Monday, August 15, 2011
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The morning I spent at Kate Robson’s home was about as normal as you can get. Showered and ready by 7 AM when I arrived, she made her way to the kitchen to wash up blueberries to add to the cereal and oatmeal of her two young daughters, Maggie and Grace. The banter was sweet, sprinkled with reminders to please sit nicely while you eat, while the girls giggled over knock-knock jokes. Kate’s husband darted in and out of the room, grabbing toast and preparing for the day himself. As I filmed quietly in the corner of room, it was hard to imagine how a family scene so serene could have had such a dramatic beginning.
Maggie, now 6, was born a preemie at just 25 weeks. Grace, now 3, was also born premature at 33 weeks. Kate remembers well how touch and go those times were, and how emotionally draining it was to live, quite literally, on the edge two times over. One particularly bad day, Kate emotionally recalled how unclear Maggie’s survival would be. “I met a mom whose baby had been through a very similar story, but a few weeks before, and her baby was now doing really well. In that moment, she changed my life. She made me feel that it was OK to hope.”
Hope prevailed, and Kate and her husband felt compelled to pay it forward. They both started volunteering with Sunnybrook in 2006. Four years later, she would read a unique posting that tweaked her interest for obvious reasons: “Calling all moms and dads! Sunnybrook is searching for the perfect parent to join its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).” With a Masters in adult education under her belt, and her strong connection to the NICU, Kate was a natural fit. Call her Sunnybrook’s first official professional parent.
“Being in the NICU, it’s hard to imagine that life can look different. And I think it’s really important for parents to imagine that the future can look quite bright,” Kate told me. “Your baby is not going to be an NICU baby forever, you will leave this place and there will be joy in your life. But it’s hard to imagine that unless you have someone to talk to.”
And talk she does, to dozens of parents and families each week, offering advice, support and connections at a time when isolation can overwhelm. First-time mom Farzana Rahmaty, whose daughter was born at just under 2 pounds, called Kate her light through the fog. “She definitely holds your hand and helps guide you.” Kate also produces a newsletter, organizes events for parents who often spend months in the NICU, and delivers a special gift package. “When a baby comes early, parents can often feel the experience has been stolen from them. You often don’t do prenatal classes and a baby shower is fraught with anxiety. For a lot of our families, this is the first baby gift they get.”
But the best part of the gift, in my opinion, is the message Kate offers with it: “You’re a parent, you have a baby, so celebrate.”
For more information on Sunnybrook’s NICU, click here.