PREEMIE FACTOIDS

Did you know that over 450,000 babies are born premature in the United States every year? And 15,000,000 worldwide. Because of their early arrivals preemies are more susceptible to a myriad health issues including apnea, PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosis ) and RDS (Respiratory Distress Syndrome ). But technology and science continue to evolve. In fact, a preemie born today has a much greater chance at survival compared to only 10 years ago.  Keep checking back for more factoids.

World Prematurity Day 2015

World Prematurity Awareness Day.

Interesting.

By now, we all know what the purple ribbon means and we have all heard at least one story about a fantastic preemie, right?  There are so many success stories and I love it.  I love that parents who have a preemie today can hear stories of hope.  I guess that's why we needed a day to bring awareness. Makes sense.

November 17th is Prematurity Awareness Day.  The first day this was recognized was in 2003.  You may wonder how I know this – well, I will tell you a story.

The day before THAT day, our preemie was born – how very serendipitous.  Prior to the moment he was born, I had never even thought about having a preemie, never considered the fact that I may ever step foot into a NICU, I had never met a parent of a preemie, heard about a preemie (well, maybe I had heard about preemies, but I am pretty sure it always had a grim outcome), I certainly had never SEEN a preemie (or wanted to) before that day.  Talk about stepping out into an unknown world.

And then the VERY NEXT DAY was Prematurity Awareness Day – the first one EVER.  What kind of weird universe were we living in?  This was obviously an issue in the world if they have to make a day to make people aware.  I was not aware.  I remember in my morphine fog (as most preemie mamas have in the days after their preemies are born) someone telling me that it was Prematurity Awareness Day and I just thought it was odd…or interesting…that I was still coming to grips with our new reality of having a preemie and here we were on Prematurity Awareness Day.

If someone would have told me 12 years ago that I would be back speaking to preemie parents at the very hospital where my son was born, I would have laughed in their face.  I certainly wasn't the face of prematurity.  I was sure that I had NOTHING to offer anyone in regards to preemies.  After all, I had a bad attitude.  I was angry and I cried almost every single day.  Who was going to listen to me!!??

If those same people would have told me that the beep, beep, beeping of those damn machines one day would make me smile because of how far we’ve come (and not make me cringe), or that I would smell those towels and be immediately catapulted back into the NICU and I wouldn’t cry, I’d think they were nuts.

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity – the HONOR – of speaking to families who have been touched by prematurity.  The most recent one at Comer Children's Hospital NICU Family Night.  I honestly feel that I was the one who benefited from the evening.  I get so much out of speaking to (and with) parents – especially new parents – about prematurity.  Oh how I wish I would have met a parent of a preemie back then.  I wish I would have heard their story.  A story to give me hope, to allow me to look ahead.  I wish someone would have looked me in the eyes and told me that it is normal to cry.  All the time.  It was ok to be mad.  I was so mad.  I wish I could apologize to the parents of full term babies who I watched leave the hospital in those months I spent at the NICU.  I was so mad at you.  I was jealous.  It wasn't healthy.  Of course you were happy and giddy as you left the hospital with your sweet new baby ready to share him or her with the world.  You deserved to be happy!!  I couldn't see that.  I want other parents to know that its ok to feel like you are on a roller coaster of emotions – happy and sad and angry and glad and confused – all within a 5 minute time span.  Its normal and if you are feeling this way, its ok to talk about it – to other preemie parents, to a therapist or counselor – or journal about it.  We too can link you up with another veteran preemie parent through our Peer-to-Peer Support Program.  I so wish I had someone to talk to.  It wasn’t even though that I felt like I needed someone and I didn’t know where to turn. I just had so much emotion built up inside of me and didn’t realize it was normal.  I felt guilty that I was sad. I was confused as to why I was crying all of the time.  I tell parents that all of the time when I speak with them.  IT’S OK!  IT’S NORMAL.  When your emotions get in the way of your daily activities and you find it’s difficult to get out of bed, then we strongly encourage you to talk to someone about your feelings.

I tell parents that the single worst day of parenting was the day that I was discharged from the hospital and had to leave my baby there.  Single.Worst.Day.  My heart felt like it was being ripped out of my chest.  It hurt.  Really, really hurt.  It wasn't as bad as the day that my baby needed stitches, or was wheeled away before he got his tonsils out, or when he dislocated his hip in a football game and needed surgery.  All of those days hurt, but nothing (for me) was worse than leaving the hospital without my baby.  For me, it just doesn't get worse than that.  There are certainly days of parenthood that hurt and still make you cry, but that pain...nope...there is nothing like it.  So, if you can make it through that, I feel like you can make it through just about anything.

I have heard people say that they may never know why they had a preemie.  I think I know.  I believe that I was supposed to help other parents of preemies.  We are supposed to share our story and help others.  I am here.  I am living it. 

My words to you if you are just beginning to navigate your way through this world of prematurity is this:

Little by little, a little becomes a lot.

Happy Prematurity Awareness Day! 

(Thank You, Chicago, for going PURPLE!)

Beth is the mom of 3 children. One preemie and two full termers. When she is not helping others through her Little Bear Foundation work, you can find her on the sidelines of a football field, basketball court, baseball field, soccer field or even an ice rink cheering on her amazing kids.