Guest article by Veronika Kmetóny Gazdová of our Slovakian partner from parent organisation Malíček.
Preterm birth is a risk for both the woman and the baby. The fragility of life is seen especially in those families whose are leaving the hospital with empty arms. Malíček initiated a project to commemorate those lives as well as support families in their grief. Malíček donates the memorial called “little angels” to perinatal centres across Slovakia. The project builds on the activities of the association since 2019 and has now been unanimously approved by all Slovakian perinatal centres last year.
The fragility of life
Approximately 4,500 babies are born preterm every year in Slovakia. Premature babies come into this world very soon and their immaturity brings various consequences to their future. “Preterm birth is a serious problem that brings a lot of uncertainty and fear to families. The joy of having a baby suddenly turns into a fight for their life, which does not always end successfully. Preterm babies often weigh less than a one kilogramme and many of them are in danger of their lives,” says Ľubica Kaiserová, Chairwoman of Malíček.
Worldwide, more than 15 million babies are born preterm each year, what is more than 11%. More than 1 million babies die before the age of 5 because of preterm birth. However, there are significant differences between countries in preterm birth rates and mortality. The mortality rate of preterm babies is measured at the level of 2% in Slovakia. 
Malíček developed a memorial image – called little angles – to honour the experiences of bereaved parents as well as express respect for the baby. “A parent who leaves hospital empty-handed after a preterm birth is going through a difficult journey of grieving. The feeling of emptiness, hopelessness and disheartening pain is extremely strong, but after some time, the memorial also play an important role in this grieving process. An octopus from an incubator, a photo of a baby or a handprint or footprint in this form of an ‘angel’ are items that a parent can return to on a shelf, in silence, with a candle,” explains PR manager of Malíček, Veronika Kmetóny Gazdová.
“Our goal is to stand by the parents after a premature birth in the most difficult moment and at the same time to facilitate the departments’ material issues that arise in the moments when the baby does not leave the hospital gates,” says Ľubica Kaiserová, who then adds that each department currently has its own ways of accompanying parents in such situations.
A Touch of Heaven
The memorial “Little Angel” takes the form of a picture and a frame, where the parent can store the baby’s personal belongings which were part of this fragile life after a preterm birth. It also includes a painting by artist Monika Vasiľová: “The illustration symbolises a ‘farewell’ to a beloved child, but at the same time a promise that parents will not forget them, that this child was and is part of their lives and will forever be deep in their hearts. With the greeting to heaven, the image also indicates faith and hope that one day they will meet ‘up there.’” The painting is attached with message from Maliček addressed to the bereaved parents.
The memorial also contains a white handmade angel and a card for a handprint or footprint of the baby. The angel is tied with a white ribbon, which is symbolising the bond between parents and baby.
Supporting bereaved parents
Malíček supports parents after the loss of a baby after premature birth in many others ways, for example they offers different types of counselling (with certified parents with personal experience, or professionally with psychologists). Their website contains a guide and further helping materials. Malíček is honoring those losts at specific days throughout the year. They wants to raise awareness and support parents on their journey through life after loss. Last but not least, Malíček includes those parents in its activities on World Prematurity Day (17 November), where we keep in mind all premature babies.
 Walani, S.R. (2020), Global burden of preterm birth. Int J Gynecol Obstet, 150: 31-33. https://doi.org/10.1002/ijgo.13195
Read the original article in Slovakian here.