November 17th. A date that used to not have much significance in my life, that is, until 2008 came along. It was a Monday during my very first semester of college. My mom called me, gave me the news, and told me to immediately call my dad. I don’t remember much of either of those conversations other than feelings of complete sadness and lots of tears. The only grandmother that I had ever really known was gone.
By Thursday, my sister and I were on a plane headed north to meet our dad. There was a wide range of emotions that ensued within the following days. Sadness, guilt, and anger were at the top of my list for various reasons. Yet, it was bittersweet and intriguing to go back to the place where my dad grew up. A place that I hadn’t seen in years. Memories and laughs were shared. Two very Southern Louisiana girls experienced real snow that stuck to the ground for longer than an hour. My cousin made fun of me for wearing boots in November, since “real boot season didn’t happen until at least January.” We saw the beauty of Niagara Falls, ate pizza from a restaurant named “New Orleans Pizza,” and learned a thing or two about what it means to be Canadian.
Despite the circumstances that brought us there, it turned out to be one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever had.
Sadness and heartbreak can lead to brighter days, which brings me to my next point of why I’m writing about the further significance of November 17th:
World Prematurity Day.
In case you didn’t know, premature birth is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five. The preterm birth rate in the United States worsened to 9.6 percent in 2016. This occurred for the first time in eight years. The mission of World Prematurity Day is to bring awareness to the health issues faced by these little fighters, along with offering support to the parents and families of those affected.
So, why am I talking about this?
Let me introduce you to me, circa 27 years ago:
I was born at 27 ½ weeks. I weighed 2 lbs. 3 ½ oz. at birth. The doctors told my parents they weren’t sure if I would make it past the first 24 hours. Back then, survival that early wasn’t always likely.
I spent 77 days in the NICU until I could finally go home.
I have a scar on my back from the heart surgery I had to undergo for patent ductus arteriosus. For the longest time, my mom always tried to convince me to get it covered up somehow. It brought back bad memories for her, and probably still does. Yet, I always remind her that it’s a battle wound that isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of the reason that I’m alive today.
…You see, my story has somewhat of a happy ending, even though it’s still being written.
There are families out there who aren’t always so lucky. Some preemies don’t survive, no matter how hard their little bodies try to fight. Some are born with severe and irreversible birth defects. Some may live, but they may not ever be able to walk or speak. They may not ever be able to live a full, vibrant life.
They may not always end up like me.
And that’s a huge reason why I’ve started to bring more awareness to this issue, as I’m getting older. I’ve gained a different perspective of it from working in healthcare, along with knowing people personally that have been, or are currently in, the same situation as my parents were 27 years ago.
These little ones can’t speak for themselves. They’re too busy fighting just to stay alive. They’re fighting to beat the odds stacked against them. They can’t tell you how you can help, which is where people like me come in. I encourage you to learn more about World Prematurity Day by visiting the March of Dimes. You can view their website for volunteer opportunities at your local office, participate in your local March For Babies walk, or you can simply donate at the below link:
Because of people like you and me, we can give these little ones a fighting chance.
Remember the 17th of November.
Maybe now it will have some significance to you, too.
Keep on keeping on, and be kind to one another, y’all.