Interview: Deanna Fei Author Of 'Girl In Glasss' When a CEO blamed "distressed babies" for cuts to benefits last year, Deanna Fei discovered her infant was national news. She reflects on how she coped with a baby on life support — and in headlines.
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After Fight For Life And Media Firestorm, 'Distressed Baby' Is Happy Toddler

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After Fight For Life And Media Firestorm, 'Distressed Baby' Is Happy Toddler

After Fight For Life And Media Firestorm, 'Distressed Baby' Is Happy Toddler

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

In an age of CEO snafus, this one from last year was pretty bad.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS SHOW MEDLEY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The controversial comments made by AOL CEO.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Tim Armstrong has received a big wave of criticism.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: When he linked a cut in the mesh at AOL to the cost of...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: He paid a million dollars each for what he called two distressed babies.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Quote-unquote "distressed babies"...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Distressed babies...

RATH: Blaming cost of benefits on two distressed babies - but that had many people asking what exactly is a distressed baby? Deanna Fei found out when she was 25 weeks into a low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancy.

DEANNA FEI: And then one morning, I woke up in pain. And by the time I got to the hospital, my daughter had to be delivered via emergency C-section.

RATH: Her daughter was born weighing just one pound and nine ounces. At first, Fei and her husband, at that time an employee at the Huffington Post, which is owned by AOL, didn't even dare to name the tiny, bruised baby. They finally settled on Mila. Deanna Fei tells her story and Mila's in a new memoir called "Girl In Glass." I spoke with her earlier this week.

FEI: I had no idea that a baby could be born so prematurely. During my first pregnancy, I treated the book "What To Expect When You're Expecting" like a Bible.

(LAUGHTER)

FEI: I, you know, looked at every checklist. That was how I understood pregnancy and birth to happen.

RATH: You write in really absorbing detail about all this time you spent in a neonatal intensive care unit. And incrementally, things get better, but it's such a painstaking process. Was there a point where you started to relax and felt like - we're in the clear now?

FEI: The first time I reached into her incubator, she held onto my hand. Her fingers were so tiny that they hardly felt like fingers, but they grasped my finger. And from that moment on, I could see, you know, she is fighting for her life. And the least that I can do as her mother is to be here with her. On any given day, I might feel, you know, this is a good day. She gained an ounce. Her oxygen levels are steady. Her heart rate is steady. And then three hours later, her lung had collapsed or that she - her weight had plummeted. And, you know, I have to say there's nothing like having a child on life support for three months to give you perspective on what matters.

RATH: Mila's story - you've written an extraordinarily beautiful account of it. And that would be enough, but there's also - obviously, there's more to this story. When did you become aware that your daughter was in the news, basically?

FEI: It was actually the same week that she took her first steps. I was home with her. She was napping. The house was quiet. And suddenly I got these emails in my inbox from my husband, who, at that time, was an editor at the Huffington Post, which was owned by AOL. Earlier that morning at a town hall meeting, Tim Armstrong cited two employees' distressed babies as two things that happened that had forced him to cut retirement savings for the whole company.

RATH: And cited - what was it? - a million dollars each, per distressed baby?

FEI: Yes, that was the figure that he cited.

RATH: So what was the nature of his complaint?

FEI: Well, he portrayed these children as outsized burden on the corporate balance sheets. Distressed babies - I'd never heard of this term. It sounded to me like a business term, reminiscent of distressed properties, distressed merchandise - in other words, damaged goods.

RATH: When did you decide that you had to respond in some way to this?

FEI: Tim Armstrong released a follow-up statement that said that he had actually meant to point out high-risk pregnancies as an example of how well the company takes care of its employees. Why would he assume that my daughter could only be the result of a high-risk pregnancy, overlooking the fact the fundamental purpose of health insurance is to cover individuals in the event of a catastrophe? These risks are unforeseeable for any individual, but completely predictable in the aggregate.

RATH: There was, obviously - there was a huge firestorm over this. And Tim Armstrong - the CEO Tim Armstrong, in the end, apologized directly to you. What did he say?

FEI: He offered a gracious apology, but what I think was still overlooked in his apology were some really big questions that lingered. Why would the GOP be in possession of such intimate details of employees' and their families' medical conditions and expenditures? Why would he want to cite this at a public meeting to defend himself from his own cost-cutting?

RATH: Before I let you go, I want to know about how Mila is doing now. Or the thing I usually ask with kids around that age - what's she into?

FEI: Mila is getting all the mileage she can get out of the terrible twos.

(LAUGHTER)

FEI: She loves to sing. She loves to dance. She's very proud of everything that she accomplishes. She loves to scramble to the top of the jungle gym and say, Mama, I did it (laughter). And every day with her I consider a blessing.

RATH: That's Deanna Fei. Her new book is called "Girl In Glass." It's out on Tuesday. Deanna, thank you so much.

FEI: Thank you so much.

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