You wouldn’t expect the parents of premature or sick babies to have a lot of positive things to say about the post-birth experience, but during Wednesday night’s March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction I heard many words of praise and gratitude. All the comments centered around the family support specialist position the March of Dimes funds at Maine Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“We think very highly of the March of Dimes, because they really helped us through an emotionally and physically trying time,” Cheryl Herbert of Scarborough told me during the party at DiMillo’s on the Water in Portland, which attracted more than 200 guests and raised close to $30,000 for the March of Dimes.

Seventeen months ago, Herbert gave birth to her full-term daughter, who was quickly whisked off to Maine Medical Center’s NICU because of a number of health issues.

While caught up in the frightening world of incubators, ventilators and endless tests, Herbert said family support specialist Janelle Bainter helped make the stay more normal.

Today Herbert’s daughter is “as bright as a bulb and has 60 words. Her doctors really consider her a little miracle.”

While I didn’t get to meet her daughter, I feel I already have a connection to her since we share the same name, Avery.

As coincidence would have it, this wasn’t the only girl named Avery I learned about at the party.

Amy Carlisle, who chairs the board of the Maine chapter of the March of Dimes, also has a daughter named Avery. Thirteen years ago, her Avery was born prematurely, despite what had been a normal, healthy pregnancy.

“March of Dimes is an organization that does wonderful work,” Carlisle told me. “They do a lot of groundbreaking work.”

This includes funding research into the causes of prematurity and advocating for legislation that supports babies and parents.

Carlisle told me how Bainter provides parents with a number of resources, including a special baby journal that notes milestones unique to premature babies.

“It normalizes what is a really abnormal experience for these parents,” Carlisle said.

The party featured tasty treats from 10 local chefs, along with live and silent auctions. Cindy Williams of WCSH-6 served as the party’s emcee and Bill Zafirson of the Bank of Maine volunteered his services as auctioneer.

Ahead of the live auction, a number of people were honored at the party.

Board member Geri Tamborelli, who is the nursing director for Maine Medical Center’s Family Birth Center and NICU, was named the Volunteer of the Year. Others recognized for their service to the March of Dimes included event chair Rebecca Spear, who heads one of the top fundraising teams for the March for Babies; board member Kim Barton; Johnny DiMillo of DiMillo’s; Maine Neonatology Associates; and Maine Medical Center’s continuing care nursery.

When I chatted with Tamborelli, she told me about the important role the March of Dimes plays in the lives of the parents whose infants are in the NICU.

“The nurses sometimes have two or three very sick babies,” Tamborelli said. “Or three or four sick moms. Sometimes those moms just need someone to sit with them. It’s great for nursing to have someone to rely on. It’s another added layer of support.”

This extra support system was vital to Liz Fay of Naples.

“My daughter was born at 30 weeks,” Fay told me. “It was a complete shock. She spent eight and a half weeks in the hospital. Feeling like a parent is a luxury you don’t have in the NICU.”

Fay said having Bainter there helped her navigate being a mom before she could even hold her baby and connected her with other parents going through the same thing.

“You’re in a daze at the beginning,” Rachel Pasquale of South Portland told me. Her daughter also spent time in the NICU after she was born.

“Having Janelle there makes (the experience) more normal,” Pasquale said. “Janelle is not a nurse, she’s not a doctor, she’s not a respiratory therapist, she’s not a mom. She’s just there for us.”

For her part, Bainter feels equally lucky to have all these babies and parents in her life.

“I personally think I have the best job,” Bainter told me. “It’s such a great honor to do the work I do.”

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila