(photo from The Preemie Project Facebook page)
There is no excitement quite like that of waiting for your baby to be born when you are pregnant. All the little onesies that start piling up, the unbelievable small-ness of the little newborn diapers -- I have never felt so excited, exhausted and unprepared all at the same time as I did when I was pregnant for the first time.
I was also scared every single day until I hit 31 weeks. At 31 weeks pregnant, I knew my baby would have been inside me longer than my brother Dan was inside my mom, twenty-some years ago.
Dan was born 10 weeks early in a time when there wasn't much that could be done for babies whose lungs hadn't developed. When my mom went into premature labor, they "kept the baby inside her" as long as possible in the hopes that his lungs would develop before he delivered. Six days in the hospital hoping he would stay in, and then he was born; breech, his heels tucked behind his ears, and so tiny my dad could put Dan's head at the tips of his fingers and his knees at the base of his palm.
I was barely twelve, too young to go into the NICU itself to see my little brother, and so I spent two months sitting outside the large windows, watching him grow, reading books when things were slow, and panicking when alarms would go off and I couldn't see which bed they were coming from.
After two months, Dan was able to come home fully healthy even if he was still super tiny. All he had to do was grow, and grow he did, into a toddler I would tickle until he turned pink from giggling, into a teenager who broke his collarbone snowboarding one winter, and into an amazing young man I'm proud to be related to.
While he was in the hospital, he was clothed in a wide variety of garments, all perfectly fitted around the tubes and wires adorning him at all times. Of most interest to me were the hats - always handmade, always anonymously donated, and always ridiculously cute. I had no clue where those hats came from, and after Dan came home healthy and grew stronger each day, I put those hats into the back corners of my mind.
Until I became a knitter. One day it hit my like a tidal wave, the memory of those hats and all they represented, the hands of anonymous knitters like myself making hats for babies they didn't know, sized so tiny they would fit on mandarin oranges or kiwis.
Organizations like The Preemie Project function to help get handmade hats onto the heads of some of the littlest residents of the hospital. Based out of Iowa City, they donate hats across Iowa to the youngest members of the state, bringing much-needed warmth to the babies while bringing unmeasured amounts of hope to the parents.
31 weeks was a long time to wait to feel like my little Owen was safe inside my belly. Babies nowadays are born so much earlier than that, with much higher survival rates than 20-some years ago. But these babies still need hats, and The Preemie Project steps in to help out!
Check out their amazing work on their Facebook page, and get connected so you can send them some hats!