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Preterm births and the NICU: The lives behind the numbers

10%

of babies born in the
U.S. are prematureref

When your baby is born early, life becomes a series of numbers. You count the ounces gained, the weeks passed, the milliliters of milk consumed. One in 10 babies is born too soon in the U.S.—and preterm birth rates have actually worsened in Minnesota’s Hennepin and Anoka counties. A review of the Premature Report Card makes it clear that there is a lot of work to be done.

For many premature babies, the numbers game is stacked against them: Their survival rates diminish based on race, ethnicity, even zip code.  

Minnesota has the resources and smarts to tackle disparities and refocus maternal health efforts.

We can do better.

November marks the March of Dimes’ Prematurity Awareness Month, so we’ve been talking to experts and changemakers in our community—maternal health advocate Dr. Rachel Hardeman and Dr. Jeanne Mrozek and Paul Harkness of the Minnesota Neonatal Foundation—to learn more about their missions to better support Minnesota families. You can hear it on our podcast, Arch Beat.

A recent Medela video shoot in Rush University’s NICU also made us think about our own  experiences. Five StoneArch families have had a child in the NICU, and while we’ve all been lucky enough to have access to excellent care—it’s still an intensely emotional experience.

One of the most powerful ways to overcome feelings of fear and isolation is knowing that you’re not alone. 

 

Here are some of our own NICU stories from StoneArch.  

Baby Kaia La Lune

“Our second child had a difficult time coming into the world during a home birth. She didn’t breathe for first the 18 minutes of her life and her first cries were in the ambulance on the way to the NICU. Because she hadn’t breathed for so long they had to put her into a coma and cool her body to minimize the trauma. She was on a cooling pad for three days and unconscious. We sat there day and night. She was there for six days, so it wasn’t the longest experience, but it still was the longest experience, if you know what I mean.

After the NICU, we still had a lot of unknowns. For her first nine months, we had to watch her very closely for any signs of permanent damage. But she’s five and a half now and so happy, healthy and creative. We now see this amazing future in a child, and it was all because of the NICU.”

– Lucas Chamberlain, Video Editor/Producer

Baby Alex

“Our first son was born full-term at 4 lbs. 12 oz. and was whisked away to the NICU almost immediately. He stayed in the NICU for eight days, and while he looked tiny compared to the babies we saw in the traditional newborn nursery, he looked huge compared to the others in the NICU. It’s a strange thing to go home from the hospital and leave your child behind, but the NICU nurses at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis were excellent. My wife was feeling pretty fragile, but the nurses poured over our son telling us how beautiful he was and gave us so much confidence. They helped her get him to latch and breastfeed and demystified breast pumping for her. Seeing them so unruffled gave us confidence and reassurance. My advice for any family experiencing the NICU would be to learn everything you can from the staff and know you’re definitely not alone. Many families have been through this and come out of the other side. Today Alex is a vibrant, active 8-year-old with lots of friends.”

– Steve Blehert, Executive Producer

Babies Will and Penny

“My twins were born just a few days shy of full-term. And while they were a healthy size, they still had a couple weeks’ stay in the NICU because of a respiratory infection. That experience, although eight years away, still feels very vivid.

I remember staring at the wall of photos previous NICU families had sent the hospital of their tiny NICU babies transformed into sturdy toddlers and grinning school kids.

Tapping into that sense of hope and vulnerability is something I try to bring to the work here. Feeling validated and seen during intense medical experiences isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s something that can really impact outcomes.

– Diana Saez, Associate Creative Director

Baby Carter

“My first son was born at 36 weeks with underdeveloped lungs and jaundice. He spent two weeks in the NICU. It was an overwhelming experience at the time, but once your child is home with you it feels like a blip on the radar. I was so grateful for how the NICU staff thoughtfully presented us with information that was very clear and laid out all the next steps—and they even set us up with a case manager who fully laid out all the resources they had available to NICU families. Then there was the NICU Lactation Consultant who spent every day with me and my son—first setting me up with a hospital-grade Medela breast pump and then, as he grew stronger, helping us figure out how to latch. If you’re a parent with a baby in the NICU, what your baby really needs is you. I remember being scared to hold him because of all the wires, but no matter how small or sick they may seem, they need your touch and comfort. But take care of yourself, too. Take a walk. Make sure you’re eating. The stronger and healthier you are, the better you’re going to be at caring for your baby.

– Jaclyn Kobienia, Senior Account Executive

Baby Jens

“My son was no preemie. In fact, he was a week late and over 9 lbs. He had a tear in his lung and it ended up in six days in the NICU. We felt guilty having such a large baby in the NICU, but he needed his oxygen monitored. Because my wife was recovering from a C-section, having the NICU caregivers there to ease us into parenthood was very reassuring. It’s personal experiences like these that really give me a sense of awe and gratitude for the important, life-saving work our clients do.

– Stew Johnson, Senior Account Executive