Today is World Prematurity Day. Those not affected by prematurity may wonder why we should observe a prematurity awareness day. I will do my best to answer why:
1) I did not think it could happen to me. Before Charlie was born, I was convinced that our pregnancy would be perfect as long as we did everything “right”. Even when her early delivery became a possibility, I was confident that I would carry her to term. I did everything I was supposed to do. In my mind, things like premature birth, birth defects, or still births happen to other people. The people who didn’t follow the rules. I was wrong.
Premature birth is closer than most realize. Despite not having a high risk pregnancy or any risk factors, it happened to me. It can happen to anyone. Even if, everything is done “right”.
2) Preemies are not just small babies. Many people believe that preemies are merely small babies. Most premature babies require intensive care in a NICU for survival. Despite medical intervention, not all of those babies survive. Many of those that do graduate from the NICU have long term health concerns related to their early births.
3) Families affected by prematurity need support. The three months Charlie spent in the NICU was a lonely time for my husband and I. Very few people understood what we were going through. Our family and friends did not know how to support us. Acquaintances were strangely intrusive as I was confronted with questions like “Why aren’t you pregnant anymore?” from the grocery store check out clerk.
The general population knows so little about prematurity that many are unsure of how to respond. I hope open discussion about the issue and concerns families of preemies face can improve the way friends and family provide support.
4) Awareness can aid in prevention and improve outcomes. If women are educated about the signs and conditions that cause preterm labor, they can act if they become aware of it happening. Prompt medical attention allows for the possibility of interventions such as halting labor. Even if such interventions are not possible, other measures such as steroid injections can increase the baby’s chances of survival.
5) Research is important. It was not long ago that micropreemies had a slim chance, if any, for survival. Advances in medical technology such as NICU care, pulmonary surfactant, and prenatal betamethasone injections have increased preemie survival. However, there is much about maternal fetal medicine and neonatal medicine that is unknown. Hopefully, prematurity awareness will increase research funding and pique the interest of talented scientists and researchers.
6) To honor the preemies who did not make it home and to celebrate those who did. My thoughts are with all preemie families today.