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November 17, 2019

World Prematurity Day

Today is World Prematurity Day, and if you don't have a preemie in your life, chances are, you may not know about this day. I didn't, 8 years go.

Nearly 8 years ago, on a mild week at the end of January 2012, at 30 weeks pregnant, I became suddenly and severely ill. Being my first pregnancy, I knew only to trust my intuition and the expertise of the doctors and nurses who took great care to ensure I, and our baby, would survive. 

I would learn within hours that I had developed HELLP syndrome, a rare, and potentially life-threatening condition that is brought on by pregnancy. And so, less than 24 hours after being admitted, Isabelle was born prematurely, via emergency c-section, at 30 weeks gestation: 1120grams but with a fight for life. 

According to the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation, it is estimated "15 million babies are born preterm annually worldwide. That means 1 in 10 babies is more premature." Isabelle was considered a very preterm baby (28-32 weeks of gestation), but there are much smaller babies, too, some being extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks of gestation). 

It wasn't the birth plan we ever considered, especially for our first baby. And we didn't expect a 63 day NICU stay, either. But as Isabelle was born preemie, we immediately became preemie parents. 

We learned to celebrate every single day (and I actually have photos of her growth with signs every single day). We relished the time we got to hold her, change her, bath her, see her without tubes and wires. It's these little moments you take for granted as parents.

After we transferred hospitals, we became acting nurses -- we knew the acronyms, the beeps, we could identify a particular cry, and together with the medical team, we all waited patiently (and sometimes anxiously) until the day Isabelle could come her home. Truth is: we all grew together.  

"Graduation Day" is a very important day for a preemie family, and it could look different for everyone. For us, it came 9 weeks after Isabelle was born, when her doctors and nurses were confident she was strong and healthy. We were also strong and healthy; my condition was slowly reversing itself postpartum, and we had received 9 weeks of expert training on how to take care of a baby. 

Honestly, sometimes we felt spoiled. 

Ironic, I know.

And as we prepared to leave the NICU where we had spent hundreds of hours, it wasn't Isabelle who was crying. We were so filled with emotion and gratitude; I'm tearing up writing this, as I do every year. 

The Canadian Premature Babies Foundation has released a new video in honour of World Prematurity Day that captures Graduation Day for preemie parents. I invite you to watch, and if you're so inclined to donate to the cause. The funds raised will go to support and education provided to families with premature babies before, during and after their time in the NICU. And if there is a preemie parent who needs to talk, or just have someone to listen, please don't hesitate to reach out.

In honour of all preemies and preemie parents, please join me today by wearing purple for World Prematurity Day!

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