This week, Bliss has been celebrating Volunteer’s Week. Bliss is fortunate to have hundreds of fantastic volunteers who help us carry out our work to improve the lives of babies born premature or sick. This week’s blog post comes from volunteer and mum of premature triplets, Sarah Ramsden. Sarah and her husband Matthew have been actively involved with Bliss ever since their daughters were born. She tells their story here:
In 2012 my husband Matthew and I welcomed Josie, Scarlett and Grace into the world, two months before their due date. To say that I experienced a rocky pregnancy would have been an understatement, even though we had always anticipated premature birth. During the week 26 of pregnancy I developed pre-eclampsia and was admitted to hospital - we were told to expect delivery any day.
We were fortunate that I was able to hang on until 31 weeks and six days gestation. It was during my time in hospital that I became very familiar with the Bliss website. As each week passed I would look at information about what you could expect from a certain gestation and I browsed the forums daily.
Following the birth of our girls we accessed the written information and knew that, if we needed it, support was available from Bliss volunteers. When we finally came home, life was busy! I must admit that Bliss became filed away in my brain and it wasn't something that we thought about much. We were having such a great time with the girls, but the one thing that always got to me in particular was comments from friends, family, even strangers, on the girls’ size and appearance.
Grace was just 4lbs on discharge, and though it was never said with any malice, every time I was reminded how small the girls were (which was more than a few times a day!) it was a reminder that I hadn't made it to term. Though completely unwarranted it made me feel guilty and, depending on what was said, upset or frustrated with the person passing comment.
I stumbled upon the local Bliss family group run by volunteer, Nicola Emsley. Arriving at the first one was like a lightbulb moment of finally finding somewhere that felt safe. There were no jokey comments about tiny babies, there was no ‘baby competition’ of whose babies were reaching which milestone first and it was brilliant. Nicky created such a welcoming and supportive environment for parents - I will be forever grateful for that 90 minutes of safety once a month.
Matthew and I became more and more involved with supporting Bliss from that moment. Our local Bliss team were always arranging fundraising events and we attended wherever we could. Matthew has rallied his team at his company, adept in fundraising for Bliss since the girls were born, with the charity challenges getting more extreme year on year. They have raised thousands of pounds for the charity. I have also been involved in events - most recently supporting Helen Jackson in her World Prematurity Day Bollywood Ball which was a huge success. I have an event planned during a local summer festival which will include participants having the chance to win a fantastic prize for guessing the combined birth weight of our trio!
When our daughters turned two, Matthew suggested that it might be a good time for us to start getting more actively involved with Bliss after seeing an appeal for Bliss volunteers at one of our local hospitals. We applied and we now share the role of Bliss Champion and attend on alternate weeks. We have had the honour of supporting many families since we first started on the unit and where possible we acquire resources from local businesses to take in for special occasions. Our contact details are available to everyone on the unit, and it has been particularly useful to have a male contact for parents. I'm extremely proud to say that Matthew is one of the few (and I think the very first) male Bliss champions.
The unit we volunteer on is smaller than the unit our daughters were born on but because we fit volunteering around work and the girls, we often don't see every parent. Despite this, we make sure that everyone has contact from us via a letter each week in which we signpost to Bliss services and mention what might be happening with Bliss locally. We have had great feedback from this and it's great to know that we manage to reach so many parents this way.
In October this year, Nicky decided to hand over the responsibility of the family group that had made such a significant impact on me. Helen Jackson and I have taken the baton and hope to carry on her good work. We have renamed the group and changed venues to allow it to support both of the units which Helen, Matthew and I volunteer at. It is fantastic to see the continuity of Bliss services and meet parents at the family group who Matthew and I have supported or who have accessed the written communication that we leave.
Volunteering is not without its challenges. Like most volunteers, we lead extremely busy lives but Bliss was such a support to our family, particularly postnatally, that it is a charity we envisage playing a huge part in our lives. We have made great friends, had new experiences and received fantastic support from Karen who takes care of the Yorkshire volunteers. We are proud to be a part of Bliss and to give back to the families of babies born too soon, too small, too sick.
If you are interested in volunteering like Sarah and Matthew, you will finds lots of information on our volunteering pages. Alternatively, if you need support and would like to find services available near you, click here.