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November is premature awareness month. It’s a month to raise awareness that premature births are still serious and prominent. Despite the advances in healthcare, the number one cause of death for children under 5 around the world is premature births. The health of premature babies can be severe and they often need extensive care. It’s also a month to celebrate premature babies who, because of good healthcare services, are able to live normal, healthy lives after spending days, weeks, and sometimes months in a NICU.
As a mother of a late preterm infant (my twin boys were born 5 weeks early), being aware of the challenges preemies face in their first year of life, is something I never anticipated ever having to deal with. About one year ago, in the middle of the night, I started feeling contractions. How could this be? I had a feeling I would go into labor early as twins often do, but this was 5 weeks early. In my mind, I was going to go full term but my body apparently felt otherwise! After a few hours and a few phone calls to my doctor, I decided it was time to wake up my husband and head to the hospital.
After the boys were born, we were told we were going home after a few days in the recovery room as they appeared to be healthy. However, the night before our scheduled discharge, the boys decided to make other plans. After failing a car seat challenge in which the nurses monitor a preemie’s breathing and oxygen intake for 90 minutes, they both ended up in the NICU. It turns out they needed some extra attention and lessons on how to breath, suck, and swallow – common for babies born before 37 weeks. This was scary for us as but in the end it was a blessing. After a week of being 24-hour monitoring for pauses in breathing and slow heart rates, one son came home and after 9 days, the other followed.
Preemies generally “catch up” to full-term babies developmentally within the first year, but it can take two years to do so and sometimes a lifetime. While not as severe as some, this is true in my own family. Around 9 months old, their delays became more noticeable and after a series of evaluations, the boys have been engaging in weekly occupational therapy and physical therapy. Now after a few months, one is caught up to his age developmentally and the other still has some work to do as he’s still few months behind.
My family is lucky as our boys’ delays aren’t as severe compared to many families affected by prematurity. But, regardless of needing to give our boys a little extra TLC, staying at the hospital longer than anticipated and having to wait for that smile to appear a little longer than everyone else, I’ve realized how strong and resilient our little guys are. In fact, I have to believe premature babies often seem that much stronger because they’ve had to work a little harder than full-term babies.
And, without the support of family, therapists, nurses, doctors, and organizations dedicated to this cause, this journey would be that much more difficult. So, to celebrate our own preemies and all the others out there too, here are some ways to show support to families with babies born too early.
Celebrate World Prematurity Day on November 17. Wear purple to show your support. #worldprematurityday
Support your local March of Dimes Chapter whose mission is to fight premature births. This is an instrumental organization in helping those affected by prematurity.
Educate yourself. Check out the rates of prematurity in your state by taking a look at the 2016 Premature Birth Report Card.
Buy “Go Preemies” by AP Male, who was a preemie baby himself. The book shares stories of famous preemies, one which includes Mark Twain. A portion of the proceeds from the book also go to NICUs and families in need.
The babies and their families, such as mine, thank you for their support!