More than 380,000 babies are born too soon each year in the US. November 17th is World Prematurity Day, and it’s important to raise awareness of this serious health issue. Worldwide, premature birth (defined as birth before 37 weeks gestation) is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years old. Additionally, babies born prematurely can suffer from issues with their lungs, brain, eyes, or ears for many years after their birth.
Nationally, the rate of premature birth is 9.6%. In South Carolina, the rate is even more dismal – 11.2%. My baby was one of those 380,000 born too soon in 2015.
She made her debut at just 27 weeks, 6 days. The first picture we have of her is below. It’s one of my favorites of her, but it also makes me so sad. I see her new, perfect face, and know that it shouldn’t see the light of day for another three months. I see her a girl who is sweet and doesn’t yet know pain. I see a girl who had no idea the months of hardship she was about to face, on each of days she should have been developing safely inside of me, not in an isolette, surviving thanks to science and an amazing medical team.
The causes and conditions that lead to premature birth are often unknown. From spontaneous labor, intrauterine growth restriction, preeclampsia, and a number of other reasons, babies arrive early too often, but the March of Dimes and medical researchers are working to better understand the causes.
In my case it was severe preeclampsia/HELLP Syndrome, which are conditions that are life-threatening to the mom, and when they get too severe, the baby must be delivered.
Even though my daughter’s birth was not as I would have hoped, I am beyond thankful for the innovations and the team that kept us both alive. It was a long, scary road, filled with amazing people. Her early days were filled with serious drugs (Fentanyl, Dopamine, Ativan, and more), ventilators, x-rays, blood transfusions, picc lines, etc.
The NICU is the saddest and sweetest place in the world, but miracles happen everyday. My little girl is one of them. She’s now two and thriving, and I am beyond thankful for her and every bit of research and every person who allowed her to live a healthy life.
Thanks to the relentless pursuit of answers and innovations related to premature birth by the March of Dimes, and the unending love and care from those who work in the NICU, babies who are born early have a chance at life. But, there is still work to be done. The rate of premature birth must go down. Women need to get prenatal care to ensure that both mom and baby are healthy and safe, and to catch any potential problems as soon as possible.
I had no idea that I was “sick.” I felt completely fine, even as my blood pressure sky rocketed. Thank goodness I was getting regular prenatal care. My doctor was concerned about my blood pressure, sent me to the hospital for testing, and to a high-risk doctor (who I started seeing twice a week). For four weeks, my amazing high-risk doctor tried to help get my blood pressure under control, but my body wasn’t cooperating. I spent days in the hospital before my daughter was born, but my blood pressure and other blood work continued to worsen. Even through all of that, I felt FINE! If I weren’t getting prenatal care, I would have died. I had absolutely NO visible sign that anything was wrong. I felt great.
Prenatal care saved my life.
Similarly, before my daughter was born, I received steroid shots to help her lungs develop. Upon her birth and in the days following, she received multiple doses of surfactant therapy, a discovery funded by the March of Dimes. Surfactant absolutely helped my daughter’s lung handle the unilateral Pulmonary Interstitial Emphysema she developed. It likely gave her “good” lung a boost and helped it sustain the treatments for the “bad” lung.
There are many other ways that she was saved by medical research and innovation. We are both here today because of the commitment to helping solve the premature birth problem.
If we all work together and help solve the mystery of why babies are born early and help treat/eliminate those causes, there will be many more happy stories, and many more babies who will never know the hardships that my sweet girl faced in her early days.
Those memories will remain fresh for years to come, and resurface whenever I smell the soap in the hospital, or hear the beeping of medical machinery. But, I’m so thankful those days are a memory now, and that my little fighter has an amazing story to tell.
We are the faces of premature birth, and we are dedicated to sharing our story and helping raise awareness so that fewer moms and babies have to know this journey first hand.