When I ballooned with pre-eclampsia 31 weeks into my second pregnancy, I thought my ob-gyn might prescribe daily periods of bed rest. Instead, he shocked me by saying: “We have to get that baby out — soon!”I panicked. We hadn't moved our 2-year-old, Mathilda, out of her crib yet. We hadn't discussed names or bought baby clothes. Damn it, I was in the middle of several writing assignments — I wasn't ready to have a baby!
Ready or not, my son AJ was delivered, via C-section, the next afternoon. He weighed in at just 3 pounds 6 ounces and fit neatly into my husband Tony's hand. Not that we got to hold him at first. He was whisked away (after one hearty, reassuring cry) to receive oxygen. After a lengthy assessment, he was snuggled into the incubator that would be his home for the next five weeks.
Those surreal days were filled with emotional highs and lows as we got used to life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Some days, I spent more time with my hospital-grade breast pump than I did with my son. When AJ finally came home, three weeks before his due date and still half the size of a “normal” newborn, I couldn't cuddle him enough.My story is hardly unusual — one in eight babies is born prematurely (before 37 weeks completed gestation) in the United States each year, says the March of Dimes.
Although the rate dipped slightly in 2010 (to just under 12 percent of all births), preterm birth is a serious health problem. It is the leading cause of newborn death, and preemies are at risk for long-lasting health concerns, including breathing and vision problems, cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. Generally, the earlier the baby is born, the greater the chance of serious health problems.