On the topic of awareness months, November is also Prematurity Awareness Month and tomorrow, November 14th, is Prematurity Awareness Day. Prematurity is on-topic for an infertility blog because there is a higher rate of premature babies born to infertile parents due to a number of reasons--multiple births from fertility treatments, clotting factors that lead to IUGR or preeclampsia, or weakened cervixes (I truly, truly, truly hate the term "incompetent cervix"). The same problems that can keep you from becoming pregnant can also keep you from carrying to term.
Over half a million babies will be born prematurely in America this year and the same organization--the March of Dimes--that funded the cure for Polio has now taken on preventing prematurity since preterm birth is now the number one killer of newborns. They have set up a page on their website to help you participate in taking action for Prematurity Awareness Month.
They have letters you can send to editors of local papers and an email that can be forwarded to friends and family to promote awareness. They have set up coin centers around America and you can find a coin center in your town and donate your change. All around America, people will be dressed in pink and blue (including my twins--I've already placed the outfits on the top of their dresser) tomorrow in order to show visible support for the March of Dimes.
Why this cause is so close to my heart: my twins were born prematurely at almost 34 weeks (33 weeks and 6 days, but I feel like rounding up). At 32 weeks, my OB became concerned because the twins were suddenly measuring smaller on the sonogram. He decided to repeat the sonogram a few weeks later to check whether or not the sonographer was off in her measurements or there was cause for concern.
The day before the sonogram, Josh was in a car accident (which is why we both no longer use our cell phones in the car). The car was totalled, but Josh thankfully walked away with mostly cuts and brusises and what they thought was a detached retina. I was on partial bed rest, so after a quick trip to the emergency room to check on him, I was sent home and my parents spent the day with him at the hospital. Can you imagine the day my brother had trying to babysit me? Many curse words and crying were his thanks for keeping me company.
The next morning, I went to the sonographer with my mother while Josh attended more doctor appointments with his parents. The sonographer was very quiet and finally said, "has your doctor ever spoken to you about IUGR?" He had never used that term before, though I had seen it on a write up between the sonographer and the OB from the prior appointment. He sent me off to the OB where I was promptly told not to get undressed or even give my urine sample. I was to go straight to the hospital because the babies needed to come out. Today.
Josh and his parents met us at the hospital and they ran one last sonogram to determine whether the babies had stopped growing. This sonographer estimated them each to be a healthy 5 pounds. The high-risk OB on duty at the hospital bit her lip for a while, trying to decide what to do about these two conflicting sonograms and the information from my OB. She finally decided to do an internal exam to check on the status of things and exclaimed, "Melissa! Didn't you know that you're in active labour?"
Well, no. I didn't. Because apparently my body does nothing by the book. Morning sickness and vomiting continued until the day I delivered. I never had breast changes. And, apparently, my contractions were never regular. Though I had been having contractions--sometimes 8 or 10 an hour--for two days, I didn't think it was labour because they weren't evenly spaced. I could go an hour or two with only one contraction and then have several hours where they came every few minutes.
And my doctor told me to call him when they were regular.
And I think my mind was in other places the day before, right?
Every labour is an emotional labour. But I couldn't stop crying because I wasn't ready to not have them with me anymore. I'm going to be honest--I'm a selfish person. And for all those months, the babies were entirely mine. I felt them and I had them with me wherever I went. And once they were out of my body, they were not only going to be shared with many people, but they were going to start walking down a road that contained things like independence. And self-determination.
But as much as I wanted to keep them right beneath my heart forever, they had to come out. I delivered my twins nine minutes apart. My daughter came out first and they held her up for a moment before they let Josh cut the cord. She was raced out of the room and I called out her name for the first time ever for all the doctors and nurses to hear.
My son was born nine minutes later and I didn't even get a chance to peek at him beyond a quick sighting of his screaming, wriggling body being given to one of the NICU nurses. They took him away without letting Josh cut the cord.
And then we were alone.
I still get emotional when I see those early pictures. They were tiny. My son was 2 pounds 15 ounces. Unlike most babies, he only dropped a few ounces during his NICU stay. There was no weight to lose! My daughter was 4 pounds 2 ounces, but she dropped down 3 pounds and a few ounces over the course of the first week. At first they were fed by IV, but they graduated to an ng tube and finally learned how to suck on a bottle. Feeds in the beginning took around 45 minutes to give them one ounce.
Their brains were immature, so they sometimes "forgot" to breathe. Their apnea episodes led to bradycardia where their hearts would slow down. They both came home on heart monitors that were a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we had a machine that would alert us if they ever stopped breathing or their heart stopped beating. On the other hand, we had sweaty, drool-encrusted children who set off false alarms on the monitor every time the leads became damp. The monitors were also the weight of a newborn child so when I had to pick up both babies and sling the monitors over my shoulders, it was like carrying four children at once. My arms got such a work out. I was riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiipped.
The twins are now two-years-old and doing much better. I am eternally grateful to the NICU and the excellent care they received during their stay. But I'm also grateful to the March of Dimes who fund the research that create the advances that save the children who are born too soon. So when you go to your grocery store this week and you drop your change in that March of Dimes box, know that you're helping people like my children. Who are their sassaholic and delicious selves due to the good work of the March of Dimes and those NICU neonatologists and nurses.