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For many parents, celebrating their baby’s first fourth of July means watching fireworks or going to a barbecue.
But that’s not possible for families with an infant in the NICU, or neonatal intensive care unit. So instead, one Illinois hospital brought the July 4 celebrations to them.
Parents of more than 30 babies at Advocate Children’s Hospital dressed their babies in patriotic gear, and the hospital held a photo shoot to capture their first Independence Day memories. (They celebrated early on July 2).
With the help of nurses and child life specialists, the parents adorned their little ones in red, white and blue hats and onesies. Some parents also decorated their babies’ cribs with flags, patriotic signs, and star-spangled blankets.
“Nobody expects their baby to be in the NICU, and if we can kind of alleviate some of that stress and build some nice memories for them for their first holiday, that’s what we really love to do,” Laura Waszak, a nurse and manager of clinical operations for the NICU at Advocate Children’s Hospital, told TODAY Parents.
The sweet photo shoots took place across the hospital’s two main campuses in Park Ridge and Oak Lawn, Illinois.
Both NICU facilities provide highly specialized care for premature babies, including “micro-preemies,” or babies who weigh less than a pound at birth. Babies can stay at the NICU anywhere from a few days to months depending on their situation, Waszak said.
Dressing up babies in cute Independence Day costumes is a great way to add a sense of normalcy and fun to an otherwise very emotional time, Waszak said.
“Parents will get depressed and a little stressed during the (holidays), so if we can put a smile on the parents’ faces, it’s absolutely priceless,” Waszak told TODAY.
This is the second year the hospital has celebrated July 4 in the NICU with a photo shoot, and they have also celebrated Halloween and other holidays in the past.
These group celebrations can be therapeutic for parents, who may feel isolated as they go through the scary experience of having a child in intensive care.
“We also order some lunch so the parents can get together and discuss and just kind of meet one another, because it’s the support that we’re looking for the families,” Waszak said. “Not only through the health care workers, but also through other families that are going through the same type of issues.”
Waszak has worked in the NICU for 21 years, and she says she couldn’t be more inspired by the strength of the babies and their families.
“It’s inspiring every single moment that you’re here,” she said. “A lot of people ask, ‘How can you do this? It’s got to be sad.’ But honestly, it’s so rewarding to see the progress that our babies make, and to see the progress not only (in) the babies but also in the families.”
She added that it was "priceless" to see the joy on parents’ faces as they celebrated the holiday with their babies.
“There wasn’t an unhappy person in the house,” she said.