Chicago micropreemie thrives 14 years after premature birth

November has arrived. This means the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us but it’s also important to reflect on other things going on this month. November is National Prematurity Awareness Month, an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Fourteen years ago, my son was born premature. His due date was August 15, 2001. He was born on May 3, 2001.

A premature birth is a baby that is delivered before 37 weeks gestation. My son, Jacob, was born a micropreemie. A micropreemie is a defined as a baby born weighing less than 1 lb. 12 oz. or born less than 27 weeks gestation.

Jacob was born at 25 weeks gestation and weighed in at 1 lb. 14 oz. All babies lose weight when they’re born regardless of when they’re born, and Jacob’s weighed dropped to about 1 lb. 8 oz. before he slowly began gaining weight.

There are many reasons why babies can be born prematurely, but in my case I had an incompetent cervix. That means that my cervix is thin and weak and the pressure from the baby causes it to open prematurely.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, an incompetent cervix happens in only 1-2 percent of pregnancies. A lot of times, the weakened cervix isn’t caught until a miscarriage has occurred.

I was lucky that my incompetent cervix was found before a miscarriage happened. I went into labor when I was approximately 22 weeks pregnant. Luckily, the doctors were able to stop my labor with medication and perform a cerclage. A cerclage is a surgery that stitches the cervix closed.

After the medication and surgery, I had to remain in the hospital on complete bed rest. I wasn’t even able to get up to use the bathroom during the first week. During the three weeks I spent in the hospital, I had three amniocentesis test performed.

An amniocentesis is when a small amount of amniotic fluid is removed from the sac around the baby using a long needle through the stomach. An average pregnancy does not need an amniocentesis done because it is often a risk to the baby.

I had an amniocentesis done to check for infections in the amniotic sac because when I went into labor at 22 weeks, the umbilical cord was exposed outside of my body.

On May 3, 2001, the doctor performed my final amniocentesis and found that there was an infection in the amniotic sac around the baby. My baby had to be born immediately or my life and his life were at risk.

At the time, I was at Rockford Memorial Hospital because they had the best Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the area. It was about an hour from where I lived and it was a weekday which meant I was at the hospital alone.

The hospital had the chaplain come stay with me until my family arrived. I didn’t found out until much later, but my dad asked my doctor what Jacob’s survival rate would be and he said it would be very slim.

Jacob was born at 6:01 p.m. He was immediately whisked away by doctors to be put on a respirator since he was not able to breathe on his own. I did have steroid shots before he was born to help develop his lungs faster but he was just born too early.

Jacob stayed at the NICU in Rockford for two months and three days. That time was the hardest and most painful time of my entire life.

Imagine giving birth to such a tiny, helpless baby who can’t breathe on his own or maintain his own body temperature. I had to go home from the hospital without my baby which is a terrible feeling. Luckily, I knew he was in good hands with the NICU nurses.

Jacob had his own isolette at the NICU. I drove to Rockford every day to be with him and he had his own phone next to his isolette so I could call a nurse any time day or night to check on him.

I was first able to hold Jacob when he was about three weeks old. Prior to that he couldn’t maintain his body temperature outside of his heated isolette so I was unable to hold him. Premature babies respond well to Kangaroo Care which is skin-to-skin contact with the mother (or another person). Wearing just a diaper, Jacob lay on my bare chest and was then covered with multiple blankets and had a heat lamp over him.

His temperature had to be taken every few minutes to make sure it wasn’t dropping and I was only able to hold him a short while. It was the best moment of my life.

Jacob came home from the NICU on July 6, 2001. He weighed less than five pounds when I brought him home. He came home with an apnea monitor which would beep if he forgot to breathe, which he often did. He had a strict feeding and medication schedule. He also came home with an oxygen tank because he was able to drink a bottle and breathe at the same time.

There have been many bumps along the road since Jacob was born. He has dealt with a few medical problems and has had a few surgeries, but he has no serious medical conditions which prevent him from doing anything in life.

I am very happy to say that today Jacob is a very healthy and happy 14-year-old. I can’t believe that my tiny baby is now a teenager and in high school.

It is amazing what doctors and medical technology can do today. I could never thank the doctors and nurses enough who saved and cared for my son.

He is my miracle baby.

Although Jacob’s prematurity couldn’t be prevented, a lot of premature births can be prevented. The March of Dimes is a great place to find more information about prematurity and how to prevent it.

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