Keep Moms Smiling

Keep Moms Smiling is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting mothers and families who accompany their children in hospitals. Their mission is to alleviate physical and mental exhaustion experienced by these families and improve their hospital environment. To this end, they distribute "Support Pack for Hospital Accompanying Life" free of charge to families nationwide. We had the opportunity to speak with Mitsuhara-san, the chairperson of Keep Moms Smiling, about their initiatives.

Mitsuhara-san (lower right) and members of Keep Moms Smiling

Please tell us about your career and how you started Keep Moms Smiling.
After graduating from university, I joined Recruit Co., Ltd., where I was busy working as the chief editor of a medical website. At the age of 35, I became pregnant with my first daughter and gave birth. As soon as she was born, she was taken in an ambulance to a university hospital and underwent surgery just five days later. When she was moved to a private room from the ICU, I was asked to stay with her overnight. I didn't want to leave my child alone and felt it was my responsibility as a parent to stay and care for her. However, a few years later, when my second daughter was admitted to a different hospital, I learned that family members were not allowed to accompany her. I realized that each hospital has its own rules.

Despite these differences, one thing was common: children's wards were chronically understaffed. It was often up to family members to support nurses and take over some of their responsibilities. Since we were not patients, we often found ourselves without beds or meals. The stress of our children's illnesses, coupled with lack of sleep and proper nutrition, led to extreme exhaustion over time.

However, after I accompanied my first and second daughters, I noticed that some hospitals offer support for families. Some have shower rooms available for families, and meals are served to accompanying family members for compensation. A children’s nurse watches over the children while parents take shower. I believed that if these support systems were shared among hospitals, some hospitals might start to learn from others and consider improving environments for accompanying family members. This realization led me to obtain corporate status and take action. This was the start of Keep Moms Smiling.

The first volunteer activity was cooking meals at Donald McDonald House, a residential facility for accompanying families, located adjacent to Tokyo University Hospital. Although the facility had a kitchen, families who come to the hospital far often found themselves lack of time or energy to cook for themselves. So, we cooked delicious meals as a way to show our support. By providing meals, we aimed to offer a moment of relief to parents burdened with guilt and anxiety about whether the child would be cured.

Meal preparation activities

What has been the most difficult or good thing?

The COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for us to gather to cook or go to hospitals to provide support. As we were trying to find alternative ways to help in this situation, we heard the heartfelt pleas of parents who were finding it harder than ever because they couldn't take shifts to accompany their children. This led to the creation of the "Support Pack for Hospital Accompanying Life." It was challenging for staff to gather and pack these kits. But I remember that we took extra care, thinking about the parents who were accompanying their children under difficult circumstances. I feel that the COVID-19 pandemic provided us with a turning point that helped us shape our core activity. Indeed, life is much like the old Chinese proverb about the man who lost his horse. What may seem like a misfortune at first can turn out to be a blessing, and vice versa.

How do you use the donations from FIT?

We utilized the donations for system development, which couldn't be covered by grants. Application to the Support Pack is available on our website. Before, every process from entry, screening, inventory control, and shipping was manually done using Google Forms and spreadsheets. The donations made by FIT enabled us to develop a system that manages the process from application to shipment on a single platform. This system has significantly improved our efficiency. Now, we can also use the system for questionnaires after shipping. Thanks to donations that don't limit their usage, we have a system that can sustain the expansion of our activities going forward. We are deeply grateful for this support.

How can we help further?

There are countless social issues in the world, and many organizations are working passionately to solve them. I believe that the best way for supporters to contribute is by backing causes that inspire them. I am confident that our activities will resonate with many, so it's crucial to spread awareness about our work to as many people as possible.
Additionally, we continue to collect items for the Support Pack. If you have any food that can be stored at room temperature, hygiene products, or daily supplies useful for hospital stays, we would greatly appreciate your contributions. Even if you don’t have goods to donate, you can help in other ways. Sometimes, we receive items collected through corporate food drives. Other forms of support include charity fundraisers selling books and unwanted goods. You can start supporting us in any way you can.

An example of the contents of “Support Pack for Hospital Accompanying Life"

What are your future plans for expanding your activities?

We haven't yet reached everyone who needs our help. Many people only find out about our activities just before or after they leave the hospital. I want to ensure that those who need our support learn about us as soon as they arrive at the hospital.
We also recognize the need for support for parents who, due to certain circumstances, cannot stay in hospitals or who travel from far away to come to the hospital. We want to initiate efforts to assist them.
I aim to develop Tsukisoi Ouendan, a support website we started last year, and expand its content so it can be useful to many people.
Recently, I've realized how challenging it can be to balance work with hospital accompaniment. We will continue to reach out to governments regarding system issues related to pediatric care, and to hospitals for food support for accompanying families. I also believe there are ways that companies can provide support. For instance, companies can create systems to support employees when their children are hospitalized for extended periods. They could provide paid leave for accompaniment, enabling employees to continue working while supporting their children.

Finally, is there any message for those reading this article?

The challenges associated with accompanying children in hospitals are often known only to those directly involved. Because parents are expected to work hard, their struggles are often considered a natural part of the process. Many parents themselves believe that their hardships are just part of the job and that their circumstances won't change. As a result, these harsh environments persist.
I believe that if more people become aware of these issues and start to believe that changes are necessary, this will empower us to influence hospitals and national policies. Please share our work with those around you.
And if you know someone who is having a hard time while accompanying their child in a hospital, please offer them something delicious without saying a word. I believe that such small acts of kindness can help to create a warmer, more supportive world.

Keep Moms Smiling, a non-profit organization