‘I Was Born Ten Weeks Premature – And Ended Up Playing For England’

On World Prematurity Day, we speak to Lioness Demi Stokes who says premature babies may be tiny, but they’re also full of fight

Demi Stokes

by Maria Lally |
Published on

Watching England and Manchester City player Demi Stokes charge around the pitch during the Women’s Euros this summer you’d never believe she once weighed a miniscule 3lbs and spent the first few months of her life in hospital.

‘I was born at home, ten weeks early,’ she says. ‘When I speak to my mum about it now she’s quite calm about the whole thing, but it was fairly traumatic. Her waters broke in the bathroom, and I just started to appear. My older sister was two at the time, and she was running around screaming. It was a freezing cold, snowy December day and my mum said being taken out the front door in a wheelchair to a waiting ambulance, with all these school kids gathered round and watching her, was the most awful thing about it! She was so embarrassed.

‘I weighed just 3lbs, was very poorly and I was in hospital for a long period of time. When I reached 4lbs they let me go home, but the very next day I was rushed back into hospital for surgery on a blockage in my bowel. It was a traumatic time for my family.’

And thirty years later Demi’s own son, Harlen, was born six weeks premature. Two months before the Women’s Euros kicked off this summer, Demi’s partner Katie Harrington gave birth to their son, who also spent his first few weeks in neonatal care.

This World Prematurity Day, Demi has teamed up with Pampers for their #PampersforPreemies campaign that partners with the premature baby charity Bliss and UNICEF to ensure preemie babies have the best possible start in life, by helping to deliver better access to services for their families.

Around the world, 15 million babies are born premature every year. Outside of the UK, premature babies can face barriers due to limited access to healthcare and equipment, which can impact survival rate. And in the UK, while premature care is advanced, parents can still face challenges.

‘My family understands the experiences of prematurity and life on the neonatal ward all too well,’ says Demi, who says that three of her four siblings were also born premature.

‘When Harlen was born, to be able to bring my family to Birmingham Women’s Hospital’s neonatal unit, was a heart-warming and uplifting moment for us all. We got to visit some of the little fighters that weighed the same as me and even got to talk to their families and connect over our shared experience. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to feel connected to your baby, especially during those critical, early days. Simply touching, holding or being able to change a nappy are so important in helping you bond. So it’s been great to see first-hand the amazing work that Pampers is currently doing to help raise awareness while ensuring preemie babies have the best start in life.’

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss says: ‘On a neonatal unit, a lack of touch between babies and their families can massively impact their bonding experience at an important time of development. From kangaroo care to changing a nappy, at Bliss, we want to encourage milestone moments that can aid the bond between babies and their families.’

Pampers have designed their Pampers Preemie Protection nappies to be extra soft, extra tiny (for babies weighing as little as 1lbs 1oz), and they donate them to neonatal units in hospitals across the UK. ‘They also have these tiny ridges that allow for some of the wires the babies are attached to in an incubator to sit comfortably,’ explains Demi. 'Unless you’ve had a premature baby, it’s not something you’d even think about. But for a preemie parent it makes all the difference.

‘Harlen was so tiny when he was born, but you should see him now. He’s strong and healthy, and puts everything in his mouth.’ Of her Manchester City and England team mates, she says: ‘I think he’s going to be very spoilt with a lot of aunties around. He’s a very lucky boy to have all the people that he has around him.

‘You do worry as a preemie parent – my mum worried about me, and I worried about my baby. I was quite small growing up and I started playing football when I was eight, in the school yard with all the boys from school. But because of my size I had to fight that bit harder and run that bit faster on the football pitch, which I saw as an advantage. Preemies seem so tiny and weak, but they’re also robust and strong. That’s why I wanted to be part of this campaign, to show parents that even babies weighing a few pounds, with the right support and equipment, can go on to be little fighters.’ Or even a Lioness…

For every pack of Pampers nappy and nappy pants purchased from Asda (both in-store and online) between 9th November and 7th December 2022, Pampers will donate to both Bliss and UNICEF. T&Cs apply, for more information, please visit https://pampersforpreemies.pampers.co.uk/

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