Today is world prematurity day. A week from today Ramona will be 1 year old, quite a milestone. As we celebrated her upcoming birthday this past weekend with some new friends, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how far this little bit has come in life in just one year.
Born at 33 weeks and 6 days. Weighing in at 4lbs 7oz, and measuring a length of 17in, she was small to say the least. But she had lungs, and she knew how to use them.
The NICU was a scary place the first time I walked in. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, or even where my baby was. I was quickly introduced to an intense process that would be required every time I entered, even if I only left for 2 minutes to refill my water bottle from the fountain in the hall. A new gown over my clothes each time, followed by a three minute hand scrubbing. After a couple of days my hands were red, dry, and cracked from all of the hot water and soap.
The first good look I actually got of my daughter was in the NICU. I knew it was her before I saw her though. I don’t know how, but I knew the high pitched cry I could hear as I washed my hands, was my girl. I followed the sound and found my beautiful little girl crying her heart out at the injustice of the bath she was in the middle of receiving. She looked so tiny, and yet so healthy. And then, as I saw the other babies around her I realized that she was small, but she was not tiny. She had monitors and an IV, but she didn’t have a feeding tube, a breathing tube, or a CPAP machine hooked up to her. We were lucky.
I met so many strong and amazing mothers and fathers in the NICU. So many whose babies were much earlier and smaller than mine. They were looking at months in the NICU, I was looking at days to maybe a couple of weeks. Their babies were having surgeries, mine was moving to an open air crib. But it didn’t matter, they were all welcoming and supportive. However, I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of guilt. I could hold my daughter without any time restrictions. I knew my daughter would be home by Christmas. Few, if any, of the other mothers and fathers could enjoy these same comforts.
We were all bonded. No matter how early our babies, how big or small, how sick or healthy. We all had to experience that heartbreaking feeling day after day of leaving the hospital without our babies. And the mothers, those of us that were hoping to breast feed, were waking up every three hours in the middle of the night, hooking ourselves up to a machine to pump milk that we wouldn’t even be able to give to our babies until the next day. We comforted each other during difficult moments, and we celebrated the milestones. And the nurses, oh the nurses. Those amazing people were the glue that held everything together. They have endless patience. They serve as counselors, advisors, teachers, and shoulders. They care for these little, tiny, babies with love and tenderness, and they hold the hands of the scared parents along the way.
As I approach this one year mark, I am now beginning to understand the truth of what others before us had said. As time goes by, that time in the NICU will fade. It won’t be among the first things you think of when you look at your child. It won’t describe your child. It will be a distant memory that occassionally comes up when something triggers it. I’m not completely to this point, but I can look at my daughter and see a happy, healthy, toddler, the same size as the others around her.
But this is exactly why World Prematurity Day is important. Those of us that have lived this experience don’t really want to remember it forever, but raising awareness is crucial. There is still so much that isn’t known about premature labor and premature birth. We don’t have a reason to document for my premature labor. I had multiple, seemingly unrelated complications throughout my pregnancy, but what if they were related? I had no identifiable risk factors, but what if maybe I did and they just haven’t been discovered yet? I am so proud of the March of Dimes and the efforts they are making to raise awareness, and the recently announced research efforts they are funding at Washington University in St. Louis. This here, this is my story, but there are countless others out there. I can only hope in the future as I focus on my growing girl, the number of these stories around the world will begin to decrease and the ones that still exist will have happier and happier endings like mine.