It's World Prematurity Day, and rather than talk about candy or books, I decided that today it's time to raise awareness.
As many of you know, my first granddaughter was born at just 27 weeks. She was 14 1/2 inches long and 2 lb 9 oz. While in the NICU, she had NECK, sepsis, pneumonia, E-coli based meningitis, seizures, apnea, and a brain bleed. I don't mind telling you, those first few weeks were terrifying. It seemed like every day we got some new piece of frightening news.
We were told she was going to have trouble keeping up with kids her own age, she would be slow to learn, walk, speak. We were told for the rest of her life she would probably have trouble hearing, talking, seeing and that she would struggle in school.
I remember sitting in the doctor's office, listening to them talk about what her future would probably hold, and feeling overwhelmed by the panic. Was I strong enough to help this child? What could I possibly do? Every touch from another person robbed her tiny body of the energy she needed to develop parts of her body she would need. I remember vividly the day my daughter was first able to hold her baby. I remember desperately just wanting to hear the baby cry, which we couldn't because of all the tubes and other equipment.
At some point during that visit with the doctors, I asked what my other daughter and I could do to help. Since we couldn't even touch her, rocking her was out of the question. She couldn't swallow, so feeding her wasn't on the list. The doctor told us one thing we could do to help: read to her. It didn't matter what we read, he said. Just read. I can't give you all of the scientific reasons why reading helps premature babies develop. I just remember feeling an immense sense of relief that there was something I could do.
And so we did. Day after day, for hours at a time, we read aloud from children's books, like he Baby Blue Cat Who Said No, and Mama, Do You Love Me? We read Gila Monsters Meet You at the Airport and Minerva Louise. We read magazines and books about Egypt and the Romance Writer's Report.
My two nieces were also born prematurely, and both faced their own set of challenges when they were first born.
Thanks to the prayers of friends and family and the knowledge of the nurses and doctors in the NICU, all three of the premature babies in our family grew up healthy. All three dodged all of the things we were told could be challenges for them because they were born so early.
My nieces are adults with families of their own, and The Princess is a happy and healthy 9 year-old who not only keeps up with the kids her age, but consistently hits the honor roll and helps other kids when they have challenges with their lessons. She loves to read and writes stories of her own. I don't know if she inherited her love of stories from me, or if she developed a love of stories in the NICU, but it doesn't really matter. Wherever it came from, I'm glad she has it.
Not every family is so lucky, but every family deserves to be. Please help support the effort to raise awareness and get the kind of care premature babies need everywhere. And if you find yourself with a premature baby inside your sphere of influence, read. Read, read, read. I promise you, it will help.