NICU nurse crochets super-sweet Valentine's Day reminders

Norah Hopkins, NICU nurse and crochet crafter, with her familyAt work, Norah Hopkins, RN, focuses firmly on caring for babies and their families. At home—really, wherever she goes—her attention shifts to her own family and to using the softest yarn she can find.

Hopkins has touched the lives of hundreds of babies in Carle’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the last year. Many wore the crochet creations she makes to give families a small sense of normalcy during an otherwise worry-filled time.

“Parents of babies in the NICU have so much on their minds. Sometimes the holidays sneak up on them,” Hopkins said.

While other NICU staffers make signs or cards—complete with babies’ footprints—to mark a host of holidays, Valentine’s Day this year features leftover Christmas yarn turned into one of the signature sweets of the big day: Hershey’s Kisses.

Hershey's Kisses hat for NICU babyNursing is a second career for Hopkins, who with her husband did humanitarian aid work in the Middle East before returning to the United States.

Their living children—Jocelyn, Jaydon and JJ—are now 10, 12 and 14.

Their micro-preemie twins who didn’t make it would have been 13.

As Hopkins and her husband coped with first the care and then the loss of Caleb and Malachi, a NICU nurse made a bold prediction.

“One of the NICU nurses at Duke (University Hospital) told me I’d be a NICU nurse someday,” Hopkins said, pulling red hat after red hat from the craft bag that’s always nearby.

“Going into healthcare was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t sure I could do it. I thought it might be too painful, too difficult.”

Thankfully for the families she works with today, that prophetic nurse was spot-on.

“Here, we understand we’re not just caring for the patient,” she said. “We’re caring for the whole family. It’s really stressful for your child to be here.

“We can see it from the parents’ perspective.”

NICU hats and superhero capesAmy Cleveland, NICU assistant, sees families’ reactions when she distributes what Hopkins creates.

“It’s like when a child opens a gift on Christmas morning. They are so thrilled and grateful and humbled that someone would take the time to do this, that people here love their baby like they do,” she said.

Hopkins calls her transition last year from Carle’s Pediatrics floor to the NICU amazing.

“These babies are so strong,” she said, adding perspective for those who haven’t spent time in a NICU. “We use blood pressure cuffs the size of my pinkie.”

“Amazing” also describes her passion for the craft Hopkins’ mother taught her when she was 5 years old.

“For me, it’s a stress buster. I just love making baby things,” she said. “God blessed me with a passion for babies and for making things.”

While Hopkins is passionate about making hats for NICU babies, the true joy comes from sending those babies home.

“We get really close to the families while they’re here,” she said, adding she knows going home is what parents focus on from the moment their tiny ones arrive.