Ophelia’s journey in the NICU, several years ago, now inspires hope in other families. She gave birth to her son 15 weeks early. He stayed at Sunnybrook for almost four months, battling infections and pneumonia.
Now, as a breastfeeding peer counsellor at Sunnybrook, Ophelia spends her days chatting with women about their challenges and encouraging them to pump breast milk.
“When I was a mom in the unit with Emmanuel, I was always sitting there crying. And Kate, Sunnybrook’s NICU parent coordinator, would come to me and say, “Can I give you a hug?” She would tell me about her two preemie daughters. I remembered her telling me those stories, and that’s what helped me most of the time. She had a 25-weeker, too. That kind of gave me hope that my son might survive.”
Ophelia says the opportunity to pump her breast milk for her baby also gave her hope and purpose. “They told me breast milk will help fight all the bacteria. So I was just pumping and pumping and pumping.”
Now Ophelia pops from room to room, telling other moms about Emmanuel, now a selfie-taking, dance-loving four-year-old.
That means being open to the heartache and pain parents are experiencing. Ophelia reassures them by telling them about her experience. “I didn’t want to come downstairs to see him because I was so, so scared. I went the next day to see him, and I went crazy when I went in the room. I saw this big machine with all this big stuff around that I know nothing about. And the baby inside, my baby, was inside, so very tiny,” says Ophelia.
“My life changed. I just took it from there.”