Today is prematurity awareness day. It’s really prematurity awareness month, but sadly the calendar of national health observances is rather full and so prematurity, which affects 12.5% of all babies in the United States, is the #1 cause of death and disability for infants, is the harbinger of what seems like the apocalypse to so many parents, and costs $30 billion a year is boiled down to one day.
I am practically suffocated with pink for breast cancer awareness at the grocery store and if I get asked one more time if I am going to donate to prostate cancer research I’m gonna scream. Not that those two cancers, and killers of many, are not very valid reasons to raise awareness and money, but the massive public awareness about those and other very important diseases only emphasizes the relative silence about prematurity.
As I have a book, I hired a publicist to help get the word out. The word from many national news shows: “We don’t have anything planned for prematurity awareness.”
That’s right. Nothing planned. I don’t care if you talk about my book (I mean it would be nice), but I am really interested in promoting awareness, because before I delivered three premature babies and after 3 months in the NICU brought only two boys home from the hospital I had no idea prematurity was as terrible as it really is. I mean I knew it a happened a lot, I delivered many premature babies myself, but I never really appreciated the magnitude of the problem. I never appreciated the devastation. For us, the NICU stay was like a marathon through hell, but just when we got home we realized that those first 26.2 miles were just the warm up because surprise, we’re really signed up for an ultra-marathon in hell. Parting gifts include cerebral palsy and bronchopulmonary dysplasia.
So hoping that it is just my book no one was interested in and not prematurity itself, I decided to check out a few online news sources to see what stories would be posted about prematurity.
I just checked CNN.com (5:00 am EST, yes I never sleep, it is 2 am in California, but I figure the major stories for the day should be up by now). Nothing on the front page about prematurity, but I now know that Bristol Plain has somehow stumbled her way into the finals of Dancing With The Stars, Prince William proposed with his dead mother’s engagement ring (we all know how her marriage turned out, so I’m not sure that was the best idea), and KIMMY KIMMEL HAS DECLARED NOVEMBER 17th AS NATIONAL FACEBOOK UNFRIEND DAY (this part is in capitals because I am yelling). Yes, you read that right. Jimmy Kimmel makes a joke about unfriending people on Facebook and it is national news, but the #1 killer of newborns? Not so much. Not even the Health Page on CNN.com has a prematurity story. So CNN.com, as of 5 am you have an F.
I wander over to MSNBC.com. More Kate Middelton, I learn that fish apparently build mucus cocoons to fend of parasites, and that the maker of Four Loko plans to scrap caffeine. I’m not sure what Four Loko is, but with a name like that, it can’t be good for you. Prematurity? Nowhere to be found. Surely the Health section I tell myself. Well, not in the top 8 stories on the first page, although apparently sensitive fingertips make you more prone to orgasm. I will give MSNBC.com a D because at least they have a story on the lack of maternity coverage in most individual health policies. However, despite the fact that lack of maternity care during pregnancy is the #1 risk factor for prematurity in the United States they failed to even mention that aspect in the story. Sigh. I scroll through the women’s health stories in more detail. Nothing, but there is a story on two women with an incredibly rare speech disorder who have bonded over their common foreign accent syndrome. Yes, you read that right. A rare disorder affecting something like 1 in a million on the front page of the health section. Prematurity? Not news worthy.
I am getting more depressed by the minute, but I look up one more news site: ABC.com (for the only reason that Peter Jennings used to be their anchor and I loved him). All the same stories – the royal wedding, more Bristol Palin (she is going to do a safe sex PSA – please stop with her already), and the Beatles have now “Come Together” with iTunes (love that catchy double entendre you sneaky ABC.com copy editors). Yes, you guessed it. No prematurity. ABC.com, you get an F too.
I call bullshit.
How does raising awareness over the #1 killer of infants and the #1 cause of disability for children not rate at least one story? One? There are so many angles that could appeal to so many people. And these stories are SO needed, because people who don’t have preemies don’t understand, and they need to. Before I had preemies I didn’t understand, and I am an OB/GYN!
People need to know that early maternity care is the best way to prevent prematurity. That spacing out pregnancies by at least 18 months can reduce their risk of another preemie. That if they had a premature baby before, the hormone progesterone may help reduce their risk the next time around. That domestic violence can lead to prematurity. That 40% of moms who have premature babies develop postpartum depression, which can affect their baby’s development if untreated. That they need to be empowered to speak up and advocate.
Most of all, parents need to know they are not alone. Because even though prematurity affects 12.5% of babies, the virtual news blackout makes you feel like you are the only one. And since there aren’t many stories for your friends and family to read about, they kind of think you are over exaggerating.
So why do I write about prematurity day in and day out? Why do I stay up at night crafting blogs to post and op-eds to send to newpapers and magazines?
Because the people who should be writing about prematurity are not. But hey, it’s still early. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong by the end of the day. Unless of course Bristol Palin’s teen pregnancy PSA is leaked.
And Jimmy? We have a hard enough time getting people to actually pay attention to prematurity, so get your own damn day.