Mothers of premature babies in UAE help families cope

The Small and Mighty Babies group, with 200 members across the UAE, held an event recently to celebrate the young children with photographs reflecting their journey.

Penelope Foulkes was born premature and her mother participates in the UAE support group Small and Mighty. Photo courtesy Alex Jeffries
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DUBAI // Mothers of babies born prematurely are part of a growing community offering support and advice to other families in the same situation.

Having experienced first-hand the heartbreak of dealing with fragile babies, the mothers visit families in hospitals and stay in touch when the infants are taken home.

With 200 members across the UAE, the Small and Mighty Babies group recently held an event to celebrate the infants with photographs reflecting their journey.

Some will turn a year old next week and their framed black and white images hooked up to a ventilator inside an incubator are reminders of how far they have come. The milestone is an emotional one for Pip Foulkes because when she celebrates daughter Penelope’s first birthday on May 4, she also remembers her twin sister, Madeline, who died a day after being born.

“You get clinical support but you also need emotional support,” Ms Foulkes said.

“Most people have babies and go home. But we lost a child – it was a stressful and worrying time. So to know there are other people is such a comfort.”

The twins were born at 27 weeks after Ms Foulkes went into early labour.

Seeing a tiny baby hooked up to machines is traumatic. “You can’t touch your baby at first and when you do get to touch her, you are petrified you will give her something,” she said.

“You wear a face mask and gown so your first interactions are very clinical. The worry continues when you go home because you don’t have the machines.

“Talking to others makes you relieved that you are not a psycho parent by not wanting too many people around.”

Reaching out helps mothers feel less alone, said Joanne Hanson-Halliwell, who founded the group after the birth of her son George at 30 weeks four year ago.

“It is quite isolating when you have a baby in special care,” Ms Hanson-Halliwell said.

“The women in the group have an overwhelming sense to give back. They want to help someone else because everybody knows what it feels like.

“We were all in neonatal intensive care and we have to bring a positive out of that experience.

“The photographs are important for parents to remember what their child has gone through. It shows how fragile they once were and how robust they are now. It’s a celebration of life.” Premature babies are born before 37 weeks gestation and preterm birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under 5, according to the World Health Organisation.

Dealing with each day was key, said Leanne Knox, whose daughter, Lily, was born at 28 weeks weighing 1.2 kilograms and remained in intensive care for eight weeks before she went home in March last year.

“Ask doctors not to bombard you with medical jargon and take one day at a time,” Ms Knox said.

“Try not look too far ahead. Don’t focus on when the baby will come home or get too caught up in somebody else’s premature baby stories because that can be very overwhelming.

“The photograph is a lovely memory for Lily to realise that she was once in an incubator and realise how big she has gotten.”