One in 10 babies are born premature every year in the United States. According to Stacey Stewart, president of March of Dimes, a charity focused on ending birth defects, “preterm birth is the No. 1 cause of death among babies and a leading cause of lifelong disabilities.” The severity of their disabilities all depends on how premature they were and what illnesses or complications they experienced after birth. It can cause long-term health problems that may not even show up until adulthood. Some health issues common among premature babies include intellectual and developmental disabilities such as ADHD, anxiety, trouble learning, speech impairments, blindness, deafness, breathing problems, brain bleeds and infections, and cerebral palsy. It is important to talk to your health care provider early on if you fear your child may have a disability due to pre-term birth. The Affordable Care Act helps make sure that children with special medical needs have the health insurance they need to pay for services and treatment throughout their lives. In the CNMI, for children from birth to age 3, programs including Early Intervention Services with the Child Development Assistance Center can help your baby’s early development needs. Once they enter school age you can talk with your school about receiving Special Education Services if needed.
I am far too familiar with this process as both my twin sister and I were born premature.
My twin sister and I were born three months premature at 29 weeks and weighed just 2lbs 9oz and 2lbs 10oz. My mother gave birth to us at 33 years old and also had gestational diabetes and was carrying twins. This made her pregnancy high-risk, which ultimately resulted in us being born prematurely. Our parents were told that we’d have many challenges throughout our lives. The doctors told them we could have many complications such as cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, brain bleeds, developmental delay, learning disabilities, digestion issues, and lung problems from being born so early. We spent two months in the ICU at Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA and were both on ventilators for at least 5-6 weeks. We saw many doctors and specialists after that. Once we arrived home our development was based on our due date. We saw a developmental specialist, our primary physician as well as an eye doctor who had a research program that studies the eyes of premature babies. We were also held back a year in Kindergarten, keeping us in the school year that we would have been in had we been born on time. My sister and I also saw a speech therapist and got put into dance classes to help with our mobility and muscular development. It is because of the early steps my parents took to provide us with the doctors and specialists we needed that we were able to overcome these challenges. Both my sister and I have no disabilities or challenges even though we were told by many doctors we would. Aside from many scars from chest tubes we grew up leading very normal, happy lives.
For more information about where you can get help for a child born with a disability, please visit https://www.marchofdimes.org/complications/long-term-health-effects-of-premature-birth.aspx or contact NMPASI at 235-7273/4 or online at www.nmpasi.org
Amber Alberts is a client advocate for the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.