Today, November 17, is World Prematurity Awareness Day. The Empire State Building has been lit up in purple to raise awareness of the leading cause of death in babies in the US. Around the world, 15 million babies are born premature every year, and 1 million of them will not reach their first birthday. Last year, I read this fascinating story on how premature babies were cared for as part of a sideshow on Coney Island in New York; I never imagined that it would come to mean so much to me personally.
My daughter was born 10 weeks premature on February 26. Her due date was April 29. She was perfectly happy where she was, but because I had pre-eclampsia, my doctor had no choice but to yank her out way ahead of time. I will never forget the strangeness of that day, and the confusion I felt as she was placed on my chest after being weighed. This tiny, screaming life, outraged at being in the world. I remember how terrified I was that she might die, how each gram she gained was a victory. How my husband and I took turns sitting for hours and hours and hours each day, holding her next to our skin, willing her to grow. For five weeks, motherhood was something I shared with the nurses in NICU.
When she came home from the hospital, she weighed less than 2kg. She was dwarfed by her car seat:
Look at her now!
Having a premature baby means that whenever people ask me how old she is, I never know what to say. Do I give her age from birth, which will confuse them because she’s clearly too small, or her age from her due date? (Usually, I give her age since her birth date, and then try and explain.)
I worry sometimes that she might have been damaged in some way by her difficult start in life, and that my health problems will cast a shadow over her life. She’s small for her age, and she hasn’t started to sit on her own yet.
I’m very grateful for the quality care she received at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. I’m also grateful to Discovery for paying her hospital bill: this is why medical aid matters so much.
I wonder what pregnancy is really like. I missed out on two months of pregnancy at its most physically intense, and though I know it would have been uncomfortable, I do feel a sense of loss.
Ultimately, though, I will never stop being grateful that Raphaela Ragini is as healthy and happy as she is. To be born premature is to run the risk of all sorts of health problems and developmental issues and I hope that she will overcome them all.
Who would have believed we could get through all of this, my baba? Tiny as you are, you’ve never done anything but embrace life. Your smile lights up my world and I love you very, very much. Happy November 17.