As a young woman intent on never having children I was aware of certain difficulties, impairments or tragedies that could befall a baby on being born into this world. Even as a child I'd heard of Downs Syndrome and Spina Bifida, though I hadn't a full comprehension of what it meant for the families affected, of course. I also knew of cot death, or SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) that could strike down any seemingly healthy infant and render parents so completely destroyed by grief. But Prematurity of Labour? Sure, babies came early, by a few weeks or so. And what would happen? Well I guessed they'd perhaps be in an incubator for a few days before being allowed home with their mummies, like I had been when my mother's umbilical chord had wrapped twice around my neck, causing me a few breathing issues. But extreme prematurity? I confess it hadn't even occurred to me that a baby might just decide it needs to be born at 23 weeks, or heaven forbid earlier than that.
My own baby was born at 27 weeks, which is still classed as extreme prematurity, but doesn't require resuscitation at birth, as in the case of 23 weekers, the subject of a recent controversial BBC 2 documentary. I'll never forget the feeling of confusion and complete incomprehension I felt when I was told that I had gone into spontaneous labour at 27 weeks exactly. "What do you mean?" I asked, innocently. Babies just are not born before you can even enter your third trimester, surely? I was told not to worry and that I would probably last "another 2 or 3 weeks", which was still 10 or 11 weeks early.
Why was I not prepared for this? Why did I not recall a memory from the recesses of my mind of news stories or TV programmes dedicated to this all too common threat to mothers and unborn babies? Sure, there have no doubt been some - and indeed one of my fellow campaigners who I met this week had a documentary made about her son several years before, who had been born at 25 weeks and I was relieved to hear made a full recovery.
But 80,000 babies are born at risk each year from prematurity and other conditions that require specialist care. 80,000! Why the hell aren't we more aware of this? Of course anyone who reads this probably already is as in the blogging community there are many mums, like myself, who have ridden the prematurity roller coaster. Many like me are so incredibly lucky that their stories had a happy ending. Some of course did not have that happy ending. So us blogging community mums are perhaps a little more clued up than the young mum who sees that pink line on her test stick and starts dreaming excitedly of the next nine months, and beyond. But it's those mums who need to be made aware that this may happen. Nothing can ever prepare you for the trauma of having a baby born too soon or too sick, but it doesn't have to come as such a shock. Fellow prem mum's I've spoken to, and there have been quite a few lately, all detail their sense of shock and lack of awareness before they gave birth prematurely. So just as Autism and other childhood conditions are making strides with its campaigns for awareness, so must Prematurity.
One of the prime objectives for the Bliss campaign is to protect the regional network system that ensures hospitals are in contact with their regional neighbours, which is hugely beneficial when babies must be transferred for whatever reason. Before 2003 several nurses might have to give up several hours of their working day randomly phoning hospitals to find one with a free cot. At least with the network system it is more likely that your fragile baby will end up in a hospital relatively close to home. The system is efficient, it works and it must be protected. The fact that there aren't enough cots challenges the system, but the system itself does not need messing with, certainly a danger when all manner of reforms are being thrown around Westminster in a bid to see which ones will stick.
But to persuade our politicians that Neonatal care must be protected, we need the people who elect them to champion it at every opportunity. And if so many people don't even recognise it as an issue or have any real grasp of the implications of not adequately funding babies at risk, then how can we possibly hope to succeed? The 23 weekers documentary highlighted the most extreme form of prematurity, seemingly focusing in on the fact that care for such infants is mind-blowingly expensive, but we need to make it known on a national level beyond any shadow of a doubt that the very real risk that premature labour can affect any mum-to-be, and it doesn't care if you're rich or poor, black white or Asian, healthy or unhealthy. If it's going to happen to you, there's nothing you can do to stop it. But you should at the very least be informed and feel safe in the knowledge that your baby will receive the best care possible.
If you think you can help raise awareness please contact the Bliss charity, via the contact details on their website. I am also happy to speak to or email with anyone who has been affected by premature labour (see contact tab at the top of this page).