Something as simple as breathing

Breathing—we do it all day and all night, and almost never think a thing about it, until we’re knocked out with a nuisance of a cold once or twice a year. And having giant healthy lungs, which most of us are blessed with, means that we never really give any thought to tiny premature baby lungs, the size of our thumbs, struggling to fill with air.

But then, this morning I read Julie’s post this morning and thought to myself, “Once again, she says it better than anyone.”  While we mothers of NICU warriors might have healthy children today, with just the faintest of scars to show for that time, we carry our own deep scars, etched on our hearts. Perhaps the only way to heal those is to do some small thing in hopes that another baby and another parent won’t have to live through the time we did.

And what seems crazy to me now is that I really didn’t know how sick he was.  It wasn’t until a doctor said, “This is really tough…but we think he’ll go home with you,” that I understood he still might not…

I breathed for Charlie that night, sitting by his bed, crying, eyeballs so swollen that it hurt to move them in my head, nostrils scrubbed raw by hospital paper towels.  Every gurgle of his CPAP happened, it seemed, because we willed it.  His breaths, when they resumed, were only because we worked for them when he couldn’t. Which isn’t true, of course.  The tickle of the feet and the rubbing of the belly helped, but it was the drip of caffeine, the caustic burst of antibiotic, and the transfusion that eventually brought him around.  It was the science: serendipity and inspiration tempered by years of research and refinement, the careful observation and adjustment, a dedication that awes me.  My deep gulps of air did nothing, practically speaking, for Charlie.  All they did was keep me upright, somehow, next to the isolette.

Like many preterm babies, when Charlie was born, his lungs were immature.  They lacked surfactant, a substance that keeps the lungs from closing and collapsing upon exhalation, and couldn’t stay open on their own.  The development of artificial surfactant therapy, funded by the March of Dimes in the 1980s, ushered in a tenfold decrease in the number of babies who die from RDS (respiratory distress syndrome).  Three doses of surfactant and five years later, Charlie’s not only alive but thriving, the only artifact of  his prematurity an occasional touch of asthma.

Julie, at A Little Pregnant

I could have written it, but she does it better, and I hope you’ll take a moment to read her entire post and take her up on her offer to donate for each story you share in the comments.

I can’t write it like Julie does, I but I join her today in her offer—in honor of our Henry, and Julie’s son Charlie and my beautiful niece and nephew Isabella and Andrew, born at 30 weeks, I will donate a dollar to the March of Dimes for every story you share about prematurity touching your life. One per reader, please.

And thank you to longtime Hank & Willie readers who have so kindly donated to the March of Dimes at my urging in the past.

And as I have said before,

if you’ve known a preemie,

if your child was a preemie,

if you were a preemie,

if you’re grateful that you didn’t have a preemie,

if you might someday have a preemie,

if you’d like to honor the medical professionals that cared for Henry or a preemie in your life,

or if you just think my Henry is a tough guy,

you even can make your own donation here.

I bet I can even find a few more embarrassing photos of myself to post if the March of Dimes gets some H & W donations this year!

Thank you.

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Anna Sawin

Anna Sawin is a Connecticut-based portrait, wedding, and editorial photographer. She lives in the shoreline town of Stonington with her family and has discovered the perfect cupcake. Just ask, she is willing to share her secret.


  1. Anne on November 17, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Anna-Not only is Henry tough, but he’s such a charmer…see my FB wall picture! Off to make my donation…

  2. Christina on November 17, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    My sister’s twins were preemies. Now that they are healthy, crazy four year olds it is easy to forget their scary start (and theirs wasn’t nearly as rough as some)…thanks for the reminder.

  3. Maria on November 18, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Great post, Anna. In honor of Henry, and his parents’ strength during a frightening time, and with thanks for all of the research and clinical expertise that has resulted in so many successful NICU discharges, I will be hopping on over to the donation link in a few minutes!

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Anna Sawin is a Connecticut-based portrait, wedding, and editorial photographer. She lives in the shoreline town of Stonington with her family and has discovered the perfect cupcake. Just ask, she is willing to share her secret.