I have been missing from the pages of this paper for a little over a year now, ever since I had my second son, Eli. The last Mommie Brain column I wrote chronicled Eli’s arrival and the scare he gave us all by being a little over five weeks early. And so as I am about to return to writing my column (look for it soon!) it seemed only appropriate that my reintroduction to you be about something similar. And it is something very important to me.

This article is to bring attention to the fact that today, Nov. 17, is World Prematurity Day, and November is Prematurity Awareness month.

A few days before I had Eli, I was heavy and uncomfortable. Miserable. I announced with a grand whine, “I am so ready for this to be over.” But when my water broke the next day, I felt nothing but fear and confusion. I did everything right. I saw my doctor regularly. Yet, this was what we were facing. We got lucky though. Eli was a nice big size. He had slight respiratory distress, but nothing terribly serious.

Earlier this year my husband and our sons took to the streets near Downtown and helped raise over $2,000 for the March of Dimes’ March for Babies. It felt great. I felt proud of us, of our friends and family for sponsoring us and of our children, each of whom had spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As we pushed Benjamin and Eli in their strollers, I became emotional, perhaps from the energy of the fellow walkers around us or from the knowledge of the bullet we dodged with each of them. Though my time as their mother has been spent differently from how I expected it with multiple therapy appointments a week for each of them, they are healthy, lovely and vibrant children. Blessings.

I looked around and saw many wearing homemade shirts honoring those babies who were not as lucky. Those that did not make it. But what got me also were those that did make it, like Benjamin and Eli. I remember a little boy, I think his name was Zachary, being pulled in a little red wagon and taped to the side was his premature story. To look at him, you would have no clue. This was a thriving, smiling child. I do not know if his family struggles with any issues for him, but he was riding along like a king, happy and waving, his parents enjoying showing him off.

And I felt proud of those who helped him and helped my children too. Both Benjamin and Eli were in the NICU. Both have benefited from and needed subsequent therapies to get their bodies stronger from various issues. I know the long-term effects of not carrying a pregnancy to term or from something going wrong.

And so, when I got a call a few months back asking me to join the Family Team Committee for The March for Babies, I said of course.

So now I have a cause.

The March of Dimes and I want you to honor the millions of babies who have died this year because they were born too soon and the 12 million more who struggle to survive. As it says on their website, 1 in 8 babies is born premature in the United States. “Every year, more than half a million babies are born too soon in the United States. Our country’s premature birth rate has risen by 36 percent over the last 25 years. That’s serious cause for concern. Premature birth costs society more than $26 billion a year and takes a high toll on families. Babies born just a few weeks early are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities. Premature birth is the number one killer of newborns.”

Benjamin was not premature, but his stay in the NICU, due to a different kind of birth trauma, was made possible by the work over the years of The March of Dimes. Eli was premature. Almost 35 weeks. So again my child went to the NICU. It is not anywhere you want to be. But the doctors and nurses at Saint John’s (Thank you Pearl) took care of us. They got my sons strong enough to come home. What a tremendous gift.

And it is a gift I want to share.

So if it means pestering my friends and family for donations or reminding some readers of the good work of a good organization, then so be it. So allow me to ask you to learn just a little about The March of Dimes. Sponsor a walker in The March for Babies or walk yourself (marchforbabies.org). Be the voice of premature infants and their families in the halls of Congress. Urge your members of Congress to cosponsor the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act (S. 1440/H.R. 2679). Because as The March of Dimes says, “Every family deserves to celebrate a second birthday.”

And then some.

Rachel Zients Schinderman is a writer and a mother. To learn more, go to www.mommiebrain.com.

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