Joanne founded Small and Mighty Babies in 2013, creating products to support families through high-risk pregnancies, premature birth and the neonatal journey. In 2016, she started a new project, Love Through Loss, providing memory boxes to parents who have lost a baby during or after a pregnancy, donating a portion of the profits to Tommy's. We spoke to Joanne about the story behind the work she does to help families in the UK and the UAE through pregnancy complications and baby loss, and why she has chosen to support our charity.
What is the story behind Small and Mighty Babies?
My son was born at 30 weeks following a placental abruption, and whilst we try to be as prepared as possible for birth and motherhood, nothing can ever prepare you when things don’t go to plan. I struggled to come to terms with everything. I felt I had failed my son having not been able to carry him full term. My sense of grief for an unfinished pregnancy was overwhelming, and though I knew I was a mother, standing by my son's incubator felt nothing like the motherhood I had written in my heart.
These words and feelings aren’t new. Everyone experiencing a complicated pregnancy goes through their own version of my truth, but bringing us all together was what became the foundation of Small and Mighty Babies. A few months after we left the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), my friend repeated the words she had already said several times to me: “Maybe you were always meant to have a premature baby and use what you went through to help other families.” It was at that moment I finally heard what she was really saying and my heart started to beat again. I brought together the 6 mums I had met in NICU and that's where the story began, 8 years ago.
When and why did you start Love Through Loss?
As Small and Mighty Babies grew we supported more families each year, all with different stories and outcomes. We knew we needed to ensure our families had a safe space with us and would always be part of our community even if they had gone through the tragedy of neonatal loss. As we supported several families in the Middle East through their loss, we saw how bereavement care was managed and within a very short time, we had started Love Through Loss. We educate, support and facilitate bereavement care in several hospitals and clinics in the UAE and now support families through pregnancy loss, miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal loss and infant loss.
Working with families, we took advice, comments, ideas and suggestions to ensure we could create a product that families can make their own. It isn’t a prescription nor personalised but a gender-neutral box that gives families the chance to create their own precious memories.
What do you include in the Love Through Loss boxes?
My business partner Lala is, amongst many wonderful things, a Voluntary Bereavement Doula. Her first-hand experience supporting families through loss has helped us design our Love Through Loss Memory Box and fine-tune it as we go. Our collaboration with Tommy’s really focuses on early pregnancy loss and termination for medical reasons (TFMR), supporting parents who have had a loss in the first 23 weeks of pregnancy.
Our memory box provides parents with a specially sized muslin swaddle that they may want to place their baby on. They might want to keep this swaddle or keep it with their baby depending on what feels right to them. There is an inkless paper kit, provided by Memory Treasures, that allows parents to take even the tiniest of hand or footprints. Memory Treasures can also create a lifelong memory in silver using an ultrasound image or a copy of a baby's heartbeat. Finally, a candle is enclosed for families to light in memory of their baby.
Why did you decide to support Tommy’s?
I was privileged to be invited into the Tommy's Research Centre in Manchester. As you walk through the rows of desks, there is an energy and feeling that is unique. Raising funds towards Tommy's research will help find us ways to prevent baby loss and preterm birth. It's amazing to see the impact their work has on so many families.
Are there any comments that have stayed with you from the parents you’ve supported?
I spoke to a lady in her 80s who crocheted some Love Through Loss cocoons for me. When she was a younger she had a stillborn daughter who, like many other babies in those days, was taken and buried in an unmarked grave in a local church. This lady emailed and said, “I have never met you, but for the first time in 60 years, you have given me the chance to grieve for my daughter.” That comment really meant a lot.
Do you have any new projects planned?
We really want to continue to grow the Small and Mighty Babies community around the world. We do have something really exciting in the pipeline – we just have to get the magic right and make it happen.
You can find out more about Small and Mighty Babies and Love Through Loss here.