I’d never known a preemie baby before Jax. Preterm birth was something abstract, something that only happened to other people. Mainly people who were irresponsible, careless, and unhealthy. It was something that could be prevented if only the mother had taken better care of herself during her pregnancy.
The only picture I had ever seen of a preemie was the Anne Geddes photo of a tiny baby in her father’s hands. And that baby looked so cute and healthy!
What was the big deal? Weren’t preemies just miniature versions of healthy, full-term kids?
So, when I went into preterm labor, honestly, I wasn’t scared. I guess it’s true: ignorance really is bliss.
I distinctly remember the split second I went from thinking “this is going to be ok” to terrified: I saw the look on the doctor’s face. I remember thinking…holy shit – if she’s this scared, then I should be, too! And then the whirlwind started: steroid shots to help the baby’s lungs develop, magnesium drip to slow down my contractions, helicopter EMTs, an ambulance ride to the helicopter pad…and when we arrived in St Cloud, I remember looking up at the EMTs who were literally running down the hall with me curled up around the bed rail.
And, then, I knew that prematurity was about to change my life.
When the nurse handed me the consent form, I had no idea what I was signing. I had no idea the life of my unborn baby was literally in my hands. At that moment, I did not know that babies born too soon are babies who are born sick. They spend days, months, even years in Intensive Care Units. They have very small chances of survival; the earlier they are born, the lower those chances are. The only thing I did know was that I was willing to give my baby every chance he needed to grow into a kind, funny, and smart human being. I believed in him. And I signed the paper giving permission to use “all means necessary” to keep him alive.
Later on, we found out that as a white male born vaginally at 23 weeks, Jax had a 4% chance of healthy survival. Later on, we found out that many hospitals will not perform life-saving measures for babies born at 23 weeks. Later on, we found out how incredibly lucky we were to have our son…
Not a day goes by that I do not think about prematurity and how it changed our lives. Now I know that it can happen to anyone. Now I know that it can happen even when a mother takes great care of herself during pregnancy. Now I know that babies born too soon often fight the good fight only to earn their angel wings much too early. Now I also know that babies born too soon can overcome all odds and do more than just survive.
Now, prematurity is real.
Today, one in nine babies is born too soon. Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death. It can happen to anyone, without any warning and for no known reason. Until we have more answers, we don’t know who will be next.
November is Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17 is World Prematurity Day. Join us, the March of Dimes, other organizations, and other families affected by preterm birth to raise awareness and fund research to help prevent premature birth. “Like” World Prematurity Day on Facebook to help spread the word and learn more about how you can help.