World Prematurity Day

World Prematurity Day

World Prematurity Day

November 17, 2014 marks the 4th worldwide awareness day for prematurity. "World Prematurity Day" is a global movement to raise awareness about prematurity highlighting the burden of preterm birth, informing on simple, proven cost-effective solutions and invoking compassion for families who have experienced preterm birth." Most people probably don't even know that such a day exists, but if you are the mother of a preemie, undoubtedly that day sparks many emotions for you. For some parents of preemies, it is a day that you thank God for the blessing of your sweet baby, who overcame the odds and survived her premature birth. For other mothers, it reminds them of dark days spent in the NICU with their teeny tiny baby, almost unrecognizable from all of the tubes and wires that were keeping her alive, feeding her, breathing for her. For some mothers, it's a reminder of the day you gave birth to the baby you prayed for and who grew inside of you, yet were unable to hold and hug when she was born. A reminder of days that turned into weeks, and weeks into months for some women who spent nights praying and begging God that her child would get to one day make it home to see the room she prepared for her, or meet her brothers and sisters anxiously awaiting her arrival. Hopefully for many of those moms that story ended happily, and those sweet, prematurely born babies are now thriving and healthy. And because of your struggles, the days with your child are fuller and you are cherishing hugging and kissing those sweet faces that you stared at through a glass crib for so long. Unfortunately, the stories don't always end happily, and for some mothers, this is just another day to be reminded of the loss of their precious baby who got her wings too soon. A day that their heart aches, and they are reminded of the piece of them that was lost.

If you are one of the fortunate people who have never given November 17th a second thought these past few years, then hopefully after reading this you will. Premature birth is the leading cause of death for newborns. Every year 15 million babies are born prematurely. Statistically, that is one in ten babies. A pregnancy is 40 weeks long. Doctors consider a baby full term when the mother reaches 37 weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature by the medical definition. Most doctors define the age of viability as 24 weeks. In many hospitals, 24 weeks is the cutoff point for when doctors will use intensive medical intervention to attempt to save the life of a baby born prematurely. In the hands of experienced specialists, some babies born slightly earlier may have a chance of survival. The earliest baby to have ever survived a premature birth was born at 21 weeks 5 days. The likelihood of survival jumps from 17 percent at 23 weeks to 39 percent at 24 weeks. By 25 weeks, the baby has a 50-50 chance of survival if born. Jumping another ten percent the next two weeks and by 28-31 weeks if born, babies have a 90-95 percent chance of survival; however, this doesn't discount the many obstacles that the baby will have to overcome. The lungs are the last major organ to develop and won't be fully developed until 34 weeks or slightly later. The biggest hurdle premature babies must overcome is breathing on their own. But any loss of oxygen to the brain for a sufficient amount of time can lead to brain damage which is why proper ventilation is essential to survival. The journey of a gestational baby is so fragile and time is of the essence.

My daughter, my first child, was born prematurely. I thank God daily that I am one of the mothers with a happy ending to my story. My little girl, who was a fighter from the beginning, is now 7, and many people are shocked to know that she was born prematurely. But in those 12 hours of labor, the fear that I felt, the horror that I imagined, the tears that I shed, and the prayers that I said, are still just as real to me today as they were 7 years ago. And I feel them all over again for every mother I think about on today's date. Yet for some mothers, there wasn't the wait and the hours of labor, but instead a furry of hurry and emergent worry as they were whisked off to the Operating Room for a Cesarean Section. They were left with no time to think about anything but getting their baby out safely. We imagine the day we give birth to our children to be the most amazing day ever. And as most moms they will tell you, the best days of their lives were the days each of their children were born. But what if that day, the day you imagined to be so wonderful and full of bliss, was a day spent agonizing over the health of your baby? A day that you had envisioned holding your newly born baby all snuggled in a blanket in your arms, but in reality was a day that only allowed you to watch at a distance as your baby was poked and prodded and kept alive by machines? I now have four children and my oldest still remains the only child that I wasn't allowed to hold immediately after giving birth to her. This is a very minute detail in the struggles of many preemie moms, yet nonetheless, was a very unwanted and unimagined part of my delivery.

Whatever the outcome was for the mothers of preemies, World Prematurity Day is certainly a day that they do not forget. So whether you are a parent or relative of a preemie, know someone who is, or have been fortunate enough to have never have given this day a second thought, close your eyes today and say a prayer for those children currently fighting for their life in a hospital, too young to know the severity of their situation or the pain in their mother's heart, thank God for those babies who beat the odds and have fought the hard battle and have a prosperous life now, ask for strength for those babies who survived but struggle daily with the effects of their prematurity, and ask God to continue to watch over those precious babies that are now angels with him. Today is about bringing awareness to the world about the very thing that makes the world what it is - life. Let us all be reminded today that the miracle of life is just that, a miracle.

Below are some stories of local mothers sharing their experiences of having given birth to a premature baby...

"When my daughter Isabella was born prematurely at 33 weeks, I felt robbed of the joy I had experienced with the births of my other three children. I felt like a first time mom, not knowing all the NICU lingo and nuances of taking care of a preemie. All the tubes and incubators intimidated me. I was in the hospital 18 days before I delivered because of leaking amniotic fluid. Isabella spent 5 days in the NICU and 14 total days in the hospital. She only weighed 3 lbs 15 oz at birth. The thing I learned about prematurity is that is doesn't go away after the first few months. Isabella was delayed in all her milestones and received therapy for three years. Today, Isabella still amazes me how far she's come, and still has that fighting spirit she gained in the NICU. 'If it doesn't challenge you, it won't change you.'"

- Hollie Adams, mother of Isabella Adams, born at 33 weeks.

"Our preemie experience included two months of bed rest, an emergency C-Section at 32 weeks, a helicopter ride for Levi and 31 days in the NIC Unit at MaGee-Womens Hospital. Levi Bo weighed 2.6 lbs and was 13 inches long at birth. What all of tests, doctors or the wonderful team of nurses could not measure was his irresistible force of will. Today, Levi is a healthy six-year-old. He is still small in stature, but his personality and spirit are legendary. He is the toughest kid we know and he inspires us daily.'"

- Heather Rine, mother of Levi Rine, born at 32 weeks.

"On April 15, 2014, our little Paige was born. She weighed 2 lbs, 2.5 ounces, and was 14 inches long. She was born 13 weeks prematurely and was in the NICU for 66 days. Those 66 days were the hardest days of my life as I wondered what battles, if any, we would face on this journey. Though my husband and I struggled, we received support not just from family and friends, but also from the nurses and physicians at the NICU. One of Paige's doctors told us that "the more active and involved the parents are, the better the baby does." As we continued to play an active role, Paige grew stronger and developed into the healthy, happy baby she is today. We brought her home from the hospital at 37 weeks gestation which the doctors considered an amazing feat. Paige is our little miracle and fighter.'"

- Colleen Touvelle, mother of Paige Touvelle, born at 27 weeks.

"I could have never been prepared for having a child born at 31 weeks. But there was Claire, born on the evening of my baby shower. She was so tiny weighing just 3 lbs. Once I got to hold her the next day and seeing just how tiny she was I knew we had a long road ahead. Claire spent two months in West Penn NICU before coming home. Not knowing what the next day would bring, myself and my husband Philip spent weeks at her bedside living the up and downs of the NICU roller-coaster, a scary and defining experience that jolted us into parenthood.'"

- Stefanie Trouten, mother of Claire Trouten, born at 31 weeks.

"Nothing can prepare a family for the birth of a preterm baby, and in our situation, we were taken by complete surprise as we welcomed our son five weeks early. After giving birth to a nearly 9 lb, healthy, full-term daughter four years prior, having a baby with undeveloped lungs was the furthest thing from my mind, yet one morning I underwent surgery while saying good-bye to an intubated baby before he was flown in a helicopter to a hospital an hour away. Diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome, he lived several days before I could hold him in my arms, yet this was an unforgettable eternity for a mother. Our family and friends held us together during a protracted period of touch and go, and we were the lucky ones who got to leave the NICU, after a 10-day stay, with a boy who's now doing great. Yet the unspoken bond I felt with the other mothers of preterm babies is still with me today as I pray for NICU babies and parents. A mother of a preemie is forever changed by her experience. The child will never remember, but the mother will never forget.'"

- Jessi Zatezalo, mother of Adam Zatezalo, born at 35 weeks