Mum of six premature babies urges more support for families

A Teesside trader and mum-of-six – whose babies were all born prematurely – says she is determined to help provide local families with the support she never had.

Louise Marshall and her partner Dan Keenan opened their Simply Babywear shop in Middlesbrough’s Dundas Indoor Market seven months ago.

They have just moved to a bigger unit and increased their range of stock which includes clothes for premature babies.

But with supply chains still affected by the pandemic and the cost of imports soaring, Dan said it can be a struggle to keep their racks full of the smallest sizes: “We get in what we can.  When they become available we buy them straight away.”

Louise and Dan of Simply Babywear

The couple have come up with a solution to both help clothe premature babies and support families in neonatal units at the region’s hospitals.

They are urging parents to bring outgrown clothes, which had been worn by their premature babies, to Simply Babywear and they will be sold to raise money for the Teesside-based charity Leo’s Neonatal.

The charity was set up in 2015 by Lottie King, who lives in Yarm, after Leo – one of her twin sons – did not survive after being born at 24 weeks.

The charity aims to provide additional care for families to complement the services provided by the neonatal units at The James Cook University Hospital, Darlington Memorial, The University Hospital of North Durham and Sunderland Royal Hospital.  Simply Babywear is also selling Leo’s Neonatal cards and gifts.

Roman was the most premature of Louise’s children.  He survived despite, like Leo, being born after just 24 weeks and weighing only one pound and four ounces.  Roman spent the first six months his life in hospital and had to be given oxygen for his first year.

“They didn’t expect him to live and when he did live they didn’t expect him to walk, talk or sit up,” said Louise.  “I had to fight for him and I’m still fighting now.  He’s able to do a lot more than other kids born as early as he was.  He’s 12-years-old, but his behaviour is like having a toddler.  We’re still struggling to get him the help he needs.”

Louise said Roman’s nursing care was brilliant but when he survived it seemed that the attitude was “job done”.  She added: “When we got home there was a lack of support.  There were home visits but nobody stopped around long enough to find out how we were getting on.”

Louise and Dan hope Simply Babywear’s donations to Leo’s Neonatal will help other families receive the on-going support they need.

The couple’s shop is not the only clothing business in the market to expand. The Factory Shop – which moved to the Dundas Indoor Market from Captain Cook Square two years ago – has also taken on extra space.  As well as clothes it also sells bedding, luggage and even beds for pets.

Market manager David Harris said Simply Babywear and many of the other occupiers do their “extra bit” to help their local community.

“We’ve had people shaving their heads, running half-marathons and dressing up as elves to raise money,” he said.  “Like Louise, they have very personal reasons for wanting to help.  All of our traders live locally and really care about their customers, neighbours, friends and families.  All they ask for in return is that you continue to support their businesses.”