When Lebanese mother Rehana Aboul Hosn had her first daughter, Lara, four years ago, she says her entire world was flipped upside down – and not in a good way.
On motherhood expectations
“I had my baby, I came back home, and then everything went wrong,” she recalls. “My expectations were way off. I struggled with everything: breastfeeding, sleepless nights, anxiety. I was so hung up on the birth itself that I was never really prepared for what happens afterwards, and I was completely lost. And because I was so sure I had to do everything myself, I refused any sort of help whatsoever mostly because there was no help out there that I could trust.”
It's a story every parent can relate to; there is plenty of support during pregnancy, with health-care professionals providing regular check-ups and answering every question that arises. But after the baby is born? Parents are often left to fend on their own.
"I'm born and raised in Dubai, it's my home," says Aboul Hosn. "I couldn't understand how, in Dubai, you can get every service delivered right to your doorstep, everything you need to make life easier. But when it came to postnatal support, there just wasn't anything I could trust."
On creating Babies and Beyond
Aboul Hosn decided to do something about it, and in summer 2015, Babies and Beyond was founded, licensed by the Dubai Health Authority. She left her marketing and communications job, and vowed to make sure that no mother would have to go through what she did when she had her first baby.
“I was in a very low mental and emotional state, and suffered from postnatal depression,” she admits. “I loved my baby, but I was always crying – I always felt such a weight of sadness and anxiety, I couldn’t feel like myself anymore.”
Her solution was to provide mothers with a one-stop shop where they could find the right support and a relevant variety of services to help them in their parenting journey.
Set up with four employees, Babies and Beyond today provides maternity and childcare services delivered by a team of 79 professionally licensed and qualified nurses, midwives, health visitors, lactation consultants, sleep experts and public-health professionals, as well as early-years educators who develop educational, fun activities for toddlers and young children to work on when they are being babysat by one of the team.
Mothers can pay to have a maternity nurse drop in, book babysitting services or sign up for regular postnatal visits. "We're a centre where you can come and get all the help you need," Aboul Hosn explains. "We're for every mother who calls in."
On helping other mothers in the UAE
With its headquarters in Dubai Media City, Babies and Beyond provides a number of free talks, events and seminars for parents, which are held three days a week – Mommy and Me Mondays, Parent Talk Tuesdays and Wellness Wednesday – attracting about 500 mothers a month. On Thursdays, the centre hosts free drop-in clinics, offering breastfeeding support and baby weighing.
The free events feature everything from baby yoga and music classes for parents to engage with their children, to talks about positive parenting, oral health for babies, how to increase a mother's milk supply, common illnesses for babies and how to deal with reflux.
On motherhood the second time around
Today, Aboul Hosn is a mother of two. Her second daughter, Sophia, was born in September 2016, and the experience could not have been more different than her first time.
"I'm so enjoying parenting the second time around, and it's mostly because I'm milking every service offered by Babies and Beyond – I'm the centre's best client," she jokes. "It's amazing how much better and stronger you feel as a mother when you have the right people there for you. We helped create that village for mothers. We just need that support."
On continuing support
Starting on Monday and continuing throughout February, Babies and Beyond will be running a free emotional-wellness clinic, working with clinical psychologist Dr Marie Thompson.
“Mothers can come and discuss how they’re feeling, what issues they’re facing, what their concerns may be,” Aboul Hosn says.
"A lot of times, you just need to talk and you don't necessarily have postnatal depression – or you might have it and need to be referred. Booking a session with a psychologist can cost Dh700 to Dh1,000, and is not even be covered by insurance, so the clinic we're launching can be a big help for some people."
A calendar of free events is updated regularly on the Babies and Beyond Facebook page, and Aboul Hosn says parents are always welcome to drop in. "We're here to help," she says.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/babiesandbeyonduae