A baby born prematurely is immediately placed in an isolette – a plastic incubator – and taken away from the mother who has been laboriously carrying the infant for nine months. Parents are left worried and helpless as the focus turns to the medical attention needed by the baby. Amber Collier founded Preemie Prints, a non-profit organization devoted to providing support, hope and photography to the families of premature babies, to provide the support parents also need.
“Parents [of a premature baby] endure an emotional rollercoaster – feelings of joy, excitement, guilt, fear and sadness are common,” Collier says. “And that’s just the hospital stay! Alongside the relief of leaving the hospital is the fear and frustration of caring for this tiny baby at home by yourself.”
Collier speaks from experience. Her identical twin girls were born at 32 weeks, and she, her husband, and the girls had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Houston for a month after the birth. It was during this life-changing experience that she was inspired to found a support system.
Preemie Prints was launched at the beginning of the year in Bryan/College Station and has since expanded to Houston to assist preemie families in a number of ways. Gift bag donations are distributed in the NICUs at St. Joseph’s and The Med to families when they contact Preemie Prints. The bags include a number of things the baby will need, as well as items specifically for the mom like relaxing bath products and teas. Monthly meetings are held at the College Station Medical Center for current or former NICU moms. Preemie Prints also holds sewing/craft meetings at St. Joseph for anyone interested in sewing preemie items.
One of the most special gifts Preemie Prints offers is complimentary photography. Collier found great comfort in her journey with her daughters through the photos she took; each day after leaving the NICU she would develop her photos and found that it helped with the bonding between mother and child. While some may argue that it is a time of grief that they don’t want photographed, Collier assures parents they will look back and regret not having those moments captured.
It is also a goal of Preemie Prints to minimize the risks of Post-Partum Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, conditions for which parents with babies in the NICU are at an increased risk. “I had PPD after my girls were born and it made it all the more difficult,” Collier says.
Collier says her experience was less severe than others; she describes one mother who gave birth to micro-preemies born at just 24 weeks who spent nine months in the NICU. “Life stops while you’re in there,” she notes. In addition to the local efforts, Collier wants to reach mothers on a national level. There is a group forum on the website where mothers can match up with others to share similar experiences and offer advice. There is also a prayer wall where parents can submit short messages, post prayers, or simply read for strength.
Preemie Prints is financed through donations and the work of volunteers. It has grown substantially simply through word of mouth. The organization is looking for mothers who have had a premature baby to provide support at meetings to mothers currently undergoing the same trial. Funds are needed for operating expenses and to produce the gift bags. A volunteer can also be a photographer or a moderator of the Facebook page. “We are built on people who have some sort of connection to the preemie world with a passion to be involved,” says Collier. “My heart goes out to moms.” – by Clarissa Orth
Anyone interested in becoming involved as a volunteer or by providing items for comfort bags, donations or by offering office space may email firstname.lastname@example.org.