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the experience tougher for parents who may already been going through hardships with having their baby in the NICU, Williams said. So because hospital employees and healthcare workers who work in the unit know of the difficulty parents are struggling with — especially at the holidays — Forehand and Williams wanted to lift their spirits through the creation of the elf costumes.

Jocelyn Forehand, left, and Yamanda Williams, worked together to create 22 elf costumes for babies in the hospital's NICU. (Contributed photo)

"Bringing the festive fun to these little "elves" and their parents is just one of the many ways our team works to normalize the NICU environment and keep families' spirits high," a hospital spokeswoman wrote in an email to Patch on Tuesday.

Williams has become known as the "Crafty Queen" for the NICU team, helping to create costumes for the babies at both Halloween and Christmas time in 2019 and 2020. As someone who is around the babies on a regular basis, she said Tuesday that parents being able to see their infants in festive wear at the holidays has lifted their spirits immensely and changes the tone by "1,000 percent" for parents who often get emotional when they must say goodbye for the time being.

"We try to turn a frown upside down because some of our babies are there for longer than others so we want to help the parents to understand that we love our babies and we care about them just as much as they do in some instances because we spend so much time helping them to grow and be healthy," Williams said.

Two night shift employees created elf costumes for babies in the NICU at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. (Photo courtesy of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare)

After the two night team members helped to craft the costumes for babies in the NICU, the hospital's NICU day team went to work to bring the visions of the two costume creators to life. The costumes are always a surprise and parents are only told that the hospital has a special gift for their son or daughter.

Parents are given copies of the photos of their infants to take home, giving them a daily reminder of just how much love their baby is receiving while they are part of the NICU, Williams said.

"It just melts your heart," Williams said of seeing the babies in full costume. "It melts your heart that their little personality can shine through. They're naturally photogenic — they just pose perfectly whether they are stretching out or just looking wide-eyed — it's just the cutest thing ever and their personality shines through and it gives the parents a little preview of who (the baby) is going to become."

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