Premature birth a terrifying experience for mom
By Kristin Stadalsky For The Herald-News November 13, 2011 10:14PM
Updated: December 15, 2011 9:52AM
November is Prematurity Awareness Month and Thursday is Prematurity Awareness Day.
For many parents and babies around the world, increasing awareness of premature births is daily mission.
More than half a million babies in the U.S. are born prematurely every year, according to the March of Dimes. It not only costs society more than $26 billion annually, it takes a toll on the families, and the babies are at risk for severe health problems and lifelong disabilities.
Every family that has gone through a premature birth has a heart-wrenching story to tell. Sharing those stories is encouraged by not only the March of Dimes, but all kinds of organizations, websites and Internet blogs.
Kristina Lowman of Channahon has had two daughters born prematurely. Lowman had preeclampsia with both pregnancies, a dangerous condition that causes a rapid rise in blood pressure and can lead to seizure, stroke, multiple organ failure and death of both mother and baby.
Her first daughter, Kailey, was born 13 weeks early, weighing just two pounds. Kailey had premature lungs, was anemic and jaundiced and had a heart murmur, acid reflux and spells of apnea. She was put on a breathing ventilator so she wouldn’t burn calories trying to breath.
At the same time, Kristina was very ill. She has very little memory of her daughter’s emergency c-section birth other than a voice that told her to keep fighting because her daughter needed her.
It was three days before Kristina was wheeled to the neonatal intensive care unit to see Kailey. She looked down at her baby and thought she looked like a Barbie.
“Her footprints looked like our thumbprints, Kristin said. “She gripped my hand. They had so many wires on her. Then the doctors came in to talk. It wasn’t a good talk.”
They had found two bleeds in Kailey’s brain, one that was grade four. Kailey could be mentally disabled, have cerebral palsy, be blind or even die. They let Kristina hold Kailey for five minutes.
When Kristina was well enough to leave the hospital, without Kailey, she had to live with her parents so she would have 24 hour-a-day care. She couldn’t drive, was very weak and was at risk for seizures.
She traveled daily to the hospital. Kailey continued to gain weight, an ounce or so at a time. Her first real feeding was a milliliter of mom’s pumped breast milk. A week later, Kailey’s weight was up 4 ounces and she was drinking 6 milliliters. Kailey’s first milestones were being held 25 minutes at a time out of the incubator; learning to suck, swallow and breathe all at once; and having Mom give her a sponge bath inside the incubator.
Before Kailey could go home, she had to reach 4.12 pounds. There were CPR classes for Kristina to take and a lot to learn from the NICU staff. She stayed at the hospital two nights to practice.
Kailey finally went home at 7½ weeks old, a month before her original due date. It was a day of so many emotions, Kristin said. She finally got to be the one to do everything for her baby. But what if something went wrong? What if she missed something or Kailey stopped breathing?
Kailey is now 8. Those early days of her life still loom large in Kristin’s memories. She will never forget them. There were many more frightening events along the way, including hernia surgeries and illnesses that most children would skate through.
With everything that happened, Kailey is a healthy little girl. She has a mild form of cerebral palsy and is only in the 5th percentile for her size. She gets weekly physical therapy and is at risk for seizures. Most of her milestones were late — she walked at 2 — but she hit them. She struggles with math at school, but she’s a great reader.
Daughter number two, Addison, was born seven weeks early because of Kristin’s preeclampsia. Addison, now four, has been much luckier health-wise than her older sister. Her birth story is one for another day.
The March of Dimes encourages parents to share their stories and wear purple this month, especially Thursday. On Kristin’s Facebook page, she shares some thoughts about what it’s like to have a baby born too early.
“Having a preemie means your venture into parenting will not be ‘normal.’ You will learn words that many people will never even hear (and thankfully so). You will learn patience you didn’t know you were capable of; you will learn true fear and faith. You will learn more about your insurance than you ever cared to know. You will be able to change a diaper standing sideways at an isolate, while avoiding wires, tubes, and I.V.s.
“You learn that the journey doesn’t stop once they leave the NICU. Your child’s NICU nurses will become like family. You will learn that all the books you read on ‘what to expect’ didn’t teach you anything that you needed to expect, and you are forced to learn as you go.
“The most valuable lesson that I learned was just how precious life is, and how fragile it can be. 17 NOV is World Prematurity Day … wear purple!”
Reach Kris Stadalsky at