Saturday, August 4, 2001. The day my life completely changed. The night before I worked a 10 hour shift as the manager-on-duty at a busy hotel – sports teams, government workers and weekend visitors to Austin, TX made for a fast-paced but fun night. I remember pausing to eat dinner and receiving a phone call from an old friend who’d recently heard I was pregnant. As we were catching up, the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for the past few days caught me off guard.
“Are you sure you’re not having that baby right now?” my friend joked.
Of course not, I assured her. I was only approximately 30 weeks and had just spoken to my doctor earlier in the week and was told these “phantom contractions” were perfectly normal – my body’s way of preparing for true labor.
Yeah right! A little over 12 hours later, I was holding the most perfect being I had ever seen in my life. Michael was born weighing 4 pounds and 1 ounce. As is common with some babies, his birth weight dropped. However, in our situation every ounce counted since the hospital wouldn’t allow him to go home unless he was at least 4 pounds. For someone that had never really paid attention to a scale before, the hospital scales soon became my best/worst frenemy.
Michael spent two days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) as a precaution. Thankfully, he had no serious health issues. A week after he entered this world, we were able to head home. Packing him in his car seat was interesting, to say the least. His tiny body was enveloped by the infant carrier. The nurses tucked receiving blankets all around him so he could be snug, comfortable and safe.
As we left, I knew how blessed I was to be able to leave so soon and with a healthy, thriving baby. In low-income countries, half of the babies born at the same gestational time as Michael would die from lack of adequate care – warmth, breathing difficulties common with preterm babies, breastfeeding support for those unable to latch on at such a small birth weight, and infections.
Fast-forward six years later, 20 weeks into my second pregnancy I felt a familiar sensation and was filled with dread. Knowing I had experienced one preterm birth, my doctor this time around was extremely proactive. I was put on modified bed rest and began weekly progesterone shots. Bradley was just as impatient as his big brother, but, thankfully, we were able to keep him put until 37 weeks.
Preterm birth is more common than many realize. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born preterm worldwide every year – that’s almost 1 out of every 10 babies born. Sadly, close to a million die from complications and those that survive often face learning disabilities, visual and hearing problems. While close to 60% of preterm births occur in poorer countries in Africa and south Asia, countries such as the United Sates, Brazil, Nigeria, and India rank in the top 10, as well
My story compared to others is far from heart-wrenching. Not everyone has access to the medical care and options that I did. There are premature babies each day born across the world that will not survive. Being able to provide cost-effective care can help care for them and prevent more from occurring.