Parents of premature children find support through Miracle Babies Foundation playgroup

Parents of premature children find support through Miracle Babies Foundation playgroup
  • PublishedOctober 6, 2023

Maddi Panter was 19 weeks pregnant when her waters broke, and she packed her hospital bag preparing for the worst. 

“[I was thinking] ‘Oh, I’m going to go into labour, I’m going to have a baby, this baby’s not going to survive,” she said.

Ms Panter was barely halfway through the typical 40-week pregnancy gestation.

“I remember standing in my bathroom, thinking, ‘What do I pack? What do I need?,” she said.

“I was just completely unaware of what was about to happen.”

It was the last time she would stand in her own bathroom for months.

‘Weird, lonely’ hospital stay

After arriving at her local hospital in Bunbury, in South West WA, she was transferred 200 kilometres away to King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth.

A woman lying in a hospital bed pregnant and smiling at the camera.
Maddi Panter spent six weeks in hospital after her waters broke. (Supplied: Maddi Panter)

There, she would wait for weeks as her tiny baby grew, gradually reaching a  point where she would potentially survive birth. 

“It was the weirdest, loneliest experience of my life,” she said.

For six weeks Ms Panter was monitored and kept in the hospital, until at 25 weeks, having fallen ill, medical staff performed a caesarean.

Her daughter Ivy was born 15 weeks early at barely 700 grams, a quarter of the weight of a typical newborn.

Most parents of newborns spend the first few days navigating a world of feeding, sleeping and crying. Ms Panter and her husband had other things on their minds.

“Feeding was the least of our worries,” she said.

“It was lungs and heart and brain. Are kidneys working? Do we have limbs that can move?”

For the next five months Ms Panter spent every moment she could in the hospital with Ivy while her husband remained two hours away in Bunbury looking after their older child.

“That was hard being so far away from family, from friends, from all my support systems and not being able to rely on anyone,” Ms Panter said.

Finding comfort

After 152 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Ms Panter finally brought Ivy home.

But even then, she found the experience isolating.

A baby reaching for some colourful paper rings in the arms of her smiling mother.
Ivy has ongoing health issues after being born 15 weeks premature. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

“Having to answer, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with her, what’s happened?,” Ms Panter said.

“I’m having to explain to all these people that didn’t understand what was wrong with Ivy.”

Each year in Australia, one in 10 babies — more than 27,000 — are born premature, which is defined as a baby being born before 37 weeks’ gestation.

Babies born early often have long-term medical issues and parents of preterm babies are 2.5 times more likely to experience post-natal depression.

A woman's back of shirt which says Miracle Babies Foundation, with parents in the background.
The Miracle Babies Foundation supports premature and sick newborns and their families.(ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

It was not until Ms Panter found a local group set up for parents of premature babies that she was finally able to find a place of comfort.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” she said.

“My mental health took a great hit when Ivy was born.

“It is slowly recovering thanks to this group.”

Three mothers and their babies sitting on the floor all playing and talking to each other.
The playgroup brings together parents who have experienced a premature birth. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Lonely journey ends in friendship

The group was started by fellow Bunbury mother Talia Beales, whose son Jack spent his first 97 days in hospital after being born prematurely.

“The hospital stay would have been one of the most traumatic parts of my story,” Ms Beale said.

“And witnessing other women going through traumatic and horrific things and you just see it, you smell it, you hear it.”

She started attending parenting groups after she finally brought her son home to Bunbury.

But she struggled to find mothers who understood what she was experiencing with Jack, who had ongoing medical issues including cerebral palsy.

“I would quite often leave upset,” Ms Beale said.

“I’d go home and I’d cry and just be like, you know, a bit of a ‘why me’ sort of situation.”

Four pictures showing colour tabs on the table, two children smiling at the camera and colourful blocks on a table.
The babies spend their morning doing a range of fun activities. (ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Two hours away from the children’s hospital and struggling to find support, her experience led her to form the Miracle Babies Foundation playgroup in Bunbury.

The foundation is Australia’s leading organisation supporting premature and sick newborns, their families and the hospitals that care for them.

Once a fortnight, parents of pre-term babies or sick newborns gather to decompress after their birth journeys, or even just that week.

“We’re just speaking the same language — in the way of medical terms,” Ms Beale said.

“It’s a warm and safe space for families to connect and share our stories.”

Long roads to travel

Many of the children who attend the group have complex medical needs.

Tarlisha O’Donnell had her daughter eight weeks premature and said it could be difficult and at times frustrating trying to navigate support services in regional areas.

“You’ve got to travel anywhere from two to three hours [for appointments],” she said.

“As a regional person, it’s hard — it is long hours.”

A woman smiling at the camera with her toddler daughter in her arms who is holding a bottle.
Tarlisha O’Donnell wants to draw awareness to the struggles of regional parents.(ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

Ms O’Donnell said the playgroup was a place of support and somewhere to debrief.

“I feel like I walk in the door and my whole entire stress of what I’ve just gone through with the NDIS [disappears],” she said.

Work in progress

At their Monday morning playgroup, Ms Beales is beaming as she paints alongside Jack, who is getting paint everywhere except the piece of paper in front of him.

Three pictures showing a boy painting, accidently painting a woman and they both laugh.
Jack enjoys painting a little too much.(ABC South West: Kate Stephens)

With the support of her family, friends and now her playgroup, Ms Beales is finally in a good place.

“If you’d asked me maybe a year ago, I probably would have burst into tears, and I do still have my moments,” she said.

“I think it’s just going to be one of those things where it’s just a work in progress.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *