HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Surrounded by white lab coats and big, intimidating machines tracking your baby's heart rate and breathing, you're scared and overwhelmed — hoping for any sign of good news.
All of a sudden a woman with a warm smile and kind eyes approaches and after an embrace, she hands you a flannel pink teddy bear-patterned blanket.
"We stitched this with love and prayers," she tells you. Suddenly your world is a bit brighter.
Newington resident Edyie Steimer, a member of the GFWC Newington/Wethersfield Woman's Club, has delivered a total of 826 blankets to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford since 2006.
Although they're not the only group to donate blankets to the families struggling with sick babies, the club's donations are frequent and many. Their goal is to reach 1,000 blankets, hopefully within a few years.
"That's just the first goal. I want to do this as long as I possibly can. It warms my heart, especially where we are now in the world . this is something so positive," says Steimer, who brings along a different club member each time she makes a delivery so that everyone can have the heartwarming experience of greeting blanket recipients.
"It is so wonderful," she says. "I feel I get more out of it; it's a way for parents to recognize their little boy or girl."
And Steimer has utmost respect and admiration for the doctors and nurses who work with the families on a daily basis, constantly surrounded by heartbreak and small successes — everything that comes along with having a sick infant.
"We have a wonderful relationship with the hospital; the staff is so loving and nice."
Milena Frazer, a registered nurse, has facilitated blanket donations since the beginning.
She always knew the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was where she wanted to work.
In the 32 beds, there are all kinds of babies: many premature, some with birth complications, jaundice, heart defects, breathing difficulties.
"It's usually not a planned thing," Frazer said of these circumstances. "The families are usually shocked and upset, stunned by having to come there, so Edyie's blankets offer something that just reminds them — this is their baby, it's a boy or girl, it's going to be okay," she continued. "It normalizes the baby and makes them seem like less of a sick child."
Most of the babies have to remain undressed so their breathing can be monitored properly. Having a blanket beneath them or at their bedside provides comfort to parents.
In rare cases, there are infants that nurses and parents know are going to pass away.
The hospital makes tiny memory boxes for them, filled with clay imprints of their hands and feet and other keepsakes. If they were swaddled in one of the blankets, it too is put in the box.
"I have families tell me later they still take the blankets out to remember their babies," Frazer explained. "To have something that's not hospital-white is really special to them."
The GFWC Newington/Wethersfield Woman's Club buys all their own fabric and makes the blankets in workshops all throughout the year.
Anyone who would like to make a donation to help with costs can e-mail Edyie Steimer at johnandedyie(at)cox.net.