You think it can't happen to you is what a lot of people say when they've been blindsided. The fact is, I thought it might, and feared it would. Throughout our pregnancies, Tertia and I had been chanting to each other, "Let's just get to 30 weeks." 28 weeks, we knew, was the threshold at which the great majority of babies born early survive. But we knew of a woman who'd recently had her baby at 28 weeks, a baby who did not survive. "Please let us make it to 30," we said, to no one in particular.
This was not your garden variety pregnant infertile neurosis, either. We knew we had reason to worry. In her most recent pregnancy, Tertia had lost her twin sons — Luke at 21 weeks, and Ben, born alive at almost 26 weeks after premature labor. And I, at 28 weeks, still had complete placenta previa, which carries the very real risk — 50% — of a preterm birth.
I did not make it to 30. Charlie was born at 29w5d — close enough to 30, I initially felt, as to make no difference. This was an impression that his neonatologists quickly and unceremoniously corrected. It turns out that every day matters. In Charlie's case, an extra 48 hours might have bought us the chance to mature his lungs before birth with steroid shots, thereby changing the course of his stay in the NICU. More seriously, in the case of a baby born on the very cusp of viability, it means the difference between a chance at life and a quiet death.
I did not make it to 30. And although I thought I'd known what to expect, having feared it before it happened, the reality wasn't even close. I knew, thanks in part to your stories, what the barest sketch of our experience might be, but we worked in the details ourselves, through 42 days in the hospital, many anxious months after homecoming, and moments that still hit me now. The tangible effects of Charlie's early birth seem limited at this point to a gross motor delay and a touch of asthma, both now of near-insignificance. But the intangibles still linger. (Do you ever get over your child's doctor saying, "Wow. We thought we might lose him"? What can you say besides, "Yeah, we thought we might lose him, too"?)
I did not make it to 30. My illness set in quickly, and once it did there were no other options. "We have to take the baby out." "No time for betamethasone." "You'll feel like you're falling, but you're not." "We don't have a crystal ball."
Although some women are known to be at greater risk for delivering early, others have no warning. Although some causes of prematurity are understood, many are not, and many more cannot be mediated. Women like us, when we do get pregnant at last, are often at higher risk for an early birth than the population at large. You think it can't happen to you, but it could. I feared it might, and it did.