Sandrine Piedras Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS

ABU DHABI: A premature birth can be a scary and difficult experience for new parents. But these four mothers from Dubai have not let that become a low point in their lives and instead are an inspiration to expectant mothers and those with premature babies (preemies).

Ahead of Mother’s Day on March 21, XPRESS brings you the inspiring work these mums are doing for the preemie community.

Sandrine Piedras, Survival Guide

Sandrine Piedras, 32, was in her third trimester at 29 weeks when her water broke and she delivered a baby girl after an emergency C-section on September 19, 2015. Her daughter Lucia was put in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a Dubai hospital. Unfortunately Lucia had a severe intra-ventricular brain haemorrhage and developed hydrocephalus, a condition where fluid starts accumulating in the brain. “Her head was growing enormously big and we were told there was little hope of her survival,” the Frenchwoman recalled.

While Lucia struggled to stay alive, Sandrine fought to keep her emotions in check.

“The first day in an NICU was a nightmare. There were so many things around me that I did not understand. If seeing my little one all wired up inside an incubator was not bad enough, the constant bleeps from other incubators scared the daylights out of me as I was always fearing something horrible was happening to my child.

“I felt I had to pen these experiences in a guide so new mums are not overwhelmed with all that is going on around them,” she said.

As Lucia continued her battle, Sandrine was putting together the first ever survival guide for preemie mums in the UAE. “Besides carrying a glossary of things you find around an NICU, it has a personal chart to keep track of babies’ stats, tips for breast-feeding and a list of support groups in the UAE among others. Parents have lots of questions and very few answers. It helps to be informed about these things before hand,” she said.

Sadly Lucia died on November 10. But that has not stopped Sandrine from publishing the guide, a soft copy of which is available on her blog www.nicudubai.wordpress.com.

Joanna Hanson-Halliwell, Incubator covers

Briton Joanna Hanson-Halliwell’s life took a turn when her son George was born 10 weeks premature on May 9, 2013. The 34-year-old gave up her bank job and dedicated her time to George. “Having a preemie can be emotionally draining for parents. I was questioning my own body and did a number of tests to check if there was a problem with me. Then one day a friend asked me to divert my attention to doing something more constructive for the community of preemie mothers.”

The following day she started a website – smallandmightybabies.com – and there has been no looking back ever since. Joanna said the response to the site has been overwhelming. “Two years ago on World Prematurity Day, I organised a walk on Palm Jumeirah. The event was a huge success with scores of people showing up.”

Encouraged by the response she decided to take her initiative to a new level. “I was trying to think out of the box and see what else I could do. And I thought why not make incubator covers? I found some talented women in Ajman to do the job. Made from a thick padding material, the covers are priced around Dh500. There is a separate one for boys, girls and a Unisex option too.”

Why incubator covers?

“The purpose of an incubator cover is to provide a sound and quiet environment for the baby. Hospitals have covers but they are of a light material. This one is personalised and custom-made. When parents leave the hospital, it can be converted into a play mat or a sleeping bag.”

She also conducts photoshoots of children carrying a framed picture of themselves in NICU as babies. “It is a thank you gesture to Dubai hospitals for their endless efforts to save babies every day.”

Samaiya Sakrani, Support system

When Canadian Samaiya Sakrani’s daughter Rania was born at 26 weeks four years ago, she wanted to reach out to mums with similar experience but could not find any support group in the UAE. She then reached out to a group in the US for help. “That was helpful, but I was yearning to meet mothers in the UAE as my concerns never seemed to end. I started a Facebook group, Preemie Parenting – Dubai, and in no time I found other people in the same boat as me.”

Now Sakrani, 32, is a popular figure, on call 24 hours a day to help mums in distress. “Being there for them is healing me in the process. We all have questions that we think are silly or insignificant. But that is never the case. Parents always want to know if their children will get better, when they can hold their babies, how long before the ventilator is removed? Having someone who has gone through a similar experience to give answers can help tremendously.”

Sylvia Kluge, WhatsApp group

German Sylvia Kluge, 34, whose daughter Sophie has been in the NICU at a Dubai hospital for the last five months, has been doing all she can to help mothers deal with their emotional stress. “There is a lot that Sophie has taught me, especially to be grateful, and I feel happy to share that with others and motivate them. Thanks to her I know so much about NICUs and preemies, I feel like I have done a thesis on it.”

Sylvia has set up a WhatsApp group of mothers of babies in the hospital’s NICU. “It works well as the messages are exchanged instantly. Some of us have become friends and meet for a ladies night-out once a week. It is refreshing to see everyone in a different setting other than the NICU. As much as mothers have to ensure they are doing everything they can for their babies, they have to keep their health in check.”

DID YOU KNOW?

10% deliveries in UAE are preterm births.

November 17 is world prematurity day

DHA mandates all health cover should meet a minimum DH150,000 coverage for babies born before full term

YOUSPEAK: Do you have any similar tales to share?