When Andrea Powell went into labor at 23 weeks and six days, she was unprepared and afraid, fearing for her baby’s life.
“I wondered what I had missed, what if I had come in a day before,” Powell says. “How did all of this start?”
Powell wasn’t prepared for a premature birth. A nurse herself, Powell never expected it could happen to her, never planned and said she never had enough information on what to do for premature births in the first place.
“No one expects to deliver halfway through your pregnancy,” Powell says. It was the ultimate nightmare for a new mother. Powell and her husband, Neal, were scared.
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Powell joined about 30 people – families and community members – gathered at the Lighthouse for Children in downtown Fresno on Tuesday evening in honor of World Prematurity Day. They walked to Fresno City Hall, illuminating the night and the buildings in a purple glow to raise awareness of premature births. Fresno County has one of the highest premature birth rates in California. Each year, more than 1,500 premature babies are born in the county, more than 10 percent of births on average.
While babies are fully developed at 39 weeks, preemies, who are considered those born at less than 37 weeks’ gestation, are at higher risk for birth complications and death. Newborns born at less than 29 weeks especially face a struggle for survival and can have lifelong physical or other disabilities.
No one expects to deliver halfway through your pregnancy.
Andrea Powell, nurse and mother of a preemie
First 5 Fresno County and Fresno State are both part of the the Fresno County Preterm Birth Initiative (PTBi), started in 2014 by the University of California at San Francisco as part of a 10-year global initiative to reduce preterm births.
Powell was among several speakers discussing the initiative or, as in Powell’s case, describing their experiences.
On Feb. 17, 2014, Ava Powell was born weighing only 1 pound, 12 ounces. Skin nearly see-through, eyelids fused, wrapped in plastic, electrodes covering her from head to toe, Ava was barely recognizable as a baby – but she was their baby, Powell says, and Ava was a fighter early on.
“I didn’t even get the chance to feel like a mom yet. Every day for 119 days I was not her primary caregiver.”
Ava suffered setbacks, from a brain bleed a week after birth to developing meningitis. At every turn, Powell says, she wondered whether her baby would ever be able to walk or talk, what life would be like for little Ava and her family. But day by day, Ava grew stronger, Powell says, thanks to the help of an entire community. Ava is 18 months old now, and is in therapy once a week. She is doing better than any expected outcomes, but as a family they are still in a battle together.
“While it’s overwhelming and hard to manage, I don’t know where I’d be if it weren’t for all the other people making sure she was doing well at home,” Powell says. “The phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is something that hits home for a preemie mom. We need the village. We need others to help us navigate this new life. We need that community. Without that, I don’t know where we would be as a family today.”
Megan Ginise: 559-441-6614