21-Week Miracle Preemie Is Precious But Rare

NICUI’m thrilled when a preemie -- any preemie -- goes home with his or her parents. When I heard that a baby born at 21 weeks of gestation had beat all the odds to survive, my heart went out to her. But I also worry that people will assume this is going to be the new norm.

Care and nurturing of preemies has come a long way since John and Jackie Kennedy lost their 5-week premature son Patrick to acute respiratory distress in 1963. But there's only so much we can do, and when there's so much attention paid to an extremely unusual case like this, I worry that people will forget how important it is to watch for the signs of pre-term labor, to listen when pregnant women say they're in distress (rather than assuming she's a hypochondriac, like my midwife did), and to give high-risk pregnant women a break.


As the mother of a 30-weeker who spent a month and a half in the NICU, I saw that my daughter was mostly okay and just needed time. But I also saw other things that I would sometimes like to forget. Life among seriously compromised newborns is not easy, and often heartbreaking.

Little Frieda Mangold's mom, Yvonne Mangold, went into labor at 20 weeks. Doctors were able to keep her stable for about a week before her twins were born, 128 days early, on November 7, 2010. Frieda weighed 1 pound and was 11 inches long. When she went home last week (after more than four months in the hospital), she tipped the scales at almost 8 pounds. Her brother, Killian, died in December, six weeks after his birth.

The photo published with this story is misleading: it shows the baby five months after her birth, when she weighed as much as a term baby. I’ll leave it to you to Google photos of what a premature baby looks like -- particularly at 21 weeks. Suffice it to say that the first time I saw my daughter in the isolette, my heart caved in, and I was warned that my very touch -- my loving mother’s hands -- would cause her pain, and I should pat rather than stroke because her paper-thin skin was that frail.

Even in this specific case, preemies vary wildly.

This baby’s survival is wonderful. It’s a miracle. And it’s a fluke. Let this baby go home and enjoy her life, and her twin brother rest in peace. And let's hope modern medicine continues to improve so preemies have even greater chances of survival in the future.

Does Frieda's story make you think early preemies are more likely to survive?

Photo by Dave Q/Flickr

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