Preterm birth is familiar enough, though I feel like it maybe a tad over-romanticized in our culture. We have a cutesie nickname for babies born too early: preemies. And you can go into any baby clothing store and find a whole section of Preemie clothing. Preemie babies are so cute and tiny and Awwwww! Look at what tiny feet and tiny hands!
But preterm birth is not all sunshine and daisies and cute tiny baby outfits. According to the CDC, in 2012, 1 out of every 9 infants born in the United States was born prematurely -- that is, before 37 weeks gestation, which is the earliest point considered full-term. That came out to approximately 450,000 babies. (Worldwide, the estimate is 15 million, with 1.1 million dying from preterm birth complications.) That's a lot of babies born too early. And not only that, but in the US, "[p]reterm-related causes of death together accounted for 35% of all infant deaths in 2010, more than any other single cause."
35% of all infant deaths were due to preterm-related causes.
That's more than one-third. One-third of all babies that died that year died because they were born too soon.
In 2008, my Genna was one of them.
There are numerous reasons a preterm birth might happen, including infections, birth defects, diseases, external situations, and more. Most preemies, however, will survive. Approximately 90% of them, actually. The rate of preemie survival depends a lot on exactly when the babies are born.
Many people think of preemies as being born just a few weeks early -- like around 34-36 weeks. But there have been some babies born as early as 22 weeks that have survived, miraculously. This page over at Preemie Help gives a good breakdown on preemie survival statistics based on gestational age.
To give you an idea, when I was pregnant with Genna, my water broke at 21 w 5 d. Genna was born exactly 2 weeks later, at 23 w 5 d. The medical community typically starts considering a fetus viable (that is, able to sustain life) at 24 weeks, so in many cases, if the baby is born before 24 weeks, there may not be much they can do to help ensure your baby's survival. I happened to have some wonderful doctors and hospital staff who did everything they could to help Genna survive. But the fact of the matter was, her body just wasn't developed enough to even accept the breathing tubes.
It can be utterly devastating and frightening to suddenly find yourself giving birth several months early. I cannot even explain the amount of worry going on in a mother's brain and heart as she's being hooked up to monitors and IVs, seeing her baby's heart rate on a screen, and hoping against hope that, somehow, all will be well. It's so difficult to hope in this kind of situation, because there's a very fine line between the hope and the devastation. You don't want to work up your hope too much, but you don't want to resign yourself to the worst-case scenario, either. It's a very hard place to be.
If you're currently going through a preterm birth, waiting in the NICU to see if your baby survives, or if you're in that awful waiting place of living your days in the antepartum ward of the hospital, know that I am lifting you up tonight in prayer. I have been in that hard place -- feeling alone, watching the monitors blip and beep, and only breathing whenever I felt another kick in my womb. Know that I am sitting with you tonight as you hold the weight of your grief and fear, and I'm praying that you can release that fear and the tension it brings, even if just for a few moments.
If you'd like to read a few stories of other mothers who have journeyed this path, check out the following pages: