It’s time to become comfortable in my own skin and not be overly concerned with filling out my britches
and taking on more than I can reasonably handle at this stage in life. After all, good things come in small packages. – Barb Casper
I was born three months and four days premature and weighed in at a whopping 2.12 pounds! My mom was required to remain in bed and off her feet during much of the pregnancy. She was hospitalized for several months prior to my delivery so she could be monitored in hopes of postponing delivery for as long as possible. However, I had a much different agenda and decided to come in with a bang on July 4, 1957.
I don’t know all the specifics behind my premature delivery. Based on what I’ve been told, I would assume my Mom was suffering from preeclampsia; a condition that approximately 5% of pregnant women develop.
According to the medical literature, the exact cause of preeclampsia involves several factors. Experts believe it begins in the placenta — the organ that nourishes the fetus throughout pregnancy. Early in pregnancy, new blood vessels develop and evolve to efficiently send blood to the placenta. In women with preeclampsia, these blood vessels don’t seem to develop or function properly. They’re narrower than normal blood vessels and react differently to hormonal signaling, which limits the amount of blood that can flow through them.
The bottom line on how this affected my birth and early delivery – the lack of blood flow and nutrients could have become life-threatening for me. The situation was also very risky for my Mom due to her high blood pressure. At some point, it probably became necessary that I was “out vs. in” in order to avoid a decline in health for the two of us. My delivery was natural but, unfortunately, not so timely when it came to my physical development and readiness to meet the world head on.
I remained in the hospital in an incubator for three months postpartum while my lungs and the rest of me became stronger. Developmentally, I wouldn’t have even known how to suck, swallow and breathe at the same time at the time of my birth.
I can only imagine the stress my parents must have been under; my twin siblings were several months shy of their fourth birthday when I was born. If twins weren’t enough to deal with already; add in the concerns surrounding a very premature baby and all the medical consequences that might have been and you have a recipe for physical exhaustion and emotional stress. I was placed in an oxygen-enriched incubator at birth to assist in the management of apnea of prematurity. I’ve been told that my Dad passed out when the doctors warned that their tiny infant might have been exposed to too much oxygen and could be blind. That was just one incident, I am sure there were many more as my parents navigated the setbacks and hurdles of dealing with a preemie and the possibility of me failing to thrive.
However, even though the odds weren’t in my favor, I did survive and, eventually, thrive.
According to statistics, in the 1950s the neonatal death rate was about 20 per 1,000 live births. Neonatology as a specialty did not really emerge until the 1970s. Still today, only six percent of premature babies are being born before 28 weeks gestation. To put my birth at 27 weeks gestation and my survival into perspective, here are some 2017 outcome statistics based on babies born before 26 weeks gestation: 1
- 22% may develop a severe disability secondary to early birth.
- 24% may develop a moderate disability or special needs from premature birth.
- 34% may develop a mild disability
- only 20% of all those born at 26 weeks gestation or earlier will have no long term effects from their prematurity.
Research shows that compared to babies born at or after 39 weeks of pregnancy, babies born before 39 weeks are:
- at greater risk of being admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
- at a 20% greater risk of complications, including breathing, feeding, and temperature problems; sepsis (severe blood infection); and cerebral palsy.
- 5% more likely to have an intellectual or developmental disability.
- At a 50% greater risk for death within the first year of life.
Today I fit into what is know as the “Extreme Premature ”category which is defined as babies born before 28 weeks gestation or who have a birth weight of less than 1000g (2lbs 3oz).
I have beaten the odds and I feel very lucky to be here today. My parents told me I was so small I could fit in a shoe box when they brought me home. For quite some time, they said I slept in a dresser drawer because the crib was just too big for me. Diapering and clothing me was a challenge as I swam in newborn sizes. I am what most would consider a “miracle” baby.
I have had “big britches” to fill ever since my birth and perhaps, even while in utero. There are studies that show a stressful pregnancy and low birth-weight at delivery may impact the immune response of an individual well into adulthood. Medical studies are finding preemies who reach adulthood are more susceptible to auto-immune related diseases, have an altered immune function,2 an altered endocrine function, 3 develop primary insulin resistance, and have a lipid profile consistent with the metabolic syndrome. Preemies are also known to be more prone to coronary artery disease later in life.4 These findings suggest that in utero exposure to maternal stress and infants born prematurely or having low birth rate may have long-term negative physiological consequences. This information certainly fits me to a tee and may explain, at least in part, many of my current health issues.
As an infant, I endured and thrived against all odds. It is a well-known trait for preemies to be extremely resilient in stressful situations; when exposed to difficult challenges they often deliver despite the obstacles. I believe my stress response is inherently and genetically different than others. My own genetic makeup lends itself to seeking out difficult challenges as this is where I feel most comfortable and when I feel as if I am thriving versus simply surviving. I believe preemies are genetically imprinted while in the womb and this determines how they behave and respond to stress (there are studies that show that the genetic makeup of a fetus and its stress-response can change based on early exposure to stress). I believe my conscious response to stress as a preemie may be subconsciously impacting my health negatively today. As an adult, perhaps it is high time to realize the need for a change in my stress response and learn how to consciously control the stresses in my life. Even though the constant release of excess cortisol and adrenaline may seem commonplace and normal for my system on some subconscious level; the actual end results are not healthy.