Premature Birth Is Work, Not Miracle The word "miracle" is often associated with babies who are born prematurely. But there's nothing miraculous about it — rather, ensuring a preemie's survival requires a lot of effort on the part of nurses, neonatologists, medical researchers and, of course, the parents. Commentator Alexa Stevenson is one such parent.

Premature Birth Is Work, Not Miracle

Premature Birth Is Work, Not Miracle

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Alexa Stevenson's daughter, Simone, was born more than three months early, weighing just over a pound and a half. Courtesy of Alexa Stevenson hide caption

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Courtesy of Alexa Stevenson

Stevenson is a freelance writer and author of the blog Flotsam. She lives in St. Paul, Minn. Courtesy of Alexa hide caption

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Courtesy of Alexa

When a baby is born small and early, or as part of a litter, "miracle" is a word you hear a lot. "Miracle Babies," they call them. But "miracle" implies a lack of effort. It's a fluke, as if some benevolent hand of god slid from the heavens to prod a tiny heart into beating.

My daughter Simone was born more than three months early, weighing just over a pound and a half. It's a weight more suited to a kitten than a whole human baby, and like a kitten, Simone's eyes were still fused shut when she was born. It was weeks before she could open them to see me, standing next to her Isolette in the hospital where she would spend her first 96 days.

My tiny daughter had more than half a dozen blood transfusions, heart surgery and so many chest X-rays, I'm surprised she doesn't glow in the dark. There was nothing easy about her survival. It was not a miracle, it was work — the work of nurses and neonatologists, of medical researchers and of me, hunched over my wheezing breast pump.

The neonatal intensive care unit is a relatively modern invention. Simone's pulmonologist tells me that when he was a resident there were no ventilators for premature babies. Instead, nurses delivered breath to their charges with the manual bellows-like contraptions you see on primetime medical dramas. These nurses worked in shifts, squeezing the bag at one-second intervals. For hours: PUFF Mississippi. PUFF Mississippi. PUFF Mississippi.

We don't know much about long-term outcomes for micropreemies like mine. Their survival is still a recent phenomenon. We do know that they are at risk for asthma, learning disabilities and a host of other troubles.

Most days, though, I forget. I worry more about my lackluster baby-proofing than the lingering effects of prematurity. Simone is a happy, cat-chasing toddler now. But for the parents staring through plexiglass at a daughter the size of a soda can, nothing is certain and miracles seem a long way off.

Alexa Stevenson is a freelance writer and author of the blog Flotsam. She lives in St. Paul, Minn.