21-Week Miracle Preemie Is Precious But Rare

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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

newborns, complications

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winte... winterrose82

As the mom of a preemie, this warms my heart, and I'm sorry for the family's loss as well.

juneb... junebaby11

i think its possible but there are reasons that they dont survive, their bodies are ready yet and like alot of babies born way too early it has effects on them for the rest of their lives, its great that she lived but what will her life be like later on, will she be delayed? what kind of issues, yes i know if i had a child that early i would do everything in my power to keep her/him alive, but as you said most cases of babies born that early do not survive, she must be a fighter! congrats to the family :)

Beths... Bethsunshine

This is amazing!! Medical technology is getting better all the time, and I truly believe that we will hear more stories like this in the future!!

angev... angevil53

i honestly have never heard of a child that early surviving. i wonder if they did anything different or if she was just a fighter.

Javi0... Javi05Eli07

My heart broke seeing my 29 weeker for the first time.  He spent 5 weeks in the NICU and was very healthy for being that early.  I can't imagine 21 weeks.  My heart breaks everytime I hear about mothers and babies facing the prematurity battle.

jingl... jinglebells8677

My cousins son was just born at 25 weeks. He is now 12 days old and doing very well. We look forward to every passing day for him to get stronger so he can go home with his family. I know that my cousin and his wife are dealing with this as well as they can. I know it was very hard on them for the first fews day since mom was in another hospital as well and they wherent sure she was going to make it either. God and modern meds are wonderful.

Kasey Comingore

my son was born at 31 weeks, and it was really hard for me not to see him until the next day.  but when i got to his incubator and started to talk to him, he tried to turn to my voice.  he was so weak, and tiny (3 lbs 3 oz) but he knew me and wanted to be with me.  i knew then that he was going to be just fine.  61 days later, he came home a healthy, happy baby!

Saras... Sarasahmof3

Both my niece and nephew were born at about 26-30 week old.  I don't really remember their ages exactly, I was only 15 when they were born.  I do remember the fear of possibly losing them.  I am happy to report that they are fine young adults with no know ill effects from their early birth. Yes, our medical teams are getting better at saving these precious live, but I hope that one day preemies will be a thing of the past and that all babies will be born full term, I know wishful thinking. Both my pregnancies were full term.  My first was 14 days late and my twins were born at 37 weeks, and they were big, 7lbs2oz and 6lbs10oz.

allie... alliesmom112

That is amazing that the baby survived. Having had dd 6 weeks early I remember how scary that was. She had spent some extra time in the hospital and she just needed little time and a little extra weight before she could come home. I remember though seeing all the preemies in the nicu that were so much worse off than my dd. It just broke my heart.

Momma... MommaSiete

I think it's great that with our technology and medical advances this is able to happen now.

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