November is National Prematurity Awareness Month. In fact today, Nov. 17, is World Prematurity Day. Not that families who experience a baby’s early arrival aren’t aware of prematurity. Because we are. All day. Every day.
This is a fact that I know intimately.
That’s because my own child, Beatrice Kate, was born very early and very small. At just 993 grams (that’s 2 pounds, 3 ounces), our girl arrived on the scene one hour and twenty seven minutes into our 29th week of pregnancy. While we had some indication she would be coming early (I developed severe pre-eclampsia very rapidly), nothing prepares you for the moment you meet your kitten-sized daughter.
Actually, I'm sure that there's nothing likely to prepare you for the moment you meet your daughter, tiny or not.
In the days before she was born, we took a tour of the NICU at UNC’s Children’s Hospital. I remember that tour so vividly; not because of the tour itself, but because of the heart-racing anxiety it caused afterwards.
This was our life now. It felt like a kick to the stomach as that reality, our reality, settled in.
That feeling was only compounded when we spoke with the neonatologists who, in their most comforting voices, talked us through what we could expect in the earliest days of our child’s life. She wouldn’t cry at birth. No. Actually, she likely couldn’t cry at birth, either because she wouldn’t be strong enough, or because she would need to be intubated immediately to save her life.
Save. Her. Life.
That’s right, we were in a place now where every day, we walked a knife’s edge between life and death.
It’s that walk, that fear, that fatigue, that awareness, of where your child began life that never leaves your mind. It’s an awareness that seeps into your bones, and becomes engrained with your DNA.
As I sit here today, writing these words, retelling our story, six and a half years out from her birth day, I have tears in my eyes and a knot in my throat. That’s because knowing where our daughter started life and where she is now, it breaks my heart and heals it all at the same time.
The thing is... our family isn’t unique. This year, the March of Dimes released their Premature Birth Report Card; and the United States isn’t an A student. In fact, both the entire US and North Carolina scored a “C”.
10% of all births in North Carolina happen before 37 weeks. 1 in 10 families will forever be changed by prematurity.
And, that’s why we have special things like Prematurity Awareness Day and World Prematurity Day. Because hopefully someday, all of this awareness will lead to funding, which will lead to research, which might lead to new developments which keep parents and babies healthy until their term births.
All of that, with the end goal that someday, may someday soon, 1 in 10 will become 0 in 10.
Oh. And, see that tiny baby at the top of this post? In the last six and a half years, she's grown into this beautiful, healthy, strong girl: