Mom to Mom
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.
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.