November 17: World Prematurity Day

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A few years ago, I had a student in my class who was one of a set of twins.

This particular kid – he is so awesome: funny, and kind, and just one of the ones that when he smiles, you smile. His brother is equally as awesome.

Anyway, we were coming up on a meeting about this boy. We often have meetings of this type at my school, when we gather everyone together and just make sure we are doing everything we can to help students succeed.

This one had been called by his mom, who was worried. I had tried to reassure her that her son is doing fine, but she just had a gut-feeling. We listen to those in my line of work.

Something she said in an email, though, sent shivers down my spine and had me in a fit on anxiety. It said (I’m paraphrasing), “I know it’s easy to forget, but he was born at only 23 + 3 weeks gestation, and I just want to make sure we’re intervening when we need to.”

My heart stopped. You see, my very own twins had been born at 23 + 3.

But they are both dead.

And so, I will admit, with some shame, that I got suddenly very angry. How did she, this woman, get BOTH of her twins, and I got none? How could I now look at this boy in my class every day and know that Aiden and Sophie could have been just like him?

The day of the meeting arrived, and my mind swirled with anxiety. I didn’t want to talk about prematurity. I didn’t want to talk about how far he’d come. I didn’t want to face any of it.

And then, this beautiful, wonderful mom, she walked in carrying a photo album.

A photo album of her son’s entire stay in the NICU. She wanted needed us to see just how incredible it is that her son is who he is. But, I panicked. Everyone jumped to see how they could help me, but I knew I had to do it myself – and I asked the mom to follow me outside the meeting.

I looked her right in the eyes and said, “I had twins, too.”

She grabbed my hands.

“They–they were born at the same age as your boys. But they died.”

And she burst into tears, and pulled me into a giant, loving, tough hug.

“I’m afraid to look at the photos,” I said. “I just wanted to tell you so you know that I’m going to leave the meeting for a while. I’m sorry I’m not brave enough.”

Still crying, she hugged me harder. “No photos. I got it. Let’s go.”

I often think about what life would be like if one or both of my twins had survived after being born at such an early gestation. I often think about what their struggles might be like. But, I cannot know what it is like to mother a preemie, although I have had glimpses into the hardships.

That same mom, later in the year, shed light on something I couldn’t believe. We were on our way to our big field trip, about 2.5 hours away by bus, and we stopped at a rest stop. Her other son, my student’s twin, had much more severe Cerebral Palsy, and was in a wheelchair and diapered.

I was in the bathroom of the rest stop with her at the same time, and I watched her as she, reluctantly, was forced to lie her 10-year-old son on the floor of a public restroom in order to change him. You see, there are no changing tables that are for anyone bigger than a toddler.

I got back on the bus and cried. How had I never realized?

We might see the big things that come along with prematurity. We celebrate the fact that even though babies are born too early, they survive and thrive. We might see that there are disabilities or financial hardships, or career issues.

But today, I want you to see that there are no changing tables for older/bigger children who cannot use the bathroom on their own. I want you to see a mom forced to lie her child down on an unsanitary restroom floor to change the diaper of her 4th-grader.

I want you to zoom in on one thing we can do to help the change the world for parents of preemies.

Today, on world prematurity day, I want you to see. And hope. And believe. And, if you want to help, click here to find out how to contact your local representative to urge that special changing tables be installed:

https://www.universalchangingplaces.com/help/

 

Please share-let’s make a difference today!

XO

Christy Wopat

 

 

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