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From 24 weeks to 24 years

November 17, 2015

24th birthday

Another birthday. They say your “golden” birthday is when you turn the age of the day of your birth, so technically Isaac and Molly celebrated that golden birthday seven years ago. But this one seems more golden or magical or full circle somehow. My 24-weekers are 24 years old. How did that happen?!?

Ok. I know how it happened. I blinked.

Today was a rather low-key day. We’re having our official celebration tomorrow because Ike had to work tonight (at his new job—note the almost put together tux). Don’t worry, they got a couple of little treats throughout the day, but the presents will come tomorrow, when almost everyone will be around, except the college boy. If you had asked me 24 years ago if a MikeAndOllie birthday (or any day) would be low key, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I didn’t believe much that day, which was anything but low key. I’d been in the hospital for 11 days, trying to stave off labor with mind-warping tocolytic drugs. We thought I had settled in for the long haul, though that was wishful thinking. Isaac’s amniotic sac had ruptured and, in most cases, that results in delivery within a week. My contractions had started up again that Sunday, but I ignored them as much as possible, wishing them away, trying desperately to believe there could be power in denial.

Isaac shoved his way into the world—bruised, bloody, and not breathing—at 7:01 p.m. Initial APGAR score—0 out of 10. Our family lore has it that he convinced Molly to follow 28 minutes later, and that that was the last time he has ever won an argument with her.

Family lore aside, I remember each and every minute of that day while I was conscious. The thing is, I wasn’t conscious the whole time. After Ike was born, my labor shut down completely. Kenn thought it would be a great idea to “leave the other baby in there to cook a little longer.” My medical team disagreed, saying we would assuredly lose the pregnancy and possibly my uterus. They knocked me out for a possible emergency c-section that was avoided. I’m glad I wasn’t awake for those particular details.

When I woke again in the recovery room, I learned that Molly had joined her “big” brother at 7:29. Kenn wanted me to go up to the ISCU to see them as soon as possible, just in case they didn’t make it through the night. Unfortunately, I went into shock, complete with vomiting and the shakes from head to toe. More drugs and I was gone for 12 hours of delirious nightmares. I didn’t get to meet my daughter until the next day.

So it seems somehow appropriate that we are celebrating on the day after their birthday this year, since their actual birth day was not celebratory.

In some ways, 24 years is a long time ago in terms of the care of extremely premature infants. Isaac and Molly are two of the oldest surviving 24-weekers. Those 11 days I spent in the hospital increased their chance of survival approximately 2-3% each day. In other ways, not a lot has changed for 24-weekers in all that time; it’s still a frightening and precarious way to begin life. According to the March of Dimes, 50-60% of babies born at 24 weeks survive—daunting odds. Some studies indicate that as many as 54% of surviving 24-weekers develop moderate to severe developmental disabilities.

We know we are lucky. We know we benefitted from incredible care at the Evanston Hospital Infant Special Care Unit (NICU). I write a birthday post on this blog every year to remind myself to celebrate.

I also write to remind everyone that, in addition to being Isaac and Molly’s birthday, November 17 is World Prematurity Day. More than 15 million babies are born prematurely every year. If you want to help us celebrate, consider helping the effort to prevent prematurity worldwide. The March of Dimes is a good place to learn more.

Happy birthday, Ike and Molly. You (and your brothers) are still the best birth day presents I can imagine.

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