- Early birth is actually incredibly common in the US, where about 1 in 8 babies is born prematurely - which adds up to over 500,000 preemies born annually.
- Premature birth is actually the most frequent cause of infant death in the US. We celebrate the NICU success stories but forget that many preemies never make it home.
- Many moms and dads of preemies develop PTSD, chronic anxiety, and serious depression that sometimes doesn’t manifest until months after their babies come home.
For one thing, even though 1 in 8 babies are born premature we were never ever told prematurity was a possibility. It literally never came up in a prenatal appointment. The signs of labor? Let's just say if I'd been told to look for them I might not have assumed my contractions were just a tummy ache. I'd never heard of the NICU. Never heard the words Special Care Nursery or neonatologist. And I have to wonder how many parents of those 500,000+ babies born every year and just like me and blindsided by the whole thing.
And then, like many moms and dads, there we were with a baby whose experiences - though much, much easier than those faced by many preemie parents - were very different from the babies of my friends. P. was TINY. Bad at breast feeding. Slow to put on weight. Slow to do lots of the things that babies are just supposed to do. We went to a lot of medical appointments. We did EI. I cried about the breast feeding. A LOT.
So the question I ask myself every year on World Prematurity Day is WHY? Why isn't prematurity discussed in more expectant moms' pre-natal appointments? Why doesn't the NICU ever come up as a possibility, however remote? And then once your baby is in the NICU, why aren't the names of more parent support organizations like Graham's Foundation getting shared with moms and dads? Why do people still think that preemies are just the fun size version of full-term babies?
The answer, I suppose, is awareness. And I grant you, it's a hard sell. No one wants to hear babies teetering on the edge of life or babies in the hospital for months at a time. Pregnant moms maybe want to hear about it least of all. But some of those pregnant moms are going to find themselves in the hospital far too early and some of those moms are going to find themselves trying to mother the 1 in 8. Wouldn't it be better if they knew just a smidge about the kind of things you can expect when your pregnancy and birth experience can't be found in any standard what to expect guide?
Fact: You can't understand the prematurity journey unless you've lived it and since every baby's experience is different, even two preemie parents can have trouble finding common ground. That said, regardless of circumstance or outcome, it's never a bad idea to connect - as I say in the World Prematurity Day video I made for Mom Meet Mom:
I also wrote a blog post about what it means to be a preemie mom - drawing not only from my own experiences, but from the thousands of moms I've had the privilege of connecting with through my work with Grahams Foundation and Parents of Preemies Day. If you have a chance today, please take the time to read it. You might just be surprised to learn how much you didn't know about what prematurity is like for parents!
Did you have a preemie? What would you add to my list?