It could have been a Christmas party anywhere infants and young children gather; a day-care center; a nursery school; a Sunday school.

The children tugged at each other's name tags, squirreled away cookies, played, laughed and whined at each other and their mothers. They looked like any normal group of children. But their name tags made it clear they were special.

They were the survivors - all 19 children at the party were born at Columbia Hosptial for Women less than 2 pounds 2 ounces at birth.

Tiffany Johnson, 2 pounds, 2 1/2 ounces at birth, now a happy, normal 14-month old; Kenin Morrison, born at 1 pound, 12 ounces, though you would never guess it 17 months later; and Arlene Johnson, born at 1 pound, 6 ounces, though you would never guess it 17 months later; and Arlene Johnson, born at 1 pound, 6 ounces, now 4 pounds, 1 1/2 ounces, brought up from the hospital nursery for the occasion.

Zenobia Mensa sat on a folding chair, holding her son, Nana kissie Mensa, now a whopping 11 pounds, 8 ounces, a far cry from the 1 pound, 9 1/2 ounces he weighted at birth on July 12.

"I was very hurt," when he was born, said Mrs. Mensa. "I just felt sorry for him. I didn't believe he would live. It was two weekds before I believed it. I went home the day after he was born and I came back the next day to see him," and every day after that. "He's had a little cold, but he hasn't had any problems."

While Nana Mensa has had a simple life since going home, things have been more complicated for his parents, who still owe the hospital, $33,000, and that does not include the $24,000 for physicians' services.

Like many parents of tiny, premature babies the Mensas have found themselves in an insurance noman's land: Stephen Mensa's $5,000 annual salary as a department store loading supervisor is just over the Virginia Medicaid cutoff, and his private insurance did not cover the birth because it occured before the insurance policy was in effect.

Mrs. Mensa said the hospital "calls my husband at his job and they wrote us a letter, too," asking for a first payment of $700. "He said we'd answer by December, but we have a car, and have to pay rent, and buy food.

"I don't know what we are going to do," said Mrs. Mensa. "I've decided to go back to work" as a private duty nurse's aide.

"It's a question of priority in our society," said Dr. John Scanlon, who runs the hospitals's special newborn service and whose staff probably will not attempt to collect the $24,000 owed it. "I guarantee you if he (Stephen Mensa) left home and she went on public assistance, the bill would get paid. The system works against the maintenance of the family."

While yesterday's party in the hospital's fifth floor physician's dinning room was dreamed up by nurses who simply thought it would be fun to get the tiny babies together, Scanlon clearly was pleased to have the opportunity to dispel the commonly held notion that such children end up brain damaged or maimed in some way.

"Show me the brain damaged children," said Scanlon facetiously. Just at that moment a photographer bumped a punch bowl and Scanlon cracked, "with the adults, it's easy."