I remember a sea of tubes, machines and flashing lights. I remember worried voices, many prayers and tears. I don’t recall what he looked like, I don’t remember actually seeing him amidst the medical mayhem that surrounded his tiny body. My brother was born at approximately 26 weeks, in 1972. He was never actually weighed on his birth day – too tiny, too sick, and too prone to forgetting to breathe. He clinically died three times in the first hour of his life. It was a mighty battle, fought hardest by this small and seemingly insignificant boy.
I didn’t get to hold him until he was nearly 6 months old – a heartache for this big sister who loved to ‘mother’ her three younger brothers. I can’t imagine how this was for my parents, especially my mother. She had never been successful in breastfeeding any of us, but for this very premature baby, she spent hours, days and weeks attached to a hospital-grade breast pump, desperately gleaning whatever milk she could – anything that might give him an edge, a little more strength. Finally a wise doctor told her she’d done enough.
When my brother was 6 months old, we moved countries. He had a myriad of physical delays and challenges. There was a new therapy method my mother wanted to try, and the creators of it were in New Zealand. I remember waking up at sunrise, around 4am, to steal candy from the general store we ran there. I always found my mother working on my brother’s body – moving and stretching limbs, massaging, patterning his movements in the hope of making connections in his brain.
Throughout his childhood, severe respiratory episodes put his life in danger several times a year. I couldn’t ever boss him around quite as much as my other brothers, in case it triggered an attack (although he would dispute this!). I spent hours on the floor next to him, doing breathing exercises, trying to calm his body and his lungs, always hoping to avoid the next hospital stay.
The before and after photos you see of premature babies, especially around this time of year, don’t tell the story of the intervening years. My brother is now a strong, 6’2” cattle rancher. He is a husband, and a father of three amazing kids. He can do anything, build anything, lift anything. He’s strong and vibrant and powerful.
15 million babies are born too soon every year. One million of them don’t make it. A large proportion of the others face years of health challenges and disabilities. There is a massive cost to families, not just financially, but in heartache and sacrifice. I wouldn’t change a thing about my brother, but we would have done anything as a family not to have had those many years of battling for his life.
Take Action Challenge
Join #WorldPrematurityDay on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WorldPrematurityDay. Add your own shout-out to a courageous baby and their family and check out the continuing conversation. You can join the March of Dimes to get involved year round, to help prevent more babies being born too soon.