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Arts in Medicine Stitching Workshops Testimonial

Hope Bates gave birth to twins, Messiah (L) and Elijah (R), three months before her due date at UAB's Women and Infants Center. Hope is pictured here with two pillows made from blocks she embroidered during an Arts in Medicine workshop.

“Ok Ms. Lillis, I am almost finished with these story quilts. But I need two blocks that say:

‘Sentenced to 9 Months: April 5, 2019
Let out on good behavior: December 22, 2018’

This is Hope. She’s mom to two little fighters named Messiah and Elijah and she’s been embroidering quilt blocks in my stitching workshops as part of UAB’s Institute for Arts in Medicine.

The first time I met Hope Bates, she was a participant in my workshop on the High Risk Obstetrics unit. There were other patients present in that workshop, but I specifically remember Hope’s demeanor. She seemed strong, resilient, very smart, and though she remained respectfully silent the duration of the class, I could tell I was in the presence of a powerful and vibrant personality.

Hope was at “25 weeks and 1 day”, a phrase understood on the unit, but for the average person it might cause momentary confusion: her pregnancy was 25 weeks old and 1 day. And that “1 day” is significant because in the world of growing fetuses, significant steps are taken day by day. That first meeting took place on December 20th. Hope delivered her boys two days later. The next time I saw her, she came to my HRO workshop and told me the news. It’s not rare for mothers from HRO to deliver early, but it is rare to see them back in the family room on workshop day, ready to keep working on their projects. I asked Hope how her Christmas had been. I’ll never forget her answer. “I was here all by myself, but I was with my boys; just me and them. It was the best Christmas ever”. The thing about Hope is, she isn’t an overly talkative person. But she’s not shy either. When she speaks, it’s to speak a truth or to drop some wisdom and it’s this realness that makes her so popular with other families going through similar situations with their newborns. I’ve seen Hope at least once a week for four months – she never misses a workshop – and she’s always surrounded by people. She brings new participants to my embroidery workshop, encourages them to make things for their babies and if they complain about not being further along with their work, she warmly ribs them, not letting anyone forget the many blankets and pillows she’s made, “times two because I have twins!”

After the boys were born, Hope confided in me that she never thought she was going to have children. Prior to this pregnancy, she had tried and tried and had even been visiting a fertility clinic at UAB since 2014. These boys are her miracle babies, making their early arrival all the more disconcerting, given the many battles Hope’s had to face.

One day, Hope dropped into my stitching workshop a little late and she was visibly distraught. She had been crying but was there to drop off finished blocks from another mother whose baby had been discharged since my last workshop. Hope came because she had promised to complete the errand, but she didn’t want to be there. I asked her if she was okay. She started crying and told me that Elijah had coded. It had only just happened. She left again to keep track of her son. She came back a little while later, calmer because Elijah was holding steady after being revived. She told me that the boys were going to be separated: Elijah needed to stay in intensive care and Messiah was ready for the step down unit. The nurses and doctors believed that all the big changes (the boys were supposed to move to the step down unit that day, together) had caused Elijah too much stress. I told her I would finish drawing the quilt blocks she had requested and check on her and the boys later in the week. The next day, I found the little family all in one room on the NICU again. The scariest thing had happened and they had all survived.

Hope calls embroidery addicting. I know it gives her an outlet for all of the stress and anxiety of this situation. I know this because she tells me so. She tells anyone who will listen, how much having embroidery has helped her along this journey. And now, she’s using embroidery to create blankets for each of her sons that tell the story of their time in UAB’s NICU. She has blocks that mark their first holidays (Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day); she has blocks that will remind her boys how special and unique they are, “Your first breath took mine away”; and now she’s tackling blocks that tell some of the scarier parts of the story. Today I wrote, “CODE BLUE” in all caps, in the center of a block of muslin. On another block I wrote, “Prolapse Cord”, which is what happened to Messiah and is the cause for Hope’s stint on HRO in the first place. Hope has already painstakingly embroidered the boys’ milestones such as “room air”, “bubble”, “OE”. These won’t mean much to the boys’ friends, but Hope will tell them their stories one day and Elijah and Messiah will be able to wrap themselves in their mother’s love as they listen to the story of how they came to be and what they went through to get here.

Hope Bates is testament to what is made possible through arts in the healthcare environment. With thread, a needle, a hoop, some fabric (and an artist willing to take the challenge of drawing whatever pops into her mind), Hope has transformed a stitching workshop into a coping mechanism that not only provides an outlet for her own need for expression, but also leaves behind a body of work for the babies she’s ready to mother.

The boys have gotten big - still a funny thing to say, given they are 4 months old and just hitting 6 pounds; but still, for preemies, this size seems huge. They have surpassed Hope’s original due date; another incredible milestone and one immortalized in one of Hope’s story quilt blocks. It’s humbling to me how many mothers I’ve seen get to this point in their own journeys with their families. While writing this one account, many, many women have come to mind. I’m so grateful to Hope for letting me share her story; Elijah and Messiah’s story. Thanks to Arts in Medicine, it’s partly my story too. As Hope’s last block for her story quilt states, “Give Yourself Time - #GROWTH”.