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Parenting Stories

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Becoming a Mother of Premature Babies

Carolyn Leighton-Hilborn, Cambridge ON


I never dreamed of becoming a mother of a premature baby, and certainly not three premature babies.

Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a mother….but most of my expectations of what might happen flew out the window when my first child arrived 9 weeks early.

Our son’s early arrival was not part of the plan I imagined in my dreams – nobody ever taught me or my husband what to expect if a pregnancy did not go as anticipated. Certainly, nobody anticipates chasing an ambulance to an out-of-town hospital in the wee hours of the night, following their newborn baby, while hoping that baby will survive. You just do whatever you can to make it through each moment. Some people describe it as putting their emotions on the backburner. We do that because the wellbeing—and the life—of our baby is our primary focus. But the parents’ wellbeing cannot be forgotten.

My introduction to motherhood was jarring and life was flipped upside down. In two years, my husband and I welcomed three premature babies into our world. Our second round in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), with our premature twins, was a bit easier in that we were no longer “new” to the environment; however managing two babies in a NICU introduced us to new hurdles, health scares and logistical nightmares. We were once again disconnected from our home, our every day life and thrust into a hospital environment for months on end.

No one explained to me or my husband how to cope. Our entire family was impacted by the unexpected chain of events that went along with the birth of our children. During these moments, I felt extremely isolated. While a NICU is always humming with sound and people moving about, it is a lonesome and scary time. It can be very hard to connect with other parents, who may visit their babies at different times than you; a NICU is not exactly the place for social interaction with new people. The nurses often become the only other people who regularly interact with a parent living in a NICU, waiting for their child to hopefully be well enough to go home. Once a family leaves the NICU – they are left to learn to manage their premature baby on their own at home, and sadly, sometimes families will leave without their baby.

I felt there was something missing after the discharge of my babies – there was no real support for me or other parents of premature children. Our healthcare services put all their focus on helping the baby, but the parents are often left to fend for themselves – to process all they have experienced alone. I did not want to go it alone.

And so, in 2015, Preemie Parents of Waterloo-Wellington Region (Preemie POWWR) was “born”. It rose out of the need for a local place for new and experienced parents of preemies to reach out and connect with each other, to meet other parents who can identify with what it is like to raise a premature and sometimes high needs child. Preemie POWWR has a Facebook page, a private online Facebook group, and meets once a month in Cambridge and Kitchener at the local Early Years Centres. We connect, socialize and share our stories.



Check out our FaceBook page. We would love to hear from you.

Carolyn Leighton-Hilborn is a resident of Cambridge, where she lives with her husband and three boys. She sat on the board of directors of the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation for 4 years and is their current Program Manager, she chairs Multiple Births Canada’s Preterm Birth Support Network, is a new board member of Waterloo Region Family Network, and works in social services in the Region of Waterloo.


2 Responses to “Becoming a Mother of Premature Babies”

  1. Jessica says:

    I loved reading your story Carolyn. I don’t have any personal experience with premature birth so it’s always good to hear another parents perspective. I never thought about how isolating it could be. I’ll definitely keep this in mind if a friend or family member ever encounters this situation Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nadia says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Carolyn! Hard to imagine it if you haven’t been through it yourself.

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