Becoming a mama much sooner than expected (when her little boy George was born 3 months prematurely), Joanne used the experience to help other mams in the same situation by setting up Small and Mighty Babies (read about it here), an amazing support group that gives families facing the shock of having a premature baby and spending weeks in NICU a shoulder to lean on (plus a whole heap of useful advice from where to get teeny tiny clothes to what to expect when finally getting baby home. A Northern lass (that’s Northern English for girl, mamas), Joanne’s bubbly personality and permanent smile is infectious!
Full Name: Joanne Hanson-Halliwell
Occupation: Founder of Small and Mighty Babies
Children: George, 17 months
How long have you lived in Dubai: 7 years
1) Tell us about your business and why you started it.
Small and Mighty Babies became my calling when our son George was born prematurely in May 2013. It was quite a traumatic experience, especially as I was on my own as my husband was abroad. Within 40 minutes, I had gone from a girl in heels enjoying the excitement of pending motherhood, to the sudden thud of “I’m a parent and he isn’t meant to be here just yet.”
Our neonatal doctor had encouraged me to not Google anything. If you have a question then ask me, he told me. I remember that echoing around the room and thought to myself, well. we all know what curiosity did to the cat! I kept my promise to his doctor as after all, it’s so easy to get swept away with the “too much information and not enough knowledge” syndrome. But this got me thinking, what if I want to talk to someone who isn’t medical, to cry about silly things like never having my hospital bag (it’s crazy but it’s one thing the got me, something I felt I missed!). I spoke to the other girls in NICU and felt similarly, and that was when my heart started to beat again, beat in a way that told me good can come out of this.
By creating Small and Mighty, we have been able to share our excellent contacts in Dubai for when your baby may need that extra support, provide details on where to buy premature baby clothes, but more importantly to exist and exist for all those parents who find themselves in a situation that is totally unprepared and be there for them and their Small and Mighty one.
2) What do you feel have been your biggest achievements both in your personal life and career so far?
Moving to the Middle East was quite a huge step for me. I am a real home bird and having grown up on a farm, I like nothing better than a busy farmhouse, fresh air, noisy animals and machines as well as having my family around me. Leaving that behind was a huge personal challenge for me, but I see my time in Dubai as a fabulous chapter of my life.
On a professional level, leaving my finance background to become a full time mother whilst setting up Small and Mighty Babies was difficult. I had no knowledge on how to set up a website and am far from creative, so I had to really focus on what I wanted to achieve and hope I have managed to pull it all together to create Small and Mighty Babies.
3) As a child, what did you dream of becoming when you “grew up”?
My plan was to be in MI6! Even now I truly believe there is a secret agency somewhere in the world that could benefit from having Agent Hanson-Halliwell on the books! I watch Spooks, Homeland, 24, Hunted – you name it, I’ve watched it and solved it before the show is over.
4) If you had three wishes, what would they be?
I would wish good health for all those who need it, happiness for all those who can’t find it and love for all those who feel lost.
5) What does being a Sassy Mama mean to you?
I feel so proud to have been chosen as a Sassy Mama. I founded Small and Mighty Babies for all the people who find themselves catapulted into the world of premature babies and what better way to represent them and be a voice for all those people.
6) What’s a typical day in your life like?
George is my alarm clock, one which sadly doesn’t have a snooze button. We usually begin the day at 6:30am and after breakfast I head to Physique 57 for my daily workout, which is both mental (I want to give up!!) and physical (I want to give up!). It’s absolutely amazing, the whole team is wonderful. After that, I head off for a day of meetings with Neonatal Units in Dubai, update the website, answer emails and planning new exciting projects for Small and Mighty Babies.
7) What’s your guilty pleasure?
Watching The Kardashians whilst shopping online with a glass of wine in hand…ooh, and whilst wearing a face mask!
8) What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given in your personal life and career?
It’s better to have tried and failed than to never try at all.
9) What do you most enjoy doing as a family in Dubai?
I love the Ripe Market when the weather is cooler, it’s the closest thing I can get to feeling like I am on the farm. I also love walks along the beach, paddling in the waves and enjoying some of the lovely hotels we have on our doorstep.
10) What is the “best kept” secret in Dubai, something fellow mamas should know about?
It wouldn’t be a secret if I told you…
11) What three words best describe your personality
Wild, unpredictable and loyal.
12) What advice would you have for any new mama?
Do it your own way. You made this baby and you know, in your heart, what this baby needs. Swamping our minds with all the well publicized routines, methods, myths and magic can stress any new mama out. As long as your child is loved, happy and healthy, it doesn’t matter what you do, just do what works for you.
13) What advice would you give to a mama who wants to get back to work or start her own business, but is worried about juggling a family and a career?
It can be done, so just believe in yourself. There will be days when you may wonder if it all worth it but keeping organised, having a sense of humour and believing you can do it will always see you through.
14) If you were on a desert island and could only take three things (family not included) what would they be?
Moisturiser, a boat, insect repellent.
15) Top three books?
Three Billy Goats Gruff by Peter Asbjornsen & Jorgen Moe (my all time favourite childhood book)
The Five People you meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
The Jigsaw Man by Paul Britton
16) Describe your style.
I’m always working on this and I am never happy with how I look! I suppose I’d say classic with the odd splash of colour thrown in here and there.
17) If there was a movie produced about your life, who would you choose to play you and why?
I would have to say Kate Hudson and pray for a body swap. I think she is so fresh, fun, honest and just the type of girl you would always want to hang out with!!
18) Tell us something funny that your kids have said or done.
George is still learning to talk, but as I continue to say Mama to him, he will always respond with Dada. I have asked other people to do the same and again, whoever says to him “say Mama George”, his response will always be Dada, with a sidewards smirk in my direction.