According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born prematurely each year. That represents more than one in 10 babies born before 37 completed weeks of gestation. In the United States, preterm births had been stable until 2016, when the March of Dimes reported increases for the first time in eight years.
If you are the parent of a prematurely born child or have been diagnosed with pregnancy complications and will likely deliver early, you know firsthand that this is an extremely frightening and stressful time. However, if you live in Fairfield County, there is help. The Tiny Miracles Foundation (TTMF), based in Darien, is dedicated to helping families with premature babies. This volunteer-driven non-profit charity has been serving families since 2005.
Marisela Esposito, president of the board for Tiny Miracles, is the bereaved mother of twin girls born at 21 weeks, 16 years ago. Fourteen years ago, Esposito gave birth to her prematurely born son, Dante, who weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces at 25.3 weeks (Dante is now a healthy, active teenager). After joining TTMF six years ago, Esposito has since been mentoring families.
Esposito, along with George Colabella, executive director, an experienced board of directors, 200 volunteers, a small staff, and crucial funding from donors, offer all services free of charge. The Tiny Miracles Foundation, which has partnered with five local hospitals, including Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, Danbury, and St. Vincent’s Medical Center, also in Bridgeport, assists more than 1,200 families annually.
“The birth of a premature baby is an emotionally challenging and confusing time,” said Esposito. “With a small infant in an isolette in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), parents feel helpless seeing their tiny child hooked to monitors and IVs fighting for their lives. For the smallest and most vulnerable preemies, life-saving surgery is often a necessity. The fear of parents is further exacerbated as it’s frequently necessary to transfer the preemie to another hospital offering specialized surgery. As a result, many parents face economic distress, isolation, lack of community support, and increased risk for a number of psychological issues.”
She continued, “TTMF provides one-on-one personal support by a team of more than 20 volunteer mentors, all of whom are parents of preemies. They share their personal experiences, listen to parents and empathize with their feelings and circumstances. Of significant value is their offering of hope to these parents. TTMF is there during the most vulnerable times as well as when their child returns home.”
Tiny Miracles provides a full continuum of services, programs and assistance, including mentoring for parents with a preemie in the NICU, bilingual support, emotional support for mothers on extended bed rest, isolette blankets/covers, and bonding dolls for preemies, as well as preemie clothing. Support is offered in a group setting addressing the challenges that both mothers and children experience, as well as one-on-one with a Tiny Miracles licensed therapist for mothers dealing with psychological trauma. A lengthy hospital stay can create family financial stress, so the foundation also covers rent, food, utilities, and other critical needs.
Tiny Miracles maintains Family Resource Rooms in each hospital to provide respite for families. Food, television, educational materials, and children’s games give families a place to relax while still being close to their newborn.
Maria S. Mercado LCSW, a social worker/case manager, has witnessed firsthand what TTMF offers a family in need. “The Tiny Miracles Foundation provided not only in-person support to families in the NICU, but also much-needed financial assistance. This came in different forms, such as purchasing car seats, Pack ’n Plays, and gas cards to help with the cost of transportation, as well as assistance with rent and utility payments. Often moms would not be able to work due to complications during pregnancy and prolonged NICU stays afterward. This assistance helped to ease the burden and stress from families.”
Whether you’re interested in volunteering, donating, or attending a fund-raiser, or are in need of family support services, you may contact The Tiny Miracles Foundation at www.ttmf.org or 203-202-9714.