Ten percent of all pregnancies result in premature birth. Unfortunately, four out of five women arrive at the hospital too late for treatment. According to a panel of pediatricians assembled by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Meriter Hospital to establish a website on the issue, the risk for infants at the gestational age of 23-24 weeks is 50%.
For those that survive, there is still a chance that the infant will have a significant disability or handicap. These disabilities include brain abnormalities, chronic respiratory problems, or blindness. The Bureau of Reproductive and Child Health developed a fact sheet that states the earlier a baby is born, the more likely they are to develop long-term complications. They further recognize that prevention of preterm birth is imperative to pregnancy outcomes.
In 1998, I was able to overcome these statistics when I gave birth at twenty-four weeks into my pregnancy. Often I wonder what the outcome would have been if the staff at Prince George’s Hospital Center had not been trained in advanced life support for infants. Because of their training, they recognized that this infant required special care. When the birth of our baby suddenly turned into an emergency situation, it was good to know that quality care was available.
As I recall, the last minutes were like a freight train of pain ripping through my body as I lay in the hospital delivery room. The neonatologists on duty had just finished preparing me for the outcome of my baby’s premature delivery. They said that my twenty-four week old baby only had a 50/50 chance of survival because her lungs were not fully developed. In 1997, I had a miscarriage twenty-one weeks into my pregnancy, and was petrified at the thought of loosing another baby. The devastatingly empty feeling was all I could think about. I began to pray to GOD for him to watch over my new little angel.
The doctors advised me against pain medication so that the baby would have a fighting chance, however I was given injection of Betamethasone, a steroid medication to promote the development of her lungs. Moments later I pushed and could hear the faint cries of my little angel. There was sigh of relief as my husband and I looked at each other and then at the baby. The relief quickly turned to panic as a herd of nurses and doctors rushed into the delivery room. The doctors shouted out instructions, codes, numbers, and a bunch of medical terms as they quickly administered oxygen to my helpless baby and whisked her away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). All of a sudden I felt empty and began to cry.
Later that day when we went to visit the baby named Alesha, in the NICU the doctor explained that she was doing well for an infant her size. At 1 pound 7 ounces. She could easily fit in the palm of my husband’s hand. Her head was no bigger than a small lemon and the match-book size pamper that they had underneath of her bottom was too big to be properly fastened. She was every bit of a miracle! The staff made sure that my husband and I understood that Alesha would have to stay on oxygen in the hospital for a least another three months. Her condition was stable but could change for better or worse from one hour to the next, and it did.
As time dragged on, my husband, Alesha’s four siblings, and myself would make daily trips to the hospital. There were times when I would think about her so much that I went twice a day. It was such a stressful time for all of us, and it took every ounce of courage and strength to go on. Prayer and faith in God along with the support of family, friends
And the staff at the hospital helped me through the rough times. I worked from nine to five daily and I vividly remember calling the NICU during my breaks to speak with Alesha’s nurse about her condition. Sometimes she would be doing very well and other times she’d have some kind of set back or another infection. She had numerous episodes of her lungs collapsing, yeast infections, apnea, jaundice, blood transfusions and a host of other things.
Fear consumed me when I received a call from one of the NICU nurses telling me Alesha had taken a turn for the worse and that my husband and I should come to the hospital immediately. My stomach churned and my eyes welled up with tears as I telephoned my husband to say, “They want us to get to the hospital.” I managed to somehow get past the large lump of fear in my voice. When we arrived at the hospital, there were at least a team of six people hovered around Alesha’s little body trying to resuscitate her. They did it! They managed to revive and stabilize her. When the crowed cleared, we were able to briefly visit with Alesha. There were three tubes coming out of the side of her little body that were inserted to inflate her collapsed lung. Her face was covered with an oxygen mask and breathing paraphernalia and it seemed that every limb had some kind of intravenous line in it. I placed my finger in the palm of her hand and she gave it a little squeeze as if to say, “I’ll be okay mom.”
The following weeks were tiring and seemed to linger on like an unwanted rainy day. During this time we had our pastor and members of the church come to the hospital and pray over Alesha. The staff was very accommodating, supportive, and empathetic to our situation by lending an ear or a hug. They gave us the facts and continued to lend a caring ear to listen or a hug if we needed it.
Three months from her delivery date, Alesha was discharged from the NICU weighing four pounds. I carefully dressed her in a pink-flowered dress that her grandmother handmade for her. My husband and I thanked the NICU staff and bundled up our little angel to take her home.