Mom to Mom

Published On 05/02/2016

Le Bonheur support group helps moms connect and cope with a hospitalized child

The sounds, the smells, the sights—everything about Mary Cheairs’ surroundings felt unfamiliar.

After giving birth to twins, Lawson and Nathan, just 25 weeks into her pregnancy, Mary’s life was turned upside down. All of her carefully laid plans suddenly felt uncertain. While Lawson remained at his birthing hospital to grow stronger, Nathan was transferred to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital to be treated for jaundice. His time at Le Bonheur was extended after he developed necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious intestinal illness. He also had retinopathy of prematurity, which required surgery on his left eye when he was less than 3 months old.

Mary hopped back and forth between the hospitals, each day facing new and challenging issues she couldn’t have prepared for.

“It was hard,” Mary recalled. “I remember asking a nurse, ‘Is there a support group here?’ I didn’t have friends who had been through this or somebody who could kind of relate.”

Now seven years later, Mary fills that void for other mothers by leading a Le Bonheur’s mom support group, which was founded in 2013.

MomsPic1

Once a week, mothers in the hospital are invited down to Le Bonheur’s Family Resource Center for an hour of pizza and understanding. Mary is one of five moms who take turns hosting and helping foster conversation and connection between the moms in the group.

Le Bonheur Chaplain Elizabeth Hawkins co-facilitates the group. Elizabeth walks the halls Wednesday afternoons, checking in on moms and encouraging them to take a small break from their child’s bedside in order to better cope with the difficulties of hospital life.

Elizabeth, who has an 18-month-old child, said her time with the support work has shown her the underlying strength of all Le Bonheur mothers.

“To think of what our volunteer moms have been through, and still, they want to give back, it’s really inspiring,” said Elizabeth. “They are well trained to help others and their personal stories are so powerful for our other moms to hear.”  

All of the volunteer moms are former Le Bonheur parent mentors. Mentors receive formal training based on curriculum from the Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care and shadow experienced mentors before meeting families on their own. Mentors provide peer support, coping strategies and suggestions for partnering with the health care team. They are the experts when it comes to coordinating family life during hospitalization and then normalizing life after discharge.

MomsPic2

“I hope I am a source of hope for these moms,” Mary said. “Our family’s motto through our whole stay at Le Bonheur was to take everything day by day. But honestly, I feel like I gain so much more from the moms who come to the group, hearing their stories and seeing their strength. I am constantly amazed by these moms.”

Listening is largely what happens in the group. The conversation begins with introductions and the moms share a little about themselves. The setting is relaxed, the conversation intimate and no topic is off limits.

“So many times, these moms just want to be able to talk. To have somebody listening who can relate –it’s very comforting. It’s something I was really craving when I had the twins,” Mary said.

On a recent Wednesday, Cequita Jones recognized a few other moms from her floor when she arrived at the meeting, and her delight at seeing familiar faces was obvious. She shared news of her baby, Jordan, who came to Le Bonheur to be treated for jaundice when doctors discovered he had intestinal volvulus (twisted intestines) and an enlarged pancreas, requiring surgery.

That day Cequita had been working with her care team to help Jordan take a bottle. The moms around the table all nodded while Cequita talked, sharing small smiles and knowing glances.

 “They understand where you are coming, and they say just the right things—it makes you want to cry,” said Cequita. “It’s like, wow, somebody is here for you.”

Le Bonheur mom April Pruett, also experiencing an extended stay at Le Bonheur, echoed Cequita’s sentiments.

“I think when moms first hear about this, they maybe think they don’t need it or are nervous about meeting new people, but once you get there, automatically you have something in common with every person there,” she said. “We come from different states, backgrounds, ages, but you form this bond right away. Joining in the group with these moms makes us all better moms, and that will only help our children get better. That’s what we all want. It’s why we’re all there.”