If you’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts about premature babies, that’s because November is World Prematurity Month, a time to raise awareness for babies born before their due dates. Premature birth is the leading cause of death for young children worldwide, according to March of Dimes, an organization started during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in response to his battle with polio. As his case shows, even when even when premies survive, there can be long-lasting effects on the child and the family.
Let’s take a second and stand in those teenie tiny little shoes.
Shannon and Tyler Carlyle had prepared for big adventures before, and their first child was no different. They looked forward to the May due date with excitement. Then, Shannon went into preterm labor – in January.
Shannon and Tyler rushed to the emergency room.
“I was like, ‘But I have work in the morning,” and they said, ‘Yeah, you’re not going to work this week,’ but I just didn’t get it,” Shannon related.
Lori Buss, the parent support coordinator at Utah Valley Hospital, says having a premie is never a part of a parent’s plan. She compares it to preparing for a warm and tropical vacation, only to be informed on the flight over that the plane will actually be landing in Finland. “[Parents] feel like they’re on a journey that they didn’t prepare for at all,” she explained.
At the hospital, the doctors spoke with Shannon and Tyler. “They said you have two options – we can try and save him and he’ll spend his first few hours of life being hooked up to machines and being poked by needles, or you can hold him and enjoy him for a couple of hours,” Shannon remembered. “But then I stayed pregnant for five more weeks.”
Doctors put Shannon on strict bed rest during those long weeks. After more than a month of living at the hospital, Shannon gave birth to Hunter Carlyle ten weeks before his due date. It was nine days before his parents could hold him, and months before they took him home from the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
Now, Hunter’s life is approaching a normalcy that astonishes his mom. Shannon kissed her baby boy on the forehead as she said, “He was on oxygen when we first brought him home, and a feeding tube, which he obviously doesn’t have anymore.”
Hunter will have no lasting problems as far as they can tell, but many premies are not so lucky. Being born early can hinder brain and lung development, among other issues.
Aside from problems a baby can face, Lori says mothers of premature babies are also much more prone to Postpartum depression. She also talked about the financial strain it can put on a family whose baby has a long stay in the NICU, although hospitals do what they can to lessen the blow.
All in all, Prematurity is difficult topic, and it can be hard to know what to say to a parent. Lori says the best way to support families going through long hospital stays and Medical bills is just to listen and offer continued support like childcare or meals.
Shannon expressed her gratitude for the support they felt from hospital staff and family: “The NICU was the hardest thing we’ve ever been through, but I saw miracles daily.”
To learn more about prematurity, visit https://www.marchofdimes.org/index.aspx.