Monday, September 14, 2015

Building Lifelong Readers NICU Edition

A little over thirty-four years ago when I was a young mom with a one year old toddler, I lost a set of twins. I've thought of them often over the years, and wondered who they would have become had they been able to be born alive and well. Not long ago, my own sweet daughter who is a NICU nurse lost a baby to miscarriage as did my son and his sweet wife. I thought it would be nice to do something to honor our babies who were born far too soon to enjoy life outside the womb. They were alive, they were loved and wanted, we had hopes and dreams for them, and losing them hurt deeply.

Before becoming an English teacher, I thought about teaching math, but my love for literature of all kinds over-ruled the order I love in math. I was asked to become a reading teacher for middle school students, and went back to school to get a reading endorsement. Eighth grade is the last year our district teaches reading to under-performing students. All sorts of students made up my classes: students who had not been read to as children, students with learning disabilities, students who had been neglected or abused, and what surprised me was that some of my students told me they were born prematurely.

I found that students who had been read to, even if they were born prematurely or had learning disabilities, enjoyed reading and had an attention span enabling them to progress. They may have been behind, but they were not out of the game. They had a love of books, so "thank you" to the moms and dads who read to these babies.

My students who had not been read to, struggled to focus, to read, to even want to be in class. We read a lot in our reading class, and I was able to win some of these kids over, but generally, if you don't read to your children when they are little, you don't get to make that up in eighth grade.

I love books, always have. From age birth to seven, I had two parents who loved books, so I had an early love of literature, but my father was incredibly abusive. My mother left him and returned to her family, but unfortunately, her family didn't value education, and were a restrictive religious cult. So from age seven until I left the cult  at age fifteen, books were my escape. Books allowed me to know what life was like outside in the real world - they showed me possibilities. Books gave me hope that my life could be better.

There is nothing I love more than to put the right book into a child's hands and help that child learn to navigate their own troubled waters. All of these experiences combined to create the project we chose to honor our angel babies. Because Angie works with babies born too soon in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and we know the importance of introducing books as soon as possible into the lives of our children, we decided to give packages of books to the newborns in her unit.

Over the last year, I have gathered 150 new books for this project, which means we will only meet the needs of 30 babies, but I am still pleased with our efforts. I am currently gathering books again and will send more packets as we get them. We made packets for 21 English speaking families, and 9 Spanish speaking families. It is important for babies to be read to in their native language, so Spanish books are a must for these little ones.

I thought about giving only one, two, or three books to each baby, so that we could touch the lives of more babies, but how does one create a love of reading with only one book? I know that successes in my classroom came because I had over a thousand books in my classroom for students to choose from. Students would come back and borrow books from me even after they graduated from my class. What happens if the one book you give a baby isn't the one book it takes for that child to love books? What happens if the parents were not read to, and get so sick of the one book that they never read to their child again? Hopefully with five books, parents will also catch the reading bug and either visit their library or their local bookseller.

Books waiting for the approval of Angie's department, and of course they said, "Yes!"

Making packages:

I tied ribbons on the first few and decided it really wasn't necessary. Each package of five goes into a 2 gallon Ziplock bag with an insert listing the benefits of reading to the very young.  

 Some of the books in each package:

Ready to go.

To any of you who have lost a baby who was born too soon, know that you have my love. It is a painful experience, and often parents of these babies feel they can't grieve the way they need to. Gathering these books has been a healing experience for me because as I choose the books to purchase, I think of my babies and grandbabies who were lost, and they don't seem so distant anymore. They are remembered and this gives their sweet lives purpose. I hope as Angie gives these packages of books to the little ones she works with that she too will feel a sense of peace.

Find a child to read to today, even if that child is you.


  1. Of course I cried at this post. What an amazing thing you are doing for these sweet babies. I can't imagine the heartbreak that goes into losing a child. What a wonderful way to honor them!


  2. I cried too. It really is amazing what you have done for these babies. You have such a big heart!

  3. Wow what a story. So nice to read about how something so beautiful came out of such tragedy. For my youngest, it was the Land of Stories that invoked a love of reading. He has all four of them now and he keeps bugging me to read them. I plan on it, eventually.

    1. I'm off to go check out that series. I haven't heard of it before. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    2. They are rated really high on goodreads. I'll have to see if I can find them when I go book shopping tomorrow. Thanks again.

  4. What an amazing tribute! So touching.

  5. Sorry for your loss. What a wonderful legacy.