By CHAREMON GRANT
I remember how unbearably hot it was the day before my son, Mark Alexander Grant, was born. I was uncomfortably pregnant, that’s for sure. I had every intention of skipping my diabetes test and going home to cool off, but as I headed for the house, a small voice inside my head said, No, you really need to keep your appointment.
That voice saved my life and my son’s, too.
Three checks of my blood pressure at the doctor’s office revealed that my blood pressure was at stroke level. My husband had to come and whisk me off to the hospital, where I immediately was admitted, and given magnesium sulfate, a catheter, and steroid shots to help Mark's lungs. Talk about a short stay at the hospital and several days of bed rest at home quickly morphed into bed rest at the hospital. And then my doctor made what surely could have been a tragic discovery: my placenta was tearing. My child had to be delivered right then–not a moment later. Had we not delivered Mark on June 21, 2004 at 26 ½ weeks, he would not have survived.
Still, the first days of his life were touch-and-go. At 1 lb and 13 ounces, Mark could not breathe on his own. He was put on a ventilator, which seemed like a simple fix, but it turned out to be a double-edged sword: It kept Mark alive, but damaged his lungs; he would need another dose of steroids to correct it, but the medicine, we were told, could lead to developmental delays.
And that was just the issue with his lungs. It seemed that every day, my baby faced insurmountable challenges: he was being checked for bleeding in the brain, had to be treated with antibiotics for necrotizing entercolitis, a disease that can kill preemies or cause serious intestinal issues, and faced echoli exposure twice, something that surely could have killed my baby given his fragile state. One of his tiny lungs even collapsed, a condition so severe that the doctors used paralysis medicine to stop my child’s voluntary breathing and let the ventilator or oscillator do it for him, placing him less at risk.
We were victorious in these challenges but little did our family know that others were to come.
It’s not easy for me to reflect on what could have been done differently. But going forward, I have to put a finger on it, with the hope that other moms-to-be use my story to understand the importance of taking care of all of you as you usher life into this world. What could I have worked harder on? Well, I was engaged in a high stress job as deputy general counsel for the Department of Community Health. Although I worked in the healthcare field, I failed to recognize the risks I faced and never thought to seek flexibility in schedule to accommodate myself. My request would have been honored if I had asked. I didn't and Mark paid the price.
And though the medical staff counseled me about Mark’s condition during his three-month hospital stay, I really wanted and needed a support group people who had experienced what my family was going through. The what ifs. The struggles. The triumphs that helped us through. All of it.
Turns out that The March of Dimes had all of this covered, and then some. One of the focus areas of the March of Dimes is ensuring that mothers have the workplace support they need to minimize pre-term births. It can make a significant difference. And The March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program and Service Centers provides the support I needed a collaborative support group to walk that difficult journey with you and to help you understand what to expect. There are even medical partners on hand to help moms like me identify and address early on the conditions our children might face as they overcome the odds and embrace life.
We must continue to support the work that is transpiring here. The growing crisis of preterm birth cannot be ignored; we have to enhance our understanding of preventative measures and continue to seek advancements in technology if we’re going to see more babies have a winning outcome like Mark's.
My Mark is a $1 million dollar baby figuratively and literally. Preterm birth is a costly health care problem, and although cost is neither our primary concern nor reason for advocacy, we cannot ignore the impact to our health care system. Still, I’m convinced that if more mothers and mothers-to-be work together to support organizations like The March of Dimes in attacking each of the myriad of issues surrounding pre-term birth, many more children like Mark will live the lives they deserve.
For more information on family history, genetic testing, and pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and newborn care, please check out the March of Dimes website. This blog post was donated by MyBrownBaby to the March of Dimes as part of its March of Dimes Moms initiative, and also as part of the Georgia Chapter’s “Blog For Babies” day.
Want to help raise critical funding for March of Dimes programs that help babies like Mark? Click HERE to start your own March of Dimes fundraising team!