In less than 100 days, families across the country will celebrate some type of winter holiday. In less than 85 days, (fortunate) families in America will celebrate with a Thanksgiving feast, hopefully surrounded by family and friends.
In San Diego, California alone, 10.8% of all births are preterm, meaning close to 5500 births a year never reach term (50,623 births per year). Approximately 3,500 babies in San Diego each year are born at a low birth weight and over 9,200 pregnant women receive late or no prenatal care during pregnancy. Even more devastating? Over 250 families in San Diego bury their children each year before they reach their first birthday.
That’s 250 mothers and fathers, at least 500 grandparents, and untold numbers of siblings who never see a child take their first steps or say their first words. Who never get to pick out a backpack for the first day of school, or watch that child in an elementary school play. That’s 250 classmates, friends, and teammates who are not impacting your own child’s life.
Now let’s expand that. What about in Los Angeles? Las Vegas? Salt Lake City? Phoenix? Denver? Dallas? St. Louis? Chicago? Milwaukee? Philadelphia? Washington DC? Tampa? Boston? Seattle?
What about in Paris? London? Dublin? Moscow? Berlin? Hong Kong? Johannesburg? What about in villages you have never heard spoken of before? Or cities with which you are intimately familiar?
What about in your town?
What are we going to do about it?
It’s not just some unknown threat. Prematurity is the number one killer of infants. Studies released this week show that premature children have a higher risk of dying in childhood up to age 5. From ages 6-17, that risk evens out with full term children. But here’s something that’s a bit frightening: in young adulthood, ages 18-36, prematurity comes back as a factor that greatly increases one’s risk of death. You never outgrow prematurity. One can adjust, one can learn to compensate, but you never outgrow it.
We’re not just talking about something that might happen. Prematurity does happen. It happens to everyone. To those who receive prenatal care, and to those who do not. To those who use drugs, and to those who do not. To those who have had full term children and to those who have not. To those who read every.single.parenting.book and to those who do not.
It happened to me. I lost nearly half of my pregnancy to prematurity.
It happened to my daughter. Born at almost 24 weeks, she spent 26 weeks in the NICU before her first discharge home. More weeks inside of an intensive care unit than in the womb.
Prematurity affects my son, my husband, my parents, my in-laws, my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents, my siblings. They have not only watched us experience this world of prematurity, they themselves have had to experience watching their granddaughter, or niece or cousin or friend go through the experience of prematurity.
Prematurity affects you.
So what are you going to do about it?
Join with us in celebrating World Prematurity Day.
Visit you local NICU, take the nurses some food and give them hug from me. Tell them how much they mean to the families who are affected by prematurity.
Support the March of Dimes. Research from the MOD provides insights that are invaluable to helping preemies survive.
But survival is not just for preemies, parents need help surviving as well. Support other foundations such as Graham’s Foundation, and Friends of Maddie, both of which support families by giving care packages to parents of preemies.
Make a donation to Miracle Babies, which helps provide financial aid to parents of children in the NICU. I know times are tough, but $20 really can change a parent’s life. Knowing that someone out there knows of their struggle can be the light that gets them through the day.
Donate a $15 gas card to your local NICU and have them give it to a family who drives a great distance to see their children. Ask your friends, family and co-workers to do the same.
But more than that, let’s start talking about this. Let’s make it a national and worldwide discussion. Let’s start fighting prematurity the same way we fight heart disease and breast cancer.
Sign up for Bloggers Unite, and on November 17, write a blog post on prematurity. If you have a premature child, share your experience. If you don’t, write about what it is like to watch someone else go through it. Every view point is valid. Write if you are angry, if you feel blessed, if you are confused and if you feel confident your child will be fine. Write if you have lost a child, and if your child has survived. Write if you work with preemies or if you have never even met one. Just write. Share the word. Spread the message.
In the amount of time it has taken you to read this, at least four children have been born prematurely. Four parents have watched their child taken away to be evaluated by a neonatologist. Some of those parents will hear that their child is perfectly fine, that all is well. Some may watch their children rushed to the NICU. Even still, some may hear that there is nothing else that can be done.
But there is something that can be done. We can unite. We can reach out, we can touch others and help them to know that they are not alone, not forgotten.
Don’t just read this and move on. This is your responsibility. This is your fight.
We have to be the ones to fight–because babies shouldn’t have to.