Today is World Prematurity Day and about 450,000 babies are born too soon in the United States every year, according to the March of Dimes. My own personal experience with this heartbreaking fact came in 2002 when my daughter was born 6 weeks early due to preeclampsia, something I had never heard of until my doctor said those words to me at what was supposed to be a normal third trimester checkup. After being induced and delivering my daughter, I got a quick look at her before she was taken to the NICU to receive the support she needed to survive.
The whole experience was a blur. I felt like I couldn't grasp what was happening and it didn't seem real. The amount of medicine I was on probably didn't help my out of body experience feeling. Fast forward to today and my oldest daughter is healthy and taller than me! I feel I am one of the lucky ones. She was 6 weeks early, not 16 weeks, and she was able to go home after 10 days. Still, it was a traumatic experience that stayed with me long after we got her home and was the elephant in the room when I got pregnant with my second child.
It was not until many years later when I decided to pursue a career in the field of child life that I realized how different my experience would have been had there been the support of a child life specialist available during mine and my daughters hospitalization. I would have loved someone who could have talked to me about the loss I felt not being able to hold my child for the first 2 days, to have offered therapeutic activities to help me process my emotions and fear as I lay in the hospital bed not able to walk because of the meds I was on and to have prepared me for the NICU itself, with all the tiny babies and beeping machines. I would have loved the opportunity to be a part of a NICU support group, which are run by child life specialists in many hospitals, instead of having the alienating experience of seeing parents in the same state of shock as you but never speaking as you pass in and out of the NICU at different times.
The work of the child life specialist in the NICU setting is crucial and it is wonderful to see more hospitals recognizing the important role we can play in the support of the infant and the whole family. To those of you who play this important role, thank you. To those of you working in a hospital without child life support in the NICU, let your hospital hear your voice about the importance of your role to the families experiencing premature birth. To those of you who have experienced having a baby born too early, sending you healing thoughts and strength.
To learn more about premature births and ways to help visit the March of Dimes website at http://www.marchofdimes.org