Boisterous brothers Jude and Leo Hawes have come a long way since they entered the world, born at just 29 weeks.
First-time parents Tegan, 32, and Daniel, 34, were left reeling when Tegan’s waters broke early in December 2019.
Airlifted from their home in Launceston to hospital in Hobart, the twins, now happy and healthy two-year-olds, were delivered and whisked away into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to be cared for and monitored.
Leo weighed just 1740g and Jude 1607g.
A gift from Octopus for a Preemie was a light in the dark.
“The boys were given their octopuses the moment they arrived in the NICU. I felt empty leaving them every day but knowing I had these small octopus toys with them and would know what their mum smelled like meant so much in that moment,” recalls Tegan.
“These octopuses may seem like a small gesture, but it was even the way we were able to tell who is who, Leo is blue and Jude is green, those colours have stuck with them even now! We still have the octopuses in a special box.”
“These stories really do remind us why we all spend so much time and our own money making these octopuses,” Bianca, 41, tells Woman’s Day from her home in Devonport, Tasmania.
“It means the world to me that I can do something in whatever small way to make the journey for the babies and parents just that little bit easier. I believe if we can help others, no matter how small a way it is, then we should.”
Since 2017, Bianca has been delivering tiny woollen sea creatures of blue, purple, red and green to Hobart hospitals every month, bringing comfort to the hospital’s smallest miracles – premature babies and their families.
Creating the toys is an exacting process, Bianca explains, because they’re therapeutic, so they’re required to meet a specific design criteria. The eight-legged creatures are specially created to calm and comfort early newborns – the “tentacles” of toys resemble the umbilical cord and help babies feel safe. The toys also play a special part in helping mothers bond with their babies.
“In instances where the babies can’t be held for weeks, or even months, the familiarity of the parents’ scent on the octopuses can help with the bonding process because babies already know it as a safe scent when parents can finally hold them,” she says.
“For the parents, it can give them back a sense of control in a scary situation.”
The volunteer project began after a nurse reached out to Bianca to create a prototype octopus she could take into hospital for a trial.
“It took me a good four to five months to teach myself how to write a pattern and get a prototype approved by the Royal Hobart Hospital NPICU [Neonatal Paediatric Intensive Care Unit],” explains Bianca, who creates the handmade therapeutic octopuses for no cost to families in need.
“I started making them as fast as I could, but I wasn’t able to make the amount they needed. So I decided to start a group here in Tasmania and find some people to help me create them.”
Not long after, Bianca met the group’s other co-founder Andrea Carey – a mum to two premature babies herself – and the pair started creating the creatures in together in their spare time.
“I have always enjoyed being creative and my imagination runs wild with colour combinations,” says Bianca, her Facebook page Octopus for a Preemie Tasmania amassing more than 2000 followers. “It’s quite fun!”
The octopuses have proved so popular to date that Bianca and her 14 volunteers have created 5800 tiny creatures dispensed to various hospitals in Hobart.
And while not every Octopus makes it through the hospital doors, Bianca does her best to make sure every knitted critter finds a happy home!
“We have very strict standards… but those that don’t make it [to the premature babies] still find loving arms to hold them,” says Bianca.
“They are given to nursing homes to be used as fidget toys, other hospital departments and basically anywhere that can use them.
“I can’t say thank you enough to those who have created and submitted beautiful little creatures – the project would be nothing without them.”
How YOU can help!
Follow Octopus for a Preemie Tasmania on Facebook
To volunteer, email [email protected]
Donate yarn to Woman’s Day, 54 Park St, Sydney, NSW, 2000
Do you have a story to share with Woman’s Day? Email [email protected]