Let Women Choose to Understand Prematurity

This month’s contributor is Gina Schroeder of Phoenix, AZ. A professional make-up artist, Gina is Mom to two preemies—Haley, born at 31 weeks, and Brendan, born at 36 weeks. In this month’s blog, she tells us about having Haley at 31 weeks.

Let women choose to understand prematurity.

Of all the books I read about pregnancy, nothing prepared me for the shock of delivering prematurely. My doctor didn’t talk to me about prematurity. Even when I was as my doctor’s office with pelvic pain, we didn’t talk about premature birth. They told me to get off my feet, but didn’t tell me why. A few weeks later, with more severe symptoms, they told me I was at risk for preterm labor, but nobody explained what that meant. They did a test, but didn’t tell me why. They simply said that if it comes back positive, they would admit me to the hospital. They still didn’t tell me about prematurity and what that could mean. It was negative at 24 weeks. My doctor repeated it at 26 weeks. It was positive, and she admitted me to the hospital.

I am at 26 weeks. I’m in the hospital. I’m undergoing the scariest thing I have ever experienced. We have the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) team telling us what will happen if I deliver at 26 weeks. This was the first time anybody has talked to us about our baby being born prematurely—the NICU team telling us the possible outcomes and the risks to my baby—a terrifying experience when you are in the middle of this crisis. They gave me steroid shots to help my baby’s lungs develop. I was put on the medications magnesium sulfate and terbutaline to stop and control the contractions. Every week that I made it without giving birth, the NICU doctor would come and go over the plan if my baby was born during that week.

At 31 weeks, my blood pressure spiked and my legs swelled. The next thing I knew everyone was rushing around trying to get me prepped for an emergency C-section. They said they had to get her out NOW because I had developed preeclampsia and HELLP (Hemolysis Elevated Liver enzymes) syndrome, both of which are life threatening to my baby and me.

On June 22nd, 2007, my daughter Haley was born at 31 weeks via C-section. She weighed 4lbs and measured 17 inches long. She needed the CPAP for the first 24 hours but after that she was breathing well on her own. The doctors told me how lucky I was to have such a big baby! Apparently 4lbs at 31 weeks is considered LARGE. I could not see or hold her for the first 48 hours, as I was extremely SICK. I just put in all this work carrying her and I wasn’t even able to hold or see my baby! I thought that had to be the worst experience ever. Until I went home without her and found that to be much harder.

I ended up staying in the hospital for almost 7 weeks starting at 26 weeks into my pregnancy. But going home after 7 weeks without getting to take my baby girl home was just devastating. Much worse than passing a gallstone less than 24 hours after giving birth (which felt like I was giving birth, again!).

Much worse than getting 2 blood transfusions because my blood count was so bad. I never dreamed I would go home without my baby. I am certain this was a major contributor to the post-partum depression that started when I was home without Haley.

Haley was a rock star in the NICU. She was breathing on her own, keeping good stats. She just needed to feed on her own. She spent a total of 16 days in the NICU and then I was able to bring her home. Bringing home a baby that was just 4lbs was terrifying. During my hospital stay, the doctors tried to prepare us for the lifelong problems that she could have. But we were among the lucky ones—she hasn’t had any complications from being preterm. She developed right on track.

Still, if I really understood premature labor and premature birth when it was happening to me, maybe I wouldn’t have been so scared. If I had any understanding of this, maybe I would have listened to my husband when he insisted I stay off my feet and not go to the grocery store, not keep trying to take care of our lives.

As a Mom, you will do everything, anything you can to help your child. When you know you are at risk for having a premature baby, you’ll do anything to keep them out of the hospital. I didn’t get that chance. I hope that other women will get that chance.

Women need to have the choice of knowing about prematurity and their risk of delivering early. Why aren’t we talking about this? We get this choice regarding genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome. Give us the same choice about prematurity.

It’s my pregnancy. It’s my baby. It’s my choice. Let women choose to understand prematurity.