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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The One Time I’ll Admit to Being a Cheerleader

It’s November and everyone’s cheering on their favorite football team and showing their support by wearing their team’s colors and jerseys.  But for me there’s another team I’m cheering for and their color is purple.  I’m cheering for the researchers who are making strides every day to end prematurity for good.  I’m cheering for the doctors who treat our preemies and turn their stories from hopeless to hopeful and I’m cheering for the parents of preemies who are hurled into an unknown and frightening world and come out stronger than they ever thought they could be.  This is my team and though I root for them every day, month in and month out, November is the month we’ve chosen to recognize them through World Prematurity Month. 

Every year 15 million babies are born too soon and 1 million of those babies die.  Yet something so common, something that happens every day, here and around the world, is completely lost on the majority of us.  So as not to seem as if I’m blaming anyone for not realizing prematurity’s reach, if you had asked me 5 years ago what or where the NICU was in a hospital I would have given you a blank stare.  If you had told me having a baby at 40 weeks should never be a given, I would have laughed and said, not me.  Today I can’t even imagine life absent of fears and heartache prematurity can bring.

Our family has been living with prematurity since 2010.  Our middle son, now 4 years old, was born at 26 weeks, weighing 2lbs, 3 oz.  Our youngest son, born at 32 weeks, died 4 short days after he was born.  We’ve got both sides of prematurity covered in our small family, the good and the bad.  And those of us who have had preemies know they’ll always be preemies.  It’s not just a term for a baby born too early, it’s a lifetime of ups and downs, struggles and fear, joy and heart ache. 

So selfishly I wonder why prematurity is still such a novice idea to those outside of the tight knit preemie world.  And for those who realize how much we are all affected by prematurity, where are the concerted efforts to build support, educate and raise money to fund more research to end this for good?

Now don’t get me wrong, I recognize and appreciate the amazing strides that have been made thus far to stop prematurity.  I consider my 4 year old a success story. He made it out of the NICU in three months and if you look at him, you’d never tell he had such a rough start.  But get to know him and you’ll learn of his multiple hospital stays with chronic lung issues, seizures, catching colds and viruses every other week and his struggle just to play out his life as normally as any other four year old. But, as appreciative I am for the medical procedures that saved him, they still couldn’t save our youngest son, Bennett.   I KNOW there is so much more we could be doing if only people recognize the enormous need.

And before you start to tell yourself it couldn’t or wouldn’t happen to you, it can.  It happened to us twice even though we had phenomenal medical care and did all the right things, it still happened.  My husband and I are doing everything we can to help stop prematurity but we can’t do it alone.  Hands down the best day will be when our team wins and we can proudly wear our purple and know the victory our team pulled off was the ultimate game changer. 
By Sara Raak

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