Today, November 17, is a day dedicated by the March of Dimes to raising awareness of the crisis of premature birth.
Back in the late 1990s, when I was in college, a family I babysat for was expecting their third child. They had two adorable redheaded daughters already, and were excited to round out their family a bit more. Little Ethan was born early--very early. I babysat for his sisters one day when their dad was visiting his wife and son in the children's hospital in Des Moines.
I was pretty naive, and didn't realize how bad things were. I asked the father when he arrived back home how things were. He seemed exhausted, scared, and sad as he told me a few things about his day visiting his tiny son in the NICU. While we talked, he had been folding and unfolding a paper napkin that he had picked up absentmindedly from the table. When the napkin was folded into quarters, he paused for a minute, then held it up to show me. "This is how big his diapers are," he said. It was incomprehensively tiny.
My family was on vacation the next week when we got a call from someone at our church, passing on the prayer request for this family. Little Ethan had died.
This is the closest I've ever come to premature birth. My children were both full-term babies with no health concerns, a fact for which I probably don't give thanks often enough. The concern and anxiety I pour into parenting my relatively normal kids gives me only the tiniest inkling of what it must be like to worry that your baby, the one you've been waiting and hoping for, planning on, might not make it.
But I'm not the person you should listen to on this topic. Please, go read Julie's (as always amazingly well told) story, and consider contributing to March of Dimes.