This Friday (November 17) marks World Prematurity Day, which celebrates the survival, fighting spirit and resilience of tiny babies all over the world who have not had the easiest start to life.

Ahead of the global event, Bliss, the national charity for premature and sick babies, is aiming to raise awareness for the issue and looking at the heartbreaking impact it can have on families. One woman who knows this firsthand is Holly Ashbrook, 29, from Aldford who gave birth to not one but two babies before 32 weeks.

Back in 2014 after a routine midwife check up for her first pregnancy, Holly was told her blood pressure was sky high and that she was so poorly her baby would have to be delivered at just 31 weeks, news that left Holly and her partner Mike ‘devastated’.

Baby Emelda shortly after her birth

“As a first time mum, I never expected anything like this to happen,” she said. “I was terrified of losing my little one and at this news, I just wanted to run.”

Fortunately Holly didn’t, and and 24 hours later, gave birth to Emelda by C section. Weighing just 3lbs 3oz, doctors said she was ‘good weight’ for such an early arrival and she spent nine weeks in the Countess of Chester Hospital’s (COCH) neonatal unit.

Holly’s diagnosis turned out to be pre eclampsia - a potentially deadly disorder characterised by high blood pressure and a significant amount of protein in the urine.

Other than some swelling on her body - which Holly had put down to hormones, and a couple of mild headaches, she had had no other obvious symptoms and no idea how poorly she was.

Baby Milo had to have a cannula to support his breathing

After her experience, Holly was understandably anxious when she got pregnant again last September.

Deemed a ‘high risk’ pregnancy, she was meant to have more appointments and check ups leading up to her due date but, in her own words, ‘we never got that far.’

On January 26 this year, during a shift in work, Holly noticed her baby’s movements had stopped.

“I tried everything to get my little one moving throughout the day and still I felt nothing. I looked to the ‘Kicks Count’ Facebook page for reassurance and found encouragement to seek urgent medical advice. Once again, I found myself in hospital, strapped to monitors and feeling uncertain about the future of my baby,” she recalls.

“About an hour after we arrived, we were given the news that our baby was distressed and that I’d have to deliver by emergency C section there and then. Our baby boy was born at 29 +4 weeks gestation, weighing 3lbs. We named him Milo.”

Like his sister, Milo spent weeks in the neonatal unit and was finally allowed to come home the day after Emelda’s third birthday in April this year.

Emelda and Milo share a kiss

“The support from the neonatal unit that worked night and day to care for our children was second to none,” says Holly. “The team at Chester gave our babies the very best medical care but also worked very closely alongside us as a family. They gave advice, listened to our concerns and helped us to become the parents we are today.

“Life in a neonatal unit isn’t ‘the norm’ but it’s normal for us. I’ll never forget the hum of the unit; the sounds of the machinery and the warmth in the ward as I held my babies to my chest for the first time.”

With both children now thriving, and after getting support on dealing with birth trauma and with the help of therapy after she was diagnosed with of PTSD, Holly is urging parents of premature babies to speak out.

“Talking through experiences will create prematurity awareness, encourage new mums of premature babies to seek help for their mental well being and to expand knowledge and understanding and offer reassurance for families dealing with a premature birth.

"Charities like Bliss and The Birth Trauma Trust are a good information point but closer to home, the neonatal team at COCH run a nurse lead coffee morning at Coffeetots which has helped lots of parents feel that the support is still there once leaving the hospital,” she added.

To find out more or access support, visit