Tomorrow (November 17) is Prematurity Awareness Day. By reading this blog, you've probably gotten a pretty good idea what a bummer prematurity is. It sucks. And it's an even bigger bummer for some families who aren't as fortunate as we to have caught a lot of lucky breaks (insert your theological understanding here).
You know, one of the weirdest things about prematurity is that most folks aren't aware of it. I remember walking into David Kidd bookstore (God rest its dying soul) and asking not one, but two employees where I would find a book on premature babies. (There were ZERO in the pregnancy/childbirth/taking care of babies section.) Neither one had, so they said, even heard of the word "preemie."
Should I be so lucky...
Premature birth, like miscarriages and infertility, I think, is one of those things that most people want to pretend doesn't exist. Heck, I want to pretend that it doesn't exist! I think that's because it is so utterly terrifying. In a way, we as humans are most vulnerable (at least in our adult phase of life) when we are creating, bearing, and birthing our young. Moms are physically vulnerable, for sure, but even dads are particularly emotionally vulnerable in the process of having children. There's just so much at stake! Even before a child is conceived, when a couple is "trying" (really, can't we find a better word?), a little piece of your heart is out there. You already love that child, even when it's more a figurative than physical being. And there's nothing you can do to protect it. Sure, when you are pregnant, there are plenty of things you can do (or not do) so as to not HARM your child, but, really, there is nothing you can do to protect him or her completely. Similarly, when you are experiencing infertility, there is nothing you can do to absolutely make it happen. If you have lots of resources or unusually generous insurance benefits, you can certainly vastly improve your chances of conceiving, but you just can't MAKE yourself (or your wife/partner) pregnant. Even as you are celebrating and hoping and praying and (hopefully) making wise choices, things are going on with your (figurative or physical) baby that you can't control. Lots of things. Are out of your control. The well-being of the "thing" you love the most. Is out of your control.
Welcome to parenthood, kids. The terror never fully leaves you. But most parents, I think, live in a little bit (or a lot) of denial, thinking that they can protect their child, thinking that nothing truly horrible could possibly happen to this child, their child.
One of the hidden blessings of prematurity, then, is that you have to leave that denial behind you very early on. I think most parents learn that lesson eventually, but from the moment that, at 15 weeks gestation, we knew there was a problem with our pregnancy, with our child, we lost that naivete. (Granted, being a chaplain and having an anxiety disorder, I probably already spent more time dwelling on the dark what-ifs than most young moms.) I had done everything "right," and something still went wrong, very wrong. And even though my little girl is doing well now, her prematurity has left deep tracks on my soul.
So I'm aware of prematurity. And once you become aware -- really, deeply, soul-rendingly aware -- you don't ever become un-aware. It's like the Skin Horse's lesson in The Velveteen Rabbit. Once you are loved into real-ness, you are always real. And once you become aware of prematurity, you realize that it's not some rare, isolated occurrence. It is, unfortunately, everywhere. Sure, there are certain demographics in which prematurity is more common (if you are too poor to get pre-natal care, for example, you are more likely to have a premature baby), but it really does cut across all socio-economic and cultural lines. And it's prevalent. Waaaay too prevalent. As in, 1 in 8 babies in the U.S. is born premature (before 37 completed weeks of gestation). That's 543,000 babies a year. That's almost 1,500 preemies born each day in our country. That's a lot of itty bitties like Becca. Okay, not quite like Becca. But like Becca.
So tomorrow (or today, more likely), on Prematurity Awareness Day, join us preemie moms, dad, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends in being aware. Be aware of our kids and their painful introduction to the world. Be aware of the struggles that many of us face and will continue to face due to our babies' premature birth. Be aware of the pregnant women around you, and be kind to them! (It's amazing how many people will watch a hugely pregnant woman stand for lack of seating or struggle to lift something they probably shouldn't be hauling around without even offering to help. C'mon! These women are growing a person, for goodness' sake!) Be aware of the nurses, doctors, and therapists who are working day and night (literally!) to keep these babies alive and improve their long-term quality of life. Be aware of the researches who have committed their professional life to making sure that every baby gets his or her full 40 weeks in the womb. And if in being aware, you are so moved to help, please donate here.*
Becca -- and her mommy and daddy and Bear and paci (fa-ci) and Elmo and Bunny Blankey and Froggie Girl and Baby and Lamby ("Nam-a-nam") and other Lamby and Blankey ("Bane-ty") and Kitty Blankey and Kitty Paci -- will be ever so grateful.
*As an added bonus, your contribution may count for even more! I can't find the information on the web right now, but I swear I got something saying that from now until the end of the year, the March of Dimes Board of Trustees has vowed to match every penny given! If that's true, and I'm not just dreaming, your gift is doubly helpful!