Lots of people don’t know what it means to have a premature baby. I didn’t know either, before I had my baby. Charlie was born at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 15 ounces.
If you had told me that I, a healthy person with not a single complication in my first 25 weeks of pregnancy, would have a baby before I even reached my third trimester – I’m not sure I would have believed it. And yet, it happens, WAY more than it should. Yes, it sometimes happens to moms who don’t have access to good prenatal care. But it also happens to moms who do take care of themselves, who get prenatal care… moms like me.
In this day and age, where doctors can predict, know, and treat so much, the miracles of fertility, pregnancy and prematurity are still mysteries in a lot of ways. In our case, we still don’t know for sure why Charlie came early – and why there were no advance signs that gave the doctors any chance to prepare him for an untimely arrival.
My “incompetent cervix” (worst medical term ever, by the way) was part of the problem, but the fact that my body was contracting and ready to birth a baby at just 25 weeks was another, totally unexplained, part of the problem. And between the time I walked to the hospital that morning and he was born that afternoon, there just wasn’t enough time for them to do anything to keep him inside a few more precious days. Those days really are precious, too. That early in gestation, every week increases the chances of survival a lot, and likely reduces the number of complications the baby is going to face. Unfortunately for us, by the time they knew I was in labor, there was no stopping it or even slowing it down.
Our story has a happy ending – at least at this point! Our boy is happy, a total handful, and most importantly, healthy – for the most part, although the hacking cough he has right now might indicate otherwise. Today I picked him up from school, and he and his best buddy (another Charlie) wanted to run wild on the playground a bit before heading home – all that time sitting in a classroom is hard on a first grade wild man! So they ran – and then they both planted themselves on a bench and coughed and coughed, like little old men. The common thread? Both are preemies. Coincidence that they’re the ones hacking when the other kids are running non-stop? I think not. I think these former preemie lungs seem to be more impacted by this unusually warm, moist fall we’re having – and by pollen-heavy springs, and pollution, etc. Though our boy grows and grows, his premature past still rears its ugly face here and there.
I recognize that we are CRAZY lucky to have such a vibrant, busy, healthy boy. I think most moms probably reflect all the time on their kids’ successes and strengths and feel pride and joy. But for me, there’s the added reminder of what could have been. I can guarantee you, I take none of these skills and accomplishments for granted. I think ALL THE TIME about the tears I shed over that tiny, struggling baby in the isolette, and how the life I’m living now was the stuff of daydreams back then. And I will never forget where we started, and just how far he’s come.
So that’s it, that’s why this month is important to me. Prematurity awareness is important because it helps people realize that it really matters to support the March of Dimes, which works constantly to reduce the numbers of premature babies born every day. And it’s important because it reminds me to be oh so grateful for how far we’ve come, and how many doctors and nurses and therapists and scientists and family and friends have helped us get here.
Marie lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and Charlie. Charlie was born at 25 weeks and weighed 1 pound 15 ounces at birth. He spent 85 days in the NICU at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.