The global toll of preterm birth is harsh. We estimate that worldwide, 13 million babies are born too soon each year. More than 1 million of these premature babies die before their first birthday. Here is a story from one of our friends in England, Honeybee Mum.
My girl was born in Africa at 26 weeks. We don’t know what she weighed, nobody bothered to check. We do know she had a 1 minute APGAR of 8. Then she was put outside on a table to die. After 6 hours they realized she was still breathing and ventilated her. In a shared crib. After 5 weeks she was sent home to die, in order not to clutter up the hospital. Shocking? Yes, but not so very far adrift from many preemies’ arrival all round the world. Including ‘western’ preemies.
My girl’s determination, strength and character shine through all of this. 6 years later she has a list of diagnoses that scare many medical professionals. She attends mainstream school, and speaks or understands several languages. She defies the odds at every turn. And yet our frequent blue-light rides in her ‘special van’ (ambulance) terrify us every time. When she’s lying blue-grey on the floor and I can’t find her pulse – again – I am at my most distraught.
My girl wants to be a dancer. A chef. A paramedic. She wants to build houses and paint. She wants to walk like her friends. She wants her body to work properly. She wants to be able to feed herself. To have a wash by herself. And a thousand other little-huge dreams. She roars with frustration and anger, then reaches deep and finds the strength to try again and again and again. I learn from her. I learn most of all to share a love of life lived in the moment, all the while holding onto dreams of the future. Dream big and aim high. Meanwhile do what you can today. My girl has taught me this.
I was going to write about the poignancy of driving miles to a hospital that hopes it can cope with her needs, on World Preemie Day. I was going to stop harping on about the history and the past. But while our babies are still demanding to come early into the world, their stories need to be told. Over and over again, until the unaffected world leaders begin to listen and hear their (silent) shouts for equity. For the care and attention that should be their birthright, their due. For the tables and waiting places to be taken away for ever. For their ongoing needs to be addressed and supported. For proper research, at the point of prematurity and on and on into the future lives of the ‘unlucky’ ones. Because yes, some come away unscathed. The few and far between ones. The lucky ones. Their terror journey has ended. For so many of us, the rollercoaster will continue to an unthinkable ending.
This problem is truly global, affecting families everywhere. Although the vast majority of preterm births and related deaths occur in poor countries, families in wealthier nations are also at risk of having a baby born preterm. In fact, the number of premature babies born in the United States has increased 36 percent over the last 25 years.
The March of Dimes partners with organizations around the world to raise awareness of the problem of premature birth. Today, November 17, 2011 — World Prematurity Day — we are making a global effort to draw attention to the global crisis.
Our global alliance partners include the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants (EFCNI), Little Big Souls International Foundation in Africa and the National Premmie Foundation in Australia. We welcome inquiries from organizations who are interested in supporting these efforts.