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Mothers of Purl

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Marguerite Tirelli, RN-C, IBCLC, a nurse in the mother/baby unit at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY, teaches women hospitalized for high-risk pregnancies how to knit to keep hands and minds busy and fears at bay.

Nurses in the mother/baby unit care for 75 to 100 antepartum women annually. Some women may spend as long as a month in the hospital under doctor's orders to be monitored because of complications from asthma, diabetes, chronic hypertension or other problems.

If the women are in hospital more than a week, Tirelli recruits them for her antepartum knitting project, now dubbed "Mothers of Purl," after one of the two basic stitches in knitting.

A Diversion

IT'S A BOY: Marguerite Tirelli, RN-C, IBCLC, teaches Jasmin Sanders to knit. courtesy Montefiore Medical Center

"We're trying to give them a diversional activity," the certified lactation consultant said, "and the hope is someday to see whether this reduces post-partum depression."

The creative projects also build self-esteem and confidence in the women, Tirelli said. In the short-term, however, learning to knit is "just a fun project for the women to work on."

The women knit blankets for their babies "who often go to the NICU because they are usually early and then the baby goes home in the blanket," Tirelli said.

A mother in the hospital during the holiday season knitted scarves for all of her children - nine of them - including a baby.

While the women create scarves and blankets, they are momentarily distracted from concerns about their children outside of the hospital, bills to pay and pending home projects. Knitting also breaks up the tedium.

"The women get bored after they get things organized," at home and work, Tirelli said.

A left-hander who took up knitting about 5 years ago, Tirelli teaches the women the basic stitches.

"Everything is a combination of the knit stitch and the purl stitch. If you knit two and purl two, that creates a design. If you knit four and purl two, that's another design."

Fun for All

The patients make wonderful students. "It's amazing to see where the women take this skill they've just learned." Tirelli said, "and some of the blankets are just beautiful."

The process is fun for Tirelli, too, "because as I'm showing them, I get to sit for a few minutes and knit with them."

"This project wouldn't have gone anywhere if I didn't have great support from leadership," Tirelli said. "My manager and the director of nursing have been totally supportive. I'm very lucky because other places may not have supported this as much as they've done here."

Colleagues refer potential knitters to Tirelli. Sheila Robinson, RN, on evening shift, who Tirelli describes as a "wonderful knitter," will "pop in and see how [a new patient] is doing and maybe start them off knitting."

Tirelli is taking advantage of the renewed popularity of the craft.

"How to knit has become cool again," the Westchester County, NY, resident said. "Beautiful yarn shops have opened up and are thriving in Westchester and all sorts of knitting clubs are popping up in New York City."

Crafty Connections

The knitters at Montefiore Medical Center don't gather in circles like in clubs because they are on bed rest "and there are privacy issues," Tirelli said, but knitters spot each other in ultrasound, for instance, and make friends.

Personal stories unravel as the women knit and wait. One patient, who loved creative projects like scrap booking, had a mother who was a "phenomenal knitter," but had never learned to knit herself.

"When she learned how to knit," Tirelli said, "it joined her and her mother together and brought a whole new conversation between them, so that was good."

Knitting time is also good for education. "While we sit, some women talk about what's going on with them in their pregnancy. They talk about their fears about the baby and about themselves. Some of the women are pretty sick. They have lots of anxieties, concerns and unknowns. This gives us an opportunity to work through those, too."

The program sustains itself through donations, Tirelli said. Women's clubs conduct drives and donate yarn and needles.

"This is a very easy project to bring to patients," Tirelli said. "It does not involve a lot of overhead and the impact on the patient has been phenomenal. "

Kathleen A. Waton is a frequent contributor to ADVANCE.

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