This is a disturbing trend: about 13 million babies a year — nearly 10% of all newborns — are born prematurely, this according to the first report on global trends in premature births. In Canada alone, the rate of premature births has gone up more than 25 percent since the mid-1980’s, according to Dr. Michael Kramer, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and an internationally known expert on pre-term birth. He attributed the trend to more older mothers and the increasing use of fertility treatments that often result in twins or multiple births who are more likely to be delivered preterm.
In my counseling practice, I am beginning to see more parents who need help in coping with the reality of having a premature child. This can be traumatic as every parent wishes to have a perfectly healthy baby. Most parents are not equipped with the capacity to deal with a preterm infant.
They are dealing with several realities at the same time, the most immediate of which is the survival of the child. A preterm infant is any child who is born before the 37th week of gestation. Characteristically, they are prone to infection, respiratory illnesses, and developmental problems. These babies have a higher risk of not surviving at all.
Then there is the health and wellness of the mother and the stress and anxieties of preparing a future for a child who might have developmental problems and learning disabilities.
All these and more are oftentimes too much for a father or a mother to deal with. I consider it my task to help them understand and accept their reality, deal with the pain, the anger, or the shame and guilt that surface, and help them re-create their family and home to accommodate a premature child.
After all, a child, premature or not, is a gift and a blessing that should be enjoyed by the whole family.