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Crafting Care

Vol. 3 •Issue 20 • Page 12
Crafting Care

Unique program helps high-risk antepartum moms at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center

Suffering from hyperemesis and intense migraines, Samantha (not her real name) was admitted to the antepartum floor at Berkeley's Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in her 12th week of pregnancy for her sixth child. She had suffered through the same things with her five daughters, but this time was much worse. The only thing that helped relieve her discomfort was an IV antiemetics and narcotic IV push.

Floor staff nurse Gay Rose Soque, RN, has spent half of her 25-year nursing career in labor and delivery, postpartum and antepartum care, from her beginnings at Northeastern University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She knew there had to be a better way to help women like Samantha find distraction for her symptoms and worries. She found it in a simple ball of yarn and a crochet hook.

Chain of Care

Soque, who also has a degree in fashion design and a love for color, textiles and shapes, noticed the floor's occupational therapy assistant, Jeff Sanders, COTA, would leave crochet hooks and yarn with the women who were on bed rest, many for weeks at a time. While he took the time to speak with them, he didn't know how to crochet. But Soque did.

Four years ago, she saw a resurgence of knitting. She saw nurses on their breaks knitting and she wanted to get back into it herself.

"I learned when I was 8," she recalled. "I knew some basic crochet and knitting, but I didn't know how to read directions. Our unit secretary had a pattern for a little cap, so I brought the pattern in to Samantha and started to teach her."

Soque began teaching other mothers-in-waiting whenever she had free time between caring for patients during evening shifts while Marianne Wehmeyer, RN, did the same on days. They hoped the simple craft would help the ladies in their care pass the time. It did, and they were amazed to find that the symptoms that brought their patients into the hospital also decreased when they were crocheting.

"Some of our patients were here on bed rest for preterm labor," Soque said. "Some were in pain, using a PCA or getting an IV push every 2 hours. They were able to focus on their handiwork and it distracted them from all of it. They felt better — this is a non-narcotic way to handle the pain and stress — and they were so surprised."

Sanders provided more yarn and Soque and Wehmeyer taught more patients. That was 2 years ago. Since that time, hundred of skeins of yarn have been transformed into caps, booties, blankets and other baby items. The hospital handed over a supply of acrylic yarn in the traditional pink, blue and white, and Soque bought and got donations of what she calls fun yarn — soft mohairs, exotic fake furs, funky eyelash — to supplement and embellish the baby togs.

Samantha approached the new craft with gusto. She learned to crochet in a darkened room to guard against both emesis and migraine, and taught herself to increase and decrease stitches to make intricate patterns. Because she was in the hospital over the Christmas holiday, she volunteered to make hats for babies born then at Alta Bates. She crafted hats and scarves for her daughters and sisters, and inspired Sanders to pick up the hook and yarn himself. Samantha left the floor with her sixth daughter and a new love of yarnwork.

"I get such joy in this," Soque said. "The women are so creative. They get excited about the beautiful yarn and what they're doing for their babies. I get excited about what it's doing for them — helping them focus on something positive and not be afraid."

This year, Wehmeyer brought in knitting needles and got some patients started on that craft as well. She starts them on little squares that often grow into more than a project that knits away anxiety.

"My main concern is that these women come in and worry so much," she said. "Once you start working with the hands, the mind calms down. It's like they are meditating."

Spinning Yarns

Four years ago, Alta Bates therapist and patient Kathleen Crombie and Sanders started bringing patients on bed rest together one morning a week for a support group. Before that, each patient was essentially marooned in her well-appointed hospital room, seeing hospital personnel or visitors, but not the other women on the 12-bed unit. Sanders said the level of fear was always high, because they could only see their own condition.

Initially, the women got together to talk about their anxiety. Then, they started bringing their crocheting or knitting with them and chatted as they worked. It was in these sessions, behind the safety of their handiwork, that true sharing began. Today, the women talk about everything pregnancy-related and Sanders and the nurses bring in speakers, including the hospital's lactation consultants, to pave the way to motherhood. Sanders said the women step out of their comfort zone and allow the other women to support them.

"The sessions are magically transformative for the women," he said. "The women communicate in a way they couldn't before. There are opportunities for new moms who are very anxious and afraid to get together with other women who have been in the situation before. It begins to allay that heavy anxiety."

"We have women of all ages, from across the whole spectrum of backgrounds," Soque added. "They run the gamut from young first-timers, to older women who have gone through in vitro six or seven times.

"When you have a 15-year-old who's afraid she's going to lose her baby sitting next to a 40-year-old feeling the same way, it removes those boundaries," she continued. "They work on their crocheting, they talk, they feel better, they bond, they know they aren't alone. When they go back to their rooms, they're more likely to come out and visit each other, show each other what they're making, talk about how they're feeling — and they're feeling better."

Getting 'Hooked'

When the women go to each other's rooms, the visits center around crocheting, but give them much more.

For patient Ursula Williams, crocheting offered a way to reclaim a year of tremendous ups and down. A New Orleans native, Williams lost her home in Hurricane Katrina. Her older child moved to Baton Rouge with her mother, while Williams followed her husband to Oakland. During her pregnancy she developed complications and by her sixth month was put on bed rest at Alta Bates.

"After Katrina, it [the pregnancy] was a trial for me," Williams told ADVANCE. "I was contracting all the time. Gay Rose taught me to crochet. It helped take my mind off the contractions and made me relax. I felt better and knew the baby was safe. I made a hat and blanket for my baby and a purse for me. Except my husband, I was all alone in California. Gay Rose and the other nurses became my family and they helped me get through until the baby [5 lbs. 3 oz. DaKarie, delivered at 36 weeks] was born."

Soque shared stories with ADVANCE of other women who found respite at the end of the crochet hook. Like a mother hen, Soque remembers all her hatchlings fondly. She has photos of many, complete with their craft bounty and babies.

"We had one woman who was on dialysis 6 times a week," she recalled. "Another one was pregnant with triplets. Some had pregnancy-induced hypertension, some were uncontrolled diabetic — we have patients on Trendelenburg's who are very dilated and can't move. One woman was admitted at 24 weeks with preterm labor. Her husband stayed with her every day. When she was at 28 weeks, she told him to go have fun one night. He was killed, and she knitted and crocheted day and night, and taught other women to do the same to get through the pain until she delivered at 31 weeks."

Karla Silva, a 23-year-old nanny of quadruplets in Berkeley, was admitted at 7 months in preterm labor. With an Oct. 27 due date, Silva needed to find a way to refocus her enormous energy and hang on as long as possible. Crocheting has helped, she said.

"I chase after kids all day long, and now I have to stay in bed all day," Silva shared with ADVANCE. "All I had to do was think about the baby and worry. Now, I'm working on making something for her with my hands and not worrying about her in my head. Rashaad [Smith, Silva's partner] says he's never seen me this calm, and I know that's a better environment for the baby."

Candy Goulette is regional editor at ADVANCE.


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