Why more moms need to share the #unspokenstories of their premature births

Honest stories of pregnancy, parenthood and loss don't get told as much as they should, so the crisis—in which more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, and more than 50,000 mothers experience life-threatening complications as a result of pregnancy and birth—goes unnoticed.

Why more moms need to share the #unspokenstories of their premature births

There's no time in life quite like pregnancy and the postpartum period. Physically, we've never been more connected to someone else. It's incredibly beautiful, but also incredibly hard and lonely—especially when your birth story doesn't go as planned.

That was the reality for Hannah Spencer. She wasn't expecting to get preeclampsia, or spend a month in the hospital or welcome her son Nolan a month early. It wasn't the birth story she'd expected, but it is the one she now sharing through the March of Dimes' #UnspokenStories campaign.

"There was no history of complicated pregnancies or births in my family. I was taking it day by day and enjoying this special time in my life. I was assuming it would be like most of the stories I'd heard from others," Spencer tells Motherly.

She continues, "[I] never knew about the NICU, never been to a NICU, knew nothing of prematurity or the difficulties associated."

Unfortunately, Spencer's birth story is so much more common than she knew.

A recent report by the The National Center for Health Statistics found that in 2018, for the fourth year in a row, America's preterm birth rate rose, and as President and CEO Stacey D. Stewart points out, "persistent inequities in access to quality health care in our country play a role in driving up the preterm birth rate."

That's why Stewart and her colleagues at The March of Dimes are encouraging moms like Spencer to share their truths, to talk about how hard a premature birth can be, so that lawmakers, medical care providers and researchers will seek solutions to the problems and babies face every day in America.

According to Stewart, honest stories of pregnancy, parenthood and loss don't get told as much as they should, so the crisis—in which more than 380,000 babies are born prematurely each year, and more than 50,000 mothers experience life-threatening complications as a result of pregnancy and birth—goes unnoticed.

In the United States, 700 mothers die from pregnancy-related causes each year, and American babies are way more likely to die in the first year of life than babies in other wealthy nations, and black mothers face disproportionate risks.

Spencer had never heard any NICU stories until she was living one with Nolan, who weighed 2 pounds at birth.

"It wasn't until I was on bed rest that we posted an update on Facebook about our progress and people just started reaching out with their own stories of prematurity. I was forever grateful to those people who allowed me to ask them questions and lean on them for advice," Spencer explains.

She continues: "It's a story that many have never heard but also a fairly common one. Now that we have gone through it and feel comfortable telling our story, it's amazing how many people we have come across with some sort of connection to our story. It's important for us to let the world know that we went through this, it was the most challenging thing to date in our lives, but we lived through it and feel stronger because of it."

Spencer and Stewart are hoping that more moms don't have to live through it, or worse, lose their lives or their baby. If people know that Spencer and Nolan survived a harrowing experience, and that they are still luckier than other families, the story of maternal health in America can be rewritten.

"Unspoken Stories aims to build a supportive community for moms and families by breaking the stigma of sharing stories around all forms of pregnancy and parenting," says Stewart.

Spencer is now busy chasing Nolan, who is a healthy 3-year-old, but she's also busy advocating for change. She and Nolan recently walked in the March of Babies and she is always telling her birth story, even though it is hard.

If you have a story you want to share, visit Unspokenstories.org or use the hashtag #unspokenstories on social media.

It's time for America to start listening, and for mothers' stories to no longer go unspoken.

{Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Nolan's name as Noah.]

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