NICU parents meet in arts and crafts class

At Seattle Children's Hospital, parents are getting a break from the heartbreaking demands of helping care for their very sick children.

Now they can share their experience with other parents all too familiar with the challenges they face.

The arts and crafts program was the brainchild of two mothers whose children "graduated" out of Seattle Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

They wanted to give parents something they did not have -- a place to find a shared community.

Amanda Littleman walked into a room at Seattle Children's Hospital where she has spent most of every day since July 2, in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU. Her twins were born at 23 weeks, too early to survive on their own.

"So he's going to be here a little bit longer," she said, "because he got a 'trake.' "

Here for so long, now speaking a language few others understand, it's easy to see how she could feel all alone.

"It's hard to meet the other NICU moms because everybody's pretty isolated."

But on this day, her hands are filled with making crafts.

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"It's nice to get together and talk to other moms that know what you're going through," said Amanda.

Jana Schneider and Joanna Peeler know that all too well. Their children spent the first weeks of their lives in the NICU, too.

"I think we separately had the idea when we were here," said Peeler.

They didn't know each other.

"No," said Peeler. "But being here so long we both [had] the experience of isolation. And there's really no opportunity to meet other parents or to reach out or to talk with anybody. And so I think both of us when we left here, kind of had this secret mission to get something going for parents."

They met on a NICU parents advisory panel. That's where the idea took shape.

"We wanted to do something where we could bring families together in a neutral space, and you know feed them and allow them to do something away from the NICU that isn't too far from the NICU.

They settled on arts and crafts.  Children's provides the room, helps pay for the anything-but-standard-hospital food and supplies. The parents do the rest.

There's obviously no substitute for the parents reaching their ultimate goal. That is, taking their baby home. But it may be that the time they get to spend here makes the time spent here a bit more bearable.

Now some two and a half years later this is just another part of life here in the NICU.

"It's been great," said Amanda.