The following is a guest post by Jennifer Degl, author of From Hope To Joy: A Mother’s Determination and Her Micro Preemie’s Struggle to Beat the Odds
Thankfully, most new parents have no idea what the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) is. They probably heard the word and then put it out of their mind because premature deliveries happen to other people.
No one gets pregnant and plans on having a child born too early; requiring life saving medical interventions. Many expectant parents take a tour of the hospital they plan on delivering in and peek at the “well nursery” and call it a day. And that is exactly what they should do because thinking about all of the things that could go wrong during a pregnancy might stop one from getting pregnant in the first place!
But, we owe it to our future generations to make their mothers aware of both the causes and warning signs of premature delivery as well as encourage medical advances in areas that support premature babies.
November is Prematurity Awareness Month and November 17th is World Prematurity Day. On World Prematurity Day, countries in nearly every part of the world will take action to raise awareness of what can be done to reduce preterm births and better care for babies born too soon.
The United States preterm birth rate peaked in 2006 (at 12.8 percent), but has declined each year since, resulting in an estimated 176,000 fewer babies born preterm over the six-year period, according to the March of Dimes. Although the US has made great strides in reducing our preterm birth rate from historic highs, we still have the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country. A premature birth costs around twelve times as much as full-term healthy birth resulting in the US spending about $26 billion a year on prematurity.
My desire to raise awareness of prematurity has little to do with the facts I mentioned above. On May 12, 2012 I delivered a 1 pound 4 ounce little girl at 23 weeks into my pregnancy who was just 11 inches long. Ever since then I have been thinking about ways that I can prevent this from happening to other babies as well as making it my mission to let families of preemies know that miracles can happen and that support is available for them.
My daughter was considered a micro preemie. A micro preemie is a baby delivered before 26 weeks gestation. Any delivery before 37 weeks is considered premature and rightfully so. The March of Dimes is now advocating that a pregnancy should be continued for at least 39 weeks if possible.
Premature deliveries are the leading cause of newborn death. Babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of serious and sometimes lifelong health problems, such as breathing problems, jaundice, developmental delays, vision loss and cerebral palsy.
My daughter was born premature as a result of my 100% placenta previa. I was in and out of the hospital from 17 weeks gestation until her delivery due to extreme hemorrhaging. I almost lost my baby and my own life on four different occasions during my pregnancy. I was given countless units of blood over the course of two months on bed rest both in and out of the hospital. All this was going on while I had three young boys (then 7, 5 and 3 years old) at home who were scared and confused.
My daughter’s delivery was not as a mother dreams it should be. She was delivered after hours of trying to stop my fourth hemorrhage without success. I was put to sleep and did not awaken for almost 12 hours after having a hysterectomy due the placenta attaching to some internal organs. By then my daughter was in the NICU where she would remain for 121 days.
I could not see my daughter, who we named Joy, for two days due to my complications. When I was finally wheeled in to see her, I was shocked! She did not look like my other children did as newborns. Micro preemies look like tiny little aliens with transparent skin. They have numerous tubes and wires attached to them while a ventilator initiates each breath.
My daughter was very lucky to have the doctors and nurses that she did. Joy escaped 95 percent of the complications that typically affect such premature babies, but she is left with some scar tissue on her lungs that turn most ordinary colds into pneumonia. This should diminish with time. We are so blessed to have her in our lives and as a family; we vowed to turn our struggles into something positive.
After Joy had been home for a few months, I wrote a memoir called “From Hope To Joy: A Mother’s Determination and Her Micro Preemie’s Struggle to Beat the Odds” about my high-risk pregnancy and my daughter’s four months in the NICU, which is now available on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.
Let’s use World Prematurity Day to honor those babies who lost their lives due to prematurity and vow to help stop this from happening to future babies. They need our voices.
For more information on Joy’s progress, Jennifer’s book, or to make a donation to an organization that supports prematurity awareness or NICU families, please see http://www.micropreemie.net. You can also connect with Jennifer at www.facebook.com/jenniferdegl and http://www.twitter.com/jenniferdegl