November 17th is Prematurity Awareness Day. Or is it?

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.

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12 Responses to November 17th is Prematurity Awareness Day. Or is it?

  1. JessieLeigh says:

    Thank you for this. So, so true. Sad, but true. I wonder what it would take to make enough waves to really be heard and spread the word about prematurity? Happy to join you today in Blogging For Prematurity.

  2. Deborah says:

    I’m with you on this one! You’d think something that really matters, like premature birth, would at least be worth mentioning in the mass media. Hopefully we’ll live long enough to see that change. Keyword there is hopefully. Thanks for being honest and for taking the time to dig deep for us. Take care!

  3. Liz says:

    Thank you! I’ve been wondering what to do to even get it as a trending topic on Twitter. Ugh. Thank you for writing.

  4. Monica Silva says:

    Congratulations for the amazing post! I’m Beatriz’s mom, she was born at the 27th week of pregnacy.
    I have a support group to preemie families. In Brazil we practilly don’t have good informations about prematurity.
    Even the neonatologists hearded about the Prematurity Awareness Day!
    I translated your post in my blog because I felt the same as you. (access http://peqguerreiros.blogspot.com/2010/11/dia-17-de-novembro-dia-interncional.html)
    Sorry, my english is not so good… lol
    Thank you VERY VERY much for writing!

  5. denise donegan says:

    Years ago (maybe 10 yrs ??), I paid for the domain name, Preemie.net . I had grand notions of using it as a support group to bring nurses, ancillary services, and parents together to discuss ideas. Also thought I could maybe sell preemie products; clothes, positioning aids, books at a discount. It didn’t come to fruition but maybe now is the time. We’ve got facebook and twitter to help get the word out now. —–Denise, NICU RN

  6. denise donegan says:

    oops, sorry. Meant to leave that comment on the “preemies, what no one tells parents” article. —on the stir, a cafe mom blog.

  7. Pingback: Why Prematurity Awareness Can’t Even Get a Day | The Baby Sleep Siteā„¢ - Baby Sleep Help | Toddler Sleep Help | Custom Sleep Help

  8. Debra Mayo Johnson says:

    Wow…I just happened upon this while reading the article about maternity care in USA Today. I wished I had known about this day – I most definitely would have advertised it. I’m the proud mom of a preemie. My son, Zuri was born at 22 weeks gestation, weighing 397 grams (14 ozs) and was 11 1/2 inches long. Today, he’s 7 yrs old and is currently in 1st grade. We still experience some challenges, but we’re blessed.

  9. Chelsie Flinn says:

    This website, to the Denver post http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_11476175 is just about the only thing I have seen in the news about prematurity. This story is about my son, and I am sure the only reason I know this even exists is because its about my son. I have looked as you have and not found to much! Everyone, please feel free to look at it! :)

  10. Timothy Enoch says:

    Like arrow in the hand of warrior so are children born in one’s youth, the are blessing form the lord, bless is the man that have them is like a warrior cover full of arrows.

  11. Kristin Kyung says:

    Amen! Thank you for posting this article! I am the mother of a 23 weeker. My son was born at 14 oz. (410 grams) and was 10 1/2 inches long back in 2009. He is also a surviving twin. I have been trying for 2 years to raise awareness and I have contacted our local news stations here in Denver about doing a series on Prematurity Awareness during Novemeber. Absolutely no one will run any airtime on Prematurity! It is sickening that we must hear about Tim Tebow and “TEBOWING” every other day now, but nothing is ever mentioned about Prematurity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this article. I have shared it on my FB page and I will be posting it to our local tv channels FB pages as well.

  12. Jennifer Gunter says:

    Thank you for your comment and your passion. It is really sad when professional sports is more important than the #1 killer of infants.

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