Nikita and Cathy have spent every spare moment over the past few months creating beautiful, handmade gifts and Christmas stockings, to give to each child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Ulster Hospital where they both work.
This heart-warming tradition started around six years ago with a simple gift of a Christmas decoration hung on each cot on Christmas Eve.
Over the years fundraising by staff members and the grateful parents of the children who have been cared for in the unit has enabled this annual gesture to develop into a larger scale operation with a variety of meaningful, personalised mementos gifted to mark each child’s first Christmas.
Cathy explained: “We are delighted to be able to bring a little Christmas cheer to our babies and their parents on Christmas Day. It can be a very difficult time for some parents who may feel sad that their babies cannot be at home with them to celebrate.
“We aim to remind every parent that we have not forgotten them or their little one and we encourage them to actively use the items that are gifted to them to aid their baby’s development. We have included a book for parents to read to their babies, no matter how small, to help them get used to and identify their parent’s voices.
“We also supply bonding squares, these are small pieces of fabric that are placed with both Mum and baby to wear close to their skin to transfer their scent to the fabric.
"When Mum visits the ward for the first time after receiving the bonding square, we swap them over, the baby receives the square with Mums scent to familiarise and comfort them and Mum receives the square with the baby’s scent on to wear close to her skin, which aids her breast milk production. Small actions like these can make a huge difference to a baby’s development and can soothe a Mum who is finding the absence from her child difficult.”
Nikita enjoys getting involved each year and has fun dressing up as Santa or one of his Elves on Christmas Eve, she added: “Parents of the children we have cared for in the NICU have shared some heart-warming feedback over the years. They have really appreciated the time and effort that has gone into this and they have appreciated the presents that they have received, which many of them have added to memory boxes for their babies.
“We hope we will bring a smile to each of the parents that visit on Christmas Day and that their time spent in the unit is uplifted with a little Christmas joy upon the receipt of their babies Christmas stocking.”