An Ounce of Prevention - When an ounce can make ALL the difference

>> Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Today is National Prematurity Awareness Day. As part of the effort to raise awareness the March of Dimes has invited bloggers to join the fight and share a post related to prematurity. While I haven’t been able to read every post yet there are some truly amazing and awe inspiring stories there. Some truly heartbreaking ones also. What you won’t find just yet is Cassie’s story. There are several reasons beginning with the fact that I just can’t write it yet. Almost four years later and the words really still don’t come. I wonder if they ever will.

There is, however, a story that I can share. A story that is decidedly less than awe inspiring but one that I hope can have a positive effect despite the pain and shame involved.

You see, I am NOT one of those Moms who did everything right and had a baby born early through no fault of her own. Cassie’s early birth was my fault. I smoked, had high blood pressure, and did not stop working when my doctors urged me to. Shocking isn’t it? I mean we all know there are some women who treat pregnancy that way, but they are the low income, undereducated, disadvantaged, “welfare” moms right?? “Those” moms. Not a college educated woman who grew up in the “right” neighborhood, went to the “right” private schools, who has insurance and access to the best of care??? THAT kind of Mom would never risk the health of a child like that!....Would she?

And yet it was all so easy. I mean I had smoked since I was 11 years old. I’d already had three perfectly healthy boys despite being a smoker and it wasn’t like I smoked much – just a few cigarettes a day. That’s not really that bad is it? The same went for my blood pressure. Yes I had had issues with my blood pressure during each of my pregnancies but my kids were perfectly healthy and nothing bad happened right? And stop working?? Were they kidding me? I felt FINE and who was going to feed my family and keep a roof over their head? This was just all a case of the doctors being cautious and covering their asses wasn’t it? Since I felt fine it was just all so easy to gloss over and dismiss.

Until it wasn’t.

That day was January 4,2007, 25.1 weeks into my pregnancy. By this point I had given in and taken leave from work but because I wanted to spend the holidays with my family I had insisted there was no reason to be hospitalized if I tracked my own blood pressure and saw the high risk OB as often as she wanted. On the fourth she sent me for a detailed ultrasound. I was sooo ridiculously excited! You would not have believed my completely naïve joy at finding out that we were having a girl! Our fourth child was going to be a girl!

And then suddenly (to me anyway, not so suddenly to my medical team I’m sure) things began to circle the drain. The doctor viewing the ultrasound determined that the blood flow in Cass’s umbilical cord was reversing, and that she hadn’t grown since the last ultrasound. They sent us to the hospital where they began to monitor and it was determined that things were going to happen soon. The doctors talked to us and began what was supposed to be the first of several steroid shots to help mature Cass’s lungs over the next few weeks in case she came early. When they left the cubicle after explaining all this Mike and I sat in stunned silence and then began discussing how we were going to t handle me being admitted for a few weeks only to have the team come running back in because they Cass had started to fail. We were on our way to the OR so quickly that almost everything else is a blur. The few things I remember clearly though are forever etched in my soul. The neonatologist that came in to give the emergency run down of what we could expect saying that Cass was measuring so small that they simply did not know if she would even be big enough for them to tube her.

Her final words were “It really all is going to depend on your daughter”

Depend on my daughter? No! It wasn’t supposed to depend on my daughter! I was the one who was supposed to be carrying her and keeping her safe! Wait…Oh no…I was the one charged with keeping her safe and I freaking failed! I didn’t pay attention. I thought I was exempt! No! Stop! PLEASE don’t let this be happening!! I’m SORRY – I didn’t understand! I’ll do it better now!

The problem is that in real life this story doesn’t end with me waking up, throwing open the windows, and shouting my joy at my newfound lease on life and second chance. In real life a 1lb 3oz child is born fighting for every breath. In real life we spend months hanging over an isolette begging our daughter to live one more minute – take just one more breath. That’s where my story ends and Cassie’s begins.

Why do I share this now on Prematurity Awareness Day? Why not share Cassie’s incredible success due in such a large part to the research supported by the March of Dimes? Because if we are truly going to “Fight for Preemies” then we need to support the MOD’s most important mission. Their mission to educate and help PREVENT prematurity. Prevent it so that no child has to fight the fight that Cassie and so many other children fight. Prevent it so that no parent is EVER left with empty arms due to prematurity.

I would love to be that Mom who did everything right and just had a baby prematurely due to circumstances beyond her control. I’d give anything to have held Cassie to term and not have dealt with prematurity at all.

Before people respond with reassurances that there’s no way to be sure my actions caused Cassie to come early, that I’m a great Mom and need to forgive myself…I know and I have. After everything else she has been through and will struggle with Cass does NOT need a mother wallowing in guilt. But forgiving myself is not the same as denying responsibility. There were things that I did and decisions I made that contributed to Cass’s early birth. The doctors never really did give me a full explanation. It could have been my undiagnosed heart issues (I had a heart attack several months later), my body could have reacted badly to all the blood pressure meds I was on etc… More than likely it was a combination of all of those things. Quitting smoking or taking leave earlier might not have guaranteed I brought Cassie to full term but it could have added a few days or weeks and a few more ounces and that would have made a world of difference in her struggle.

So my hope in sharing this today is that we all give consideration to the fact ALL prospective parents need to be educated on how to care for themselves and their future children, and ALL parents need to fully understand the risks involved. The education and outreach that is such a strong part of the mission of the March of Dimes isn’t only meant for the welfare office or the crack addict down the street. It is meant for your sister, your wife, and your best friend. If you know and love someone who seems to mistakenly believe it doesn’t mean them, that they know what they are doing, please share my story with them.


Sally G November 17, 2010 at 9:04 PM  

Thanks for sharing your story x

I just love the first picture, she looks like she's smiling =)

Susan Bearman November 17, 2010 at 11:37 PM  

I've read a lot of posts today in honor of Prematurity Awareness Day, and this is by far the bravest one I have read. I takes a brave woman and a good mother to own up to her responsibility and to share her darkest secrets in public to spread such an important message. I honor you for that and wish the best to you and your family.

My twins were born at 24 weeks and today are celebrating their 19th birthday. I hope I have done something during their lifetime as brave as you have done today. I know your daughter will be proud.

MoDLin November 18, 2010 at 12:23 PM  

I am in awe of your courage and honesty. This post is incredibly revealing and should make many women think, "Wow, this could be me."
Thank you, thank you for telling it like it was, for shining a spotlight on our denial, for telling us all how important it is to be in tune with our bodies and to listen to our docs.
This is a superb post.

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