Having a premature baby or babies is like being welcomed into an exclusive club that you never wanted to join. Whatever vision you for your birth and the early days of your new family are suddenly replaced by jarring alarms, bright lights, and the overpowering smell of hospital disinfectant. At a time when all you want to do is hold your babies close, it may be hours, days, or weeks until you're able to have them in your arms. A premature baby comes into a world that she and her family are often ill-equipped to handle. In a world of wires, tubes, and medical professionals, one of the hardest parts of parenting a premature baby can become coping with the feeling of uselessness you may experience. It's a humbling experience, seeing how strong these impossibly small infants are, when some days each new breath is a victory.
This photo was taken two weeks after my triplets were born, and was the first time they all together since their birth. It was also a day before one of my daughters had surgery to correct a PDA, a congenital heart defect common in babies born prematurely. Though a procedure that is performed frequently, the thought of your tiny, 2lb. baby having surgery is nerve-wracking to say the least and the fear of complications are always present. When the NICU nurses snapped this picture, I couldn't help but wonder if this would be the only photo of all three that we'd ever have.
The challenge of parenting a preemie doesn't end when they are discharged. Each follow up clinic, new cold, or impending developmental milestone can be fraught with tension as you wait anxiously to see how your little one will do with the latest in a long line of challenges. As my children approach their fifth birthday, it's staggering looking back on the number of tears that have been shed, specialists they've seen, and physical and emotional scars we all carry.
World Prematurity Day, which takes place yearly on November 17, provides a opportunity to call global attention to the rising incidences of preterm birth (before 37 weeks). There are about 380,000 babies born prematurely in the U.S. each year and an estimated 15 million worldwide, including a vast majority of multiples. According to the March of Dimes, the average gestational age of twins at birth is 35 weeks, 33 weeks for triplets, and 29 weeks for quadruplets. And with each preterm birth, a parent of a preemie is also born. It can be an isolating and heart-wrenching journey, but steps are taken every day to improve the care and outcomes for premature babies and their families. Today we honor those born prematurely, their families, and those who work tirelessly to care for and support the smallest among us.