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Why Should You Care About Preemies?

“Each year, preterm birth affects nearly 500,000 babies—that’s 1 of every 8 infants born in the United States. Preterm birth is the birth of an infant prior to 37 weeks gestation. It is the most frequent cause of infant death, the leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children, and costs the U.S. health care system more than $26 billion each year.”   from the CDC website

That’s kind of a big deal, isn’t it?

Well, it is to me.  I have had five kids, four of which were born before 37 weeks gestation.  Crazy, right?

In my case, my doctors could find no underlying cause for the premature labours.  The best guess we had was “maximum capacity.”  Each pregnancy, I’d get a little bigger, and then — bam! — labour would start.  It worked out well for my fifth child, who was born full term.  It was terrible for my twins (numbers 3 & 4), since there were two of them in there:  less space, earlier delivery.  They were born at 27 weeks plus 2 days.

Yes, at that age, they count the days as being important.

We spent three months in the blipping NICU.  (It literally made blipping sounds all the time.  You could almost lose the babies in all the machines.)

During that time, Gideon had three cases of septicemia.  Xander had NEC (nectrotizing enterocolitis), with a perforated bowel, an emergency phone call home in the middle of the night, and an eventual ileostomy.  And that all happened in the first month.

Thankfully, both of our little cutie pies survived, and Xander even had his ileostomy reversed when he was 10 months old.  He has amazing scars on his belly, but otherwise, you’d never know what he went through.  He remembers nothing.

My first son was born at “only” 32 weeks, and stayed “only” 3 weeks in the hospital, growing and learning to eat by mouth.

My second son was born at 35 weeks, and seemed almost full-term to me!  He spent only one night in the NICU for observation, then we were both discharged from the hospital on the same day.  What a difference a couple weeks makes!

So why am I telling you all this?  Well, today is World Prematurity Awareness Day.  Why is it important to be aware?  Because modern medicine saved my children’s lives.   And I’m not the only one who goes through this: 1 in 8 babies are born too early.  Let me tell you, it’s not something you expect to happen.

There is this amazing medicine given to preemies who can’t breathe.  It’s called BLES (bovine lipid extract surfactant).  You put it in lungs that can’t absorb oxygen, even with a ventilator, and bam!  The vent works.

Did you know many of these technologies are here because of Patrick Kennedy?  He was JFK’s last child, a preemie, who died from respiratory distress.  The whole nation mourned him, and they directed money towards research and medicines.  My twins are alive today because of those technologies.

This is why awareness is so important.  There are still babies who die because the technology simply doesn’t exist to save them.

I get really excited when I hear about new medical discoveries.  You know how we hear about researchers trying to grow organs from stem cells (the ethically harvested ones)?  Well, can you imagine if they could build placentas that way?  Someday, they might….  But placentas are way more complex than most organs.  They are basically a life-support system for a baby, providing nourishment, oxygen, and waste removal.

The NICU does its best to replicate that system, but it’s a poor substitute, at best.  Most treatments used to save the babies’ lives also have serious side effects, like blindness, brain bleeds, sepsis, and more.  Thankfully, the NICU doctors are artists, carefully balancing medical intervention with moderation.  They do their best to make sure the babies not only survive, but thrive.  It’s not an easy job.

Nothing about the NICU is easy.  Not for doctors, not for parents.  It’s a high-stress environment, and our nurses lovingly referred to is as a roller-coaster ride.  It’s very common for parents who have experienced it to have long-lasting grief, even when their babies survive.

One way I have dealt with my grief over the years is to knit.  When I knit for preemies, I pour my grief into a hat, and it comes out as hope and compassion for other families.   Over the years, the grief has lessened, but my heart is still tender for NICU families.

I would like to offer you a gift for this week surrounding World Prematurity Awareness Day.  All of my preemie hat patterns are free until November 24, 2012, at the end of the day.  Use the coupon code ilovepreemies in my Ravelry store during check out, or just click this link to go directly to the cart to receive the Tulip Preemie Hat and the Viking Preemie Hat for free:

My other preemie patterns, which are always free, are here:

If you found my blog via the Preemie Awareness blog hop, welcome!  I usually write about knitting, but there are other preemie posts here, too.  If you’d like to, you can sign up to receive email updates at the top right of every page.  

I’d love to hear your preemie story.  Will you share it with me?