Tiny babies dressed in ugly Christmas sweaters isn’t something you see every day.
More than 30 premature babies in the Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital donned unique holiday sweaters to spread joy and cheer.
Photos of babies in the “ugly sweaters” line the halls of the NICU. Team members and visitors stop along the way to smile and point out their favorites.
A few weeks ago, families of the tiny babies created their own special designs from felt sweater cutouts.
Christmas trees, Christmas lights, candy canes, winter wonderland, gingerbread cookies and Santa with his reindeer adorn the mini sweaters. All made with glitter, tinsel, sleigh bells and bows.
Amy Nyberg, March of Dimes NICU family support team member, came up with the idea of an ugly sweater contest after connecting with her March of Dimes colleagues in NICUs across the country.
“Oh, families are so excited about this,” Nyberg says. “I have heard that it has lifted many spirits. Being in the NICU is tough, but being in the NICU during the holidays is just plain difficult.”
‘Silver, white and blue for Christmas’
Born at just 33 weeks, Dominic Williams is now 2 weeks old.
His parents, Dwayne Williams and Jasmine Jimenez, snuggle him tight.
Jasmine loves the sweaters.
“They help distract your mind from all of the stuff that’s going on,” she says. “It’s a great way to get parents involved. And we were able to do all of this while our baby is still sleeping.”
“You can never go wrong with silver, white and blue for Christmas.”
‘A little bit of normalcy’
Just down the hall, 7-week-old Harper Teumer struggles to fit into any of her preemie outfits.
Butterflies line the windows of her hospital room. Harper’s mom, Jennifer Teumer, made the decision to decorate early on to help get through some of the toughest days. The family spent days apart due to a COVID-19 diagnosis.
Born at 4 pounds, Harper is now just over 7 pounds.
Jennifer rocks little Harper with the handmade Christmas tree bow on her forehead.
“I didn’t really have a theme for the sweater,” she jokes. “It’s just Christmas lights.”
Jennifer says it’s things like this that make a long hospital stay better.
“We’re all stuck here and going through similar but different things,” she says. “It’s great to have a little bit of normalcy. And when they made a contest out of it, I mean, come on, we are in!”
Growing a little bit each day
Lydia Weems’ brothers and sisters helped create her adorable pink gingerbread sweater.
Lydia was born at 1 pound, 3 ounces and is now 4 pounds, 11 ounces.
She’s growing each day.
“Her siblings ask what sheets are on her bed and how she is doing nearly every single day,” Lydia’s mom, Alycia, says.
Fun fact: NICU babies get special sheets with cartoon characters and other well-known designs changed out each day.
Their family is no stranger to the NICU. Lydia’s big brother Bentley spent almost 100 days in the NICU nearly 10 years ago.
Coincidently, Lydia is positioned directly next to the spot where Bentley was cared for so many years ago.
‘You’re so cute’
Two-and-a-half-month-old Gabriel Lynn enjoys skin-to-skin care with his dad while wearing his sweater adorned with tinsel, reindeer and candy canes.
His parents, Michael and Noel Lynn, say the ugly sweater contest creates an awesome distraction.
“We have been here a long time. We’re on day 65 or so, and you can go a little crazy,” Noel says. “I went to the Dollar store and had some fun decorating.”
“Oh, you’re so cute,” mom coos with a smile. “We think so, but we are certainly a little biased.”
Making the biggest yawn, Gabriel reaches for the sky with his eyes wide open.
“He’s doing ‘Blue Steel’ from Zoolander,” Noel says.
Three future hockey players
Around the corner, a tiny trio of triplets are dressed in true admiration of their father’s favorite pastime—hockey.
Weighing in at just 2.5 to 3 pounds at birth, each triplet now weighs almost 4.5 to 5 pounds.
Matt and Jamie Gens created miniature hockey jersey sweaters for Roman, Oak and Vahley who are now 50 days old.
“We have three future hockey players here for sure,” Matt jokes.
Matt says he and Jamie have had a few rough days in the NICU and this lifted their spirits. They took the sweater kits home for a fun family activity with the triplets’ siblings.
“It was great to be able to focus on something more joyful and less heavy,” Jamie says.