If you know me at all, you know I love completing a to-do list. I am task oriented. Sometimes I will make a to do list at the end of the day just to cross off everything I have completed already. You’d think I’d be embarrassed about that…but nope. But sometimes your to do list gets interrupted by meaningful conversations with friends. That happened to me this week with my friend Jenny. Jenny is a labor nurse, a mother, an entrepreneur and a friend. Jenny is also one of the 10% of women in my state who has given birth prematurely. She is the inspiration for this post which is a mix of medicine and miracles of God.
(please note that Jenny is not my patient and has seen and approved of this blog. Here at gynecologyandtheology we like to remain accurate as well as HIPAA complaint.)
You see, each year in our country about 10% of babies are born premature (preterm) or before 37 weeks of gestation. These babies fight for survival and then many of them face a myriad of health problems that can be life-long. The problem of premature birth costs our nation about 26 billion dollars per year. Parents of these babies carry a huge emotional and financial burden. In many cases we don’t know the cause of preterm birth and have few interventions to stop it from happening. Age, pregnancy spacing, smoking, health complications and many other factors contribute to preterm birth. For some of these problems we can help our mothers with education, contraception to appropriately space pregnancies and interventions to improve their health prior to and between pregnancies. In some cases we don’t have any prevention methods such as preterm birth in twins or other multiple gestation pregnancies.
For my friend Jenny, her preterm birth story is particularly devastating. You see Jenny’s first born daughter was born so extremely premature that she was too young to survive. Jenny has a condition called cervical insufficiency; one of the many causes of premature birth. Payton Marie was delivered in September of 2011 at 23 weeks gestation. She was too young and too small for any interventions that would be life saving. By the miracles of medicine and Jesus she now has two more beautiful healthy children. Her story is filled with pain, suffering, the “what ifs” and more. She had very few, if any, risk factors for preterm birth.
So what can be done? First, be informed. For those of you who are planning their first or next pregnancy, know the risk factors as well as signs and symptoms of preterm birth. But for those of us who don’t plan to gestate anyone else in the future, we still need to be educated. The problem of prematurity affects each of our communities. You can find your state’s report card on preterm birth as well as a whole lot of other great information about prematurity from the March of Dimes. The website has information about risk factors and symptoms of preterm birth as well as information about the problem of prematurity around the world. And speaking of the March of Dimes, you can get involved. I had the privilege of walking in an annual march for babies campaign to honor the friends and coworkers around me who have had a premature birth. So get out and walk, mail that envelope back in with a donation, or become an advocate. My state’s grade on preterm birth is a “C” so we have some work to do people! I bet each of us know someone who has had a preterm birth. Remember these families. I know prematurity was probably not on your radar of problems to work on to make our world a healthier place to live…but it is a super important one!
As for Jenny, she is her own miracle. I think my best evidence for God is that we can suffer unimaginable loss and pain and walk out the other side with continued love and compassion for those around us. Why did Jenny have to lose her first born? I can’t answer this. It’s the problem of systemic evil and I will leave that one to Pastor Jason. Jenny will probably tell you that her two other children will never “replace” her firstborn. She will always have 3 kids; one of them just didn’t come home with her.
I have been listening to a beautiful version of “It is Well” by Bethel Music and Kristene DiMarco. Ironically I hated the song growing up. People would always sing it at funerals and I just thought it was crap. People were sad someone died. I was sad someone died. I really didn’t feel like it was well with anyone’s soul, nor should I feel like I was obligated for it to be well with my soul. But I listen to this version with a renewed sense of hope. It speaks of the power of Christ to move with us through incredible grief and pain and emerge on the other side knowing that He who suffers with us is working with us to make all things well. This is Jenny and so many others close to me who have suffered incredible loss and heartbreak. I think they would tell you that their friends, their families, their faith communities were the hands and feet of Jesus. They were the grace, mercy, hope and love they needed. That although it will never be OK, It is Well.