A strawberry. A bumblebee. Batman, Superman and a turtle.
And, of course, a cheeseburger and fries.
The week before Halloween, the tiniest of babies were dressed in handmade costumes at Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Corewell Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, formerly Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Dressed as a cheeseburger and french fries, newborns Caeli and Ailani Gonzalez Rivera looked snug and content.
“She’s nibbling on the lettuce every time it gets close to her mouth,” Gay Sexton, Child Life assistant at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, said. “It’s just adorable.”
She and her colleague, Theresa Hartl, were busy dressing babies one by one as parents and team members looked on and smiled.
“They’re wombmates,” she said, referring to the twins. “That’s one better than roommates.”
This is the third year Sexton and the Child and Family Life team have created costumes for the little ones. She and her mom make the costumes by hand and then bring them in for the babies.
It’s clearly a labor of love.
She has an entire notebook from which parents can choose costumes. By Halloween, every baby in the NICU has their own costume. That’s 117 babies in total.
“We made a little over 200 costumes this year,” Sexton said.
The most popular costume this year: a pumpkin. Last year’s favorites were all superheroes.
Making the superhero costumes is a little more intensive, as they have logos and a bit more detail, Sexton said. But she assures families that each costume is created with the same level of love and detail.
Lauren Oviedo held her 3-week-old baby, Haelynn, who was dressed as a bumblebee. She and her husband picked it out.
“We were torn between a ladybug and bumblebee, but now that we see she has flower sheets I’m so glad we went with the bumblebee,” she said.
The couple, from South Haven, Michigan, are staying at the Ronald McDonald House while Haelynn spends more time growing in the NICU.
“She got to wear her very first outfit yesterday, and a costume today,” Lauren said. “She’s thriving at the moment, which is great. And we have no health concerns, which makes it very easy to be here and makes us very grateful.”
The team had dressed Logan Torrey as Batman, and he seemed to know it was the plan for the day—he already had a black- and white-striped onesie that went perfectly with his costume.
Jonah Nate, eyes open and shining brightly, was dressed as a turtle.
“Hello, little turtle. How are you today?” Hartl asked as she snuggled him into his costume. “Oh, he’s just so cute.”
NICU nurse Lisa Feutz, RN, said days like this make her happy to have this job.
“I feel grateful to be able to be a part of this today,” she said, smiling. “I love seeing the babies grow and thrive.”
And word caught on quickly in the NICU, where team members would pause to catch a glimpse of the small babies in their adorable costumes.
“Oh, my goodness, that’s just adorable,” a nurse said as she passed by.
Documenting the first anything with your baby is a very special moment, Hartl said.
“This is their first Halloween and that doesn’t change just because they’re in the NICU,” she said. “We work hard to make holidays special, but also normalized.”
Zi’King Freeman was dressed as a pumpkin. Clearly still sleepy, he struggled to keep his eyes open. Across the hall, Elliana Garcia wore a bright, beautiful pink and purple butterfly costume.
“You are such a sweet girl,” Hartl said, whispering in her ear.
Madison Miller wore a strawberry on her chest. Nearby, a note from mom and dad hung on the wall: “We love you to the moon and back.”
Alejandro Wiltrout donned a red Superman cape. His mom, Victoria, had picked it out for a reason.
“I love this costume,” she said. “It represents him very well. He’s been a little Superman ever since the beginning. He has excelled so well.”
And he continues to grow.
“He is continually showing us that he can do it,” Victoria said.
By day’s end, the costume event inspired plenty of smiles.
“These activities and costumes bring excitement and activity to the NICU,” nurse Kelly Jager, RN, said. “It makes things seem a little more normal for families who might be going through a difficult time.”