I love the Christmas season. I anxiously await gingerbread lattes and holiday window displays at Macy’s. I got married three days before Christmas just so that I could walk down the aisle to the strains of Christmas Canon in C and stand in front of a glittering tree.
(Plus, it’s the best time of year to indulge in my love language: I really adore giving gifts, y’all.)
So you can just imagine how much I looked forward to the holiday season as a new mom-to-be.
Instead, five years ago on Christmas Eve I found myself hanging a tiny red stocking emblazoned with the words “Baby’s First Christmas” on a plastic isolette in the Neonatal ICU. Our daughter Scarlette was born to us in a traumatic delivery fifteen and a half weeks premature weighing just one and a half pounds. She was in too critical of a condition for me to even hold her and so instead I softly sang Christmas carols through the small porthole on her tiny hospital bed.
That year, nothing felt merry or bright as we spent our very first Christmas as a family of three in the NICU, praying for a Christmas miracle.
I will never forget how hard it was on us to spend that first holiday in the hospital, still unsure of whether or not we would ever bring our only child home.
Now she is five years old, flitting around the Christmas tree counting the stockings and books that friends and family have donated on our behalf as we embark on our annual family Christmas project: every year on Christmas we visit the NICU and deliver gift baskets to each of the families in the unit.
Christmas is a season steeped in tradition and this has become one of our favorites, this small opportunity to make a sterile hospital room a little more hospitable for everyone who never planned to spend their holidays there.
One year we delivered hand-knit hats and blankets. Other years care packages full of helpful items, like hand sanitizer and snacks and gift cards. And often, like this year, we give each family a special keepsake children’s book for the parents to read aloud to their babies.
I write each parent a letter with then + now pictures of Scarlette and a note of encouragement to let them know that even though they might feel alone and far from home, they are not forgotten. They are remembered and loved and prayed for by us.
I am always anchored by the knowledge that our blessing is not just in having a happy, healthy child but also in the way this small gift enables us to take what was once our deepest pain and turn it into something that brings hope to others.
It means so much to me to have our daughter participate in something that embodies the spirit of the season and connects her to the place and people who saved her life. It’s such a special way to teach her about the gift of giving, about how Christmas represents the greatest gift of love and how we can show God’s love by the simple act of making someone feel at home.
And in remembering these families the gift to us is far greater than the ones we wrap and deliver on Christmas morning.
Kayla Aimee is a writer, mother, and spirited southern girl who spends her days uncovering hope and humor in unexpected places. As the mother of a 25 week micro-preemie, she is passionate about sharing stories of embracing hope in motherhood and offering support to parents of preemies. Kayla Aimee makes her home and garden in the honeysuckle drenched hills of northern Georgia with her husband and their daughter, Scarlette. We love her book, Anchored and wrote a review here. You can connect with her at her personal blog kaylaaimee.com, on Facebook at /kaylaaimee, and on Twitter @kaylaaimee.