Many new parents use props and signs to photograph their children's milestones. But that wasn't enough for one mom in Australia.
Amy Purling creates milestone cards for premature babies. The idea was inspired by her own experiences with her son, James, who was a preemie in February 2016.
"He was born at 30 weeks gestation with a rare blood-clotting disorder," Purling, 28, told ABC News. "On his first day the doctor told us he was lucky to be alive."
James was in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for the first five weeks of his life before he was allowed to go home with Purling and her husband, Scott. To help cope with the situation, Purling would sit beside James' crib and document his milestones through photos and a journal. Milestone cards for full-term babies didn't apply to James.
"None of these were suitable for the unique leaps these little fighters make every single day," Purling said. "I was celebrating milestones that seemed so simple to everyone else, such as the suck of his first dummy and finally being able to breathe on his own, but they were absolutely huge in the NICU world. With each new milestone, we could breathe a sigh of relief and a weight was lifted from our shoulders. Ultimately, each milestone meant James was getting stronger and was a step closer to coming home with us."
This gave Purling the idea to create her own milestone cards that parents of premature children could use to document their progress.
She introduced her company, Miracle Mumma, on social media in December. Within days, she was getting inquiries about her cards and keepsakes.
"People were donating sets (of milestone cards) to hospitals for the nurses to use, they were donating sets to other families in NICU, they were buying them for their friends who had just given birth prematurely," Purling said. "It became obvious that I wasn't the only one who was passionate about this."
Purling said she has sold approximately 100 sets of milestone cards, and has donated even more. Pat Cotter founded The Preemie Store, which specializes in products for premature children and carries Purling's products.
"I've noticed how much parents, probably especially moms, like using milestone cards in photos, so I intend to keep them in stock," Cotter told ABC News.
Cotter, who was inspired to start The Preemie Store a couple years after giving birth to her own premature baby, said the milestone cards help with the "roller coaster" of having a child in the NICU. Because premature babies often are limited in the visitors they can receive, she said, photos are often the main way of sharing progress with loved ones and the milestone cards add to the fun of that.
"When you have a premature baby in the hospital, nothing is normal and you don't feel too much like a mom," she said. "Progress is made, but there are setbacks. I think that's why it's such a big deal to celebrate each achievement by these tiny ones."
Purling creates all the Miracle Mumma products herself, which is something of a feat since she had zero design experience and was not familiar with software programs before she started.
"I spoke to printers and suppliers about things I didn't even understand," Purling said. "There were times I felt beyond guilty for answering my phone whilst I was reading a book to my baby or for palming him off to my husband as soon as he walked in the door. There were times I would finally crawl into bed at 1 a.m., only to be woken up five times before morning. But then the day finally came where I was able to share my passion with the world."
She said the feedback she has received has been "overwhelming and heartwarming" and that mothers who buy her products have sent her updates and pictures of their own children.
"I love being there to support them every step of the way," Purling remarked. "[The cards] give parents of premature babies something to look forward to and offer a glimmer of hope at a time that is so uncertain and frightening. It helps them break down the overwhelming journey and simply focus on reaching the next step."
Purling's son James is now just over a year old and has pulled through the struggles that accompanied his premature birth. Purling said she plans to expand Miracle Mumma and loves the opportunity to make the experience for parents of preemies just a little bit easier.
"NICU can be quite isolating and parents may feel like others don't understand," she said. "But there is a community of preemie parents out there who get it."
"I have made it my mission to support others who will go through the same," Purling continued, "and I believe these milestone cards are helping to make this scary time just a little bit brighter for these families."