Lindsay McMillan gave birth to her daughter, Emery, 12 weeks early, and spent the next 62 days in the NICU. That was almost four years ago, and Emery is now a thriving toddler who loves animals, "reading," and playing dress-up. Time has passed, but "a mother never forgets the [NICU] experience," Lindsay told The Huffington Post in an email.
On the left: Emery in the NICU; on the right: Emery now.
Emery is one of roughly 450,000 babies who are born too soon in the U.S. each year. According to the March of Dimes, one in nine babies is affected by preterm birth, and although that number is declining, our country still needs to do better. This year, the U.S. earned a "C" grade on the March of Dimes' report card, which measures individual states' progress by comparing prematurity birth rates in each state to the projected goal. Babies born too soon are at higher risk for breathing and feeding problems, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and more. Just recently, preterm birth was named the number one killer of children under 5 globally.
That's why November is Prematurity Awareness Month, and November 17 is World Prematurity Day -- a day when the March of Dimes and their partner organizations aim to "spread the word on the serious problem of premature birth." Those efforts include focusing on research and legislation that can improve the state of preterm birth worldwide.
For the hundreds of thousands of parents of preemies, the campaign is deeply personal.
"Having a premature child means having them whisked away the moment they are born... while you sit in fear wondering what will happen," says Jill Dukes, whose son was born six weeks early and spent 13 days receiving the highest level of care in the NICU. In an email to The Huffington Post, the Dukes family wrote, "It's excruciating to have your baby hooked up to machines and not be able to touch them or hold them. Leaving them in a glass case for shift changes was the worst. But you dig deep and find the kind of strength you didn’t know you had and you get through it."
Their son, Hayden, is now a healthy 5-year-old.
On the left: Hayden in the NICU; on the right: Jill and Hayden, recently.
To remember that strength, and to give current parents of preemies hope, we asked the HuffPost Parents community to share photos of their preemies along with pictures of what they look like today. Here are 41 more of their stories, in their own words and pictures:
Alyssandra at 34 weeks, 6 lbs. 2 oz. Aly is now a rambunctious 2!
Sebastian at 33 weeks, 5 lbs. 10 oz. He is now 4 and has the biggest heart of anyone I know!
Megan Basore Schratwieser
My 34-weeker on his second day of life and then on his first birthday.
My twins! 1-day-old and now 2 1/2 years old!
Nathan was born at 32 weeks and weighed 4 lbs. 2 oz. Now he is 5 years old.
Shelly Jones Gammell
My Miracle! Born at 29 weeks, 2 lbs. 7 oz. She is now a happy healthy 11-year-old ball of fire!
My twin beauties, born at 33 weeks!
Sierra was born at 35 weeks and was in the NICU for 11 days. She's 7 months today and is as amazing as ever!
My daughter, Ryann, was born June 2, 2014 at 28 weeks. She weighed 2 lbs. 11 oz. She was in NICU for 7 weeks. She is now 5 months and weighs 14 lbs. She is doing fantastic! She has no major health issues. She is truly a blessing!
Lydia Miller Kennedy
Emma, our amazing micro-preemie; born at 25 weeks, weighed only ONE pound at birth. She's now 15.5 lbs., 9 months and doing GREAT.
My strong, tough twin boys, born at 29 weeks at the University of Michigan.
This is my son Steven Jacob, he was born at 34 weeks and had a 15-day NICU stay. Went through everything from a CPAP, a Ventilator, a blood transfusion and more; since the day he left the hospital he has been a happy healthy child. I am so grateful for all the NICU doctors and nurses who took such great care of him. I hope one day they find ways to prevent pre-eclampsia (the reason he was a preemie) and help more babies be born full term.
My son Eric was born prematurely at 34 weeks. He weighed 5 lbs. 10 oz., so he wasn't quite as teeny tiny as many preemies. He spent two weeks in the hospital, mostly due to jaundice issues. We were fortunate he was so healthy. He's now 2.5 and thriving. He's tall for his age, and most people have no idea he was an early arrival. We're thankful for the NICU staff at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA!
My daughter Rasario was born at 33 weeks weighing 4 lbs. 6oz.
Here is my wonderful 2-year-old, Cooper. Cooper was born at 31 weeks due to preterm labor. After 4 weeks in the NICU he was welcomed home and has been thriving ever since. He was born weighing 3 lbs. 9 oz. and 16 inches long.
My oldest son was born six weeks premature. I had developed preeclampsia and by 34 weeks, I was admitted into the hospital on bed rest. Two days into my bed rest, my water broke -- I was so nervous about having a preemie! He is now 9 years old and an amazing boy! The first picture is him at 4 days old in the NICU, the second picture was taken last week! My husband is in the picture holding him as a preemie... my husband was killed by a drunk driver 5 months ago, so this is a bittersweet photo.
In March 2014 I gave birth to our daughter, Jess, at 26 weeks. She spent 10.5 weeks in neonatal before she was discharged in June 2014. During her time in hospital she required four blood transfusions as well as help with her breathing and feeding. Now she is home she is thriving, and is such a happy and content baby. We live in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Our twin daughters were born on June 29, 2012, at 31 weeks, each weighing just over 3 lbs. They are now two and doing amazing, thanks to the support and care they received during their 7 1/2 week NICU stay. Here is a picture of Nora and Kinsey at 6 days old, enjoying kangaroo care with their daddy, and a picture at age 2 (Nora is on the left in both pictures).
This my my daughter, Hayden. She was born at 31 weeks and 2 lbs. 3 oz. She had complications with her heart, a large VSD, hole in her heart, that was repaired through open heart surgery when she was 5 months old and just over 5 pounds. She got through it all and is an amazing 5-year-old, now in kindergarten. She loves going to school. Her favorite things to do are play with her many friends at the park. She also loves to play with her doll house. She has a great imagination and I couldn't ask for a better daughter.
Adailya was 6 and a half weeks early and almost 5 lbs. She just turned 3 (Nov. 5) and is in perfect health and sweet as can be!
Jodha Srawan was born at 27 weeks on Feb 24, 2013. It was discovered at 20 weeks that my placenta was not working well enough. Jodha has IUGR and was growing at a very slow rate. Jodha stayed in the hospital about 106 days and came home at 5 lbs. 6 oz. At home, he thrived. The only issue we were concerned about was reflux and weight gain. We are working on making food and eating fun for him so hopefully the weight gain will be better. Jodha has been meeting all his milestones. He started walking at 10 months adjusted (13 months actual). Right now at 17 months adjusted, he is learning how to sing and increase his vocabulary. I may be biased, but Jodha is an incredible child. He is happy and loving. He fills our lives with joy.
Meredith and Reed Cole
This is our beautiful daughter, Manning Grace. She was born at 30 weeks. She weighed 2 lbs. 12 oz. and was 15 inches long. At 21 hours old she had surgery to repair her pancreas. She spent six weeks in the NICU. She is now a happy, healthy 2-year-old!
Our daughter Piper was born on February 17, 2010 at 27 weeks, weighing only 2 lbs. She stayed in the hospital for 100 days before finally coming home! Today she's a happy, healthy 4-year-old!
My baby boy Denver was born at 29 weeks, 2 days gestation while I was out of town visiting family. I developed undetected pre-eclampsia and placental abruption. He was born 12 minutes after arriving at the hospital, by ambulance, via emergency C-section. He weighed 2 lbs., 3 oz. (was suffering from IUGR). He needed some breathing assistance for a while and spent 7 weeks in the Level 3 NICU. Today he is 2 years old (almost 3!), right on track and he's a delightful, spunky, adorable little boy!
Katie de la Cruz
This is my son Gabriel. I developed severe preeclampsia with a blood pressure of 210/120 and was admitted for observation; 5 days later they took him. He was born at 27 weeks and 3 days weighing 2 lbs. 12 oz. He was born in September 2012 and lived in the ISCU for 4 months. His nurses were angels and are still to this day our best friends; we could not have gone through this without their friendship and sincere love for our son. Gabriel is now 2 years old and full of energy, with a passion for all things sports. He is the love of our life and the reason we breathe every second of every day!
Evie was born on December 2, 2012 at 32 weeks by emergency Caesarian. She was in NICU for just under 3 weeks before we got to take her home for Christmas! She is now nearly 2 years old and is perfect in every way, our little miracle.
Sophia and Kinley born at 35 weeks at 4 lbs. 11 oz. and 4 lbs. 5 oz. They suffered from Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome in the womb at 18 weeks. Without a laser ablation treatment, done at 19 weeks, one or both of them could have been lost. After 4 months of bed rest, my sweet girls made it to 35 weeks and stayed in the NICU for three weeks. They are now 18 months old.
This is my daughter Payton born at 25 weeks at 15 oz. She spent 140 days at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. She will be celebrating her second birthday next week (November 14, 2014). She is a courageous fighter and is such an inspiration to our family! She's my little rockstar!
Our amazing daughter, Ella Dillon, was born on Dec 16, 2011 at almost 28 weeks weighing in at 1 lb. 15 ounces. She was in the NICU for 63 days and defied the odds without needing one surgery (she just needed to grow!). Today, she is a walking miracle at almost 3 years old, having not one developmental delay. She's such a happy little girl who's tough as nails, smart and spunky.
I had graduated from college when out of nowhere I went into premature labor. After a emergency C-section I gave birth to my daughter Charlotte at 23 weeks 5 days gestation. She was 1 lb. 4.5 oz. and 11.5" long. She was given a 30 percent chance of survival at birth. She didn't do the typical preemie thing and didn't "honeymoon" as it's called. One of her lungs had torn and the other over inflated, and she was on the highest settings on the oscillator. However that was a breeze compared to the IVH or Intraventricular hemorrhages she received from her extreme prematurity. She had the worst bleeds a grade 4 and 3 with the grade 4 throughout the entire right hemisphere to the point that a large cyst formed in her brain and the brain matter dissolved. We were asked twice to continue with palliative care and that she will not have a decent quality of life. Her father and I decided that she would tell us when she had enough and we fought for her. She was extubated after 4 weeks and did well of course with monitoring for her hydrocephalus. After a PDA ligation on her due date she came home after 124 days in the NICU. Despite the huge obstacles she is doing well; currently she is 5 months old and has no delays, but she will continue to work with occupational therapists weekly.
My preemie was born at 32 weeks on Dec. 6, 2010! We knew from day one of finding out I was pregnant that she would come early. Due to my medical issues. After 8 weeks of bed rest and many steroid shots she made her way into this world. Sydney Nicole was born at 10:00 a.m. weighing in at 3 lbs. 9oz. She spent only 12 days in the NICU in Topeka, Kansas. She will turn 4 this December and loves to play, dance and "be crazy" with her friends. Every baby is a blessing and I just got to hold mine earlier than most!
Meagan Raymer, Photos: Tim Raymer, Hanna Salonen Photography
My son, Atticus, was born August 7, 2011 at 26 weeks at the University of Kentucky Hospital. He weighed 2 lbs. 1 oz. (940gm) and was 14.25" long and was classified as a micro-preemie. He had a 90-day stay in the NICU at Kentucky Children's Hospital, and was discharged home on November 4, 2011. Atticus is now a very happy, healthy, rambunctious 3-year-old. He has absolutely no delays, and you would never know he had the rough start that he did. We are incredibly blessed. Here are a few photos of him today at 3 years old.
Jessica Weisenberger/Hezlep Photography
My triplet daughters were born at 32 weeks, 1 day on August 7, 2010. Evelyn weighed 3 lbs., 5 oz. and was 16 inches long. Emma weighed 3 lbs., 9 oz. and was 17 inches long. Eleanor weighed 1 lb., 15 oz. and was 14 inches long.
My son Jaxon weighed 1 lb. 1.7 oz. at birth and was 11 inches long. He spent 112 days in the NICU. He had two neuro surgeries and one additional surgery. He will be 4 in a few months and is doing amazing!
Ann E. Tucker
My daughter, Katie Marie, who was born 5 weeks early 14 years ago. I was life flighted to St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois as I was suffering from pre-eclampsia and was in serious danger of having a stroke. Katie was born on June 17, 2000 weighing in at 4 lbs. She was so incredibly tiny and I was scared to death as she was my first child. She spent 11 days in the hospital. Today she is a beautiful, intelligent, funny, loving, caring, amazing 14-year-old. She is a freshman cheerleader and is loving life!
Ryan and Doris Bender
Vivian Jean Bender was born Nov 1st, 2012 at 7:26 p.m. I have congenital heart disease and ended up developing pre-eclampsia. Miss Vivian hadn't grown in 3 weeks, so they decided it would be safest to get her out. She weighed 3 lbs. 11 oz. The only thing wrong was the fact that she was tiny. As soon as she gained enough to keep her body temperature up herself, we were able to bring her home. She came home on her sister Mabel's 1st birthday, weighing 4 lbs. 1 oz. She just turned 2 and is healthy and as smart as ever!
Audrey was born at just 25 weeks weighing 12 oz. (350 grams) and 10 inches in length due to severe pre-eclampsia and severe IUGR. The doctors gave us very little hope in her survival. But she surpassed all expectations. After 93 days in the NICU, we brought our beautiful, healthy baby girl home. Today she is a healthy, happy 4-year-old.
We had our fifth baby in March and she was born premature, five weeks early. Her name is Alice Cambree. Every month on her month birthday I take a picture of her with a bear she received in the hospital. It was bigger than her then! Now she tosses it around like it's tiny! She was born at 3 lbs. 11 oz. and is over 15 lbs. now. She is our little miracle, having been born with a lot of factors stacked against her, but has thrived and overcome all so far!
Layla Rae Douglas was born December 3, 2009, five weeks early. She weight 4 lbs. at birth and spent 14 days in the NICU. She will be 5 in a couple of weeks, is 48 inches tall, 52 lbs. and growing like a weed!
Here are my twins Casey and Claire Caterino born at 34 weeks and today at 7 months.
My son Owen was born at 31 weeks gestation on Christmas morning 2009. We were in the NICU for 35 days. Today, he is a bright, healthy, happy almost 5-year-old. I’m sending pictures to give other parents what we needed most when we were in the NICU -- HOPE that the future can be very bright for these babies despite the early challenges.