This post is in collaboration with March of Dimes and The Motherhood. All opinions are my own.
January is National Birth Defects Prevention month. This hits home for me, seeing as how Sebastian was in the NICU for a little over a month because he was born with three congenital anomalies. One in three babies is born with a birth defect, and in Sebastian’s case, one in 10,000 to 40,000 babies are born with a VACTERL classification. These statistics are really hard to hear, and even harder to live with. Obviously not all birth defects can be prevented (as I have learned), but I’ve partnered with the March of Dimes to share how women can at least increase their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
I beat myself up for a long time about Sebastian’s situation and wondered what I could have done differently. In my instance, I don’t believe there was anything I could have changed to avoid Sebastian’s circumstances. After reading about how women can prevent birth defects, I realized that maybe taking care of myself is why Sebastian “graduated” relatively early from the NICU. Although I couldn’t prevent Sebastian’s abnormalities, I made him as healthy as I could so that he could fight through the pain of surgery and grow strong enough to come home.
It is recommended that women take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Thanks to my mom, I did that. Folic acid helps prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine. I happened to be in the NICU visiting Sebastian when a technician came by to check his spine via ultrasound. He spent a long time in there, while I stood and watched and waited. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a large percentage of babies classified as VACTERL have spinal issues. I probably should have been more relieved when I was told he didn’t appear to have any spinal abnormalities. I’d like to thank my mother (again) for giving me an additional folic acid supplement to take with my prenatal vitamin and iron supplement. Foods that contain folate, such as lentils (momma Rodriguez staple), green leafy vegetables, black beans (another momma Rodriguez specialty), and orange juice, can also make a big impact.
If any of my readers recalls, just before becoming pregnant I was basically in the best shape of my life – even since my roller derby days! It took a nutrition program and working out 4 to 6 days per week on average, and I felt great. Of course I dropped the program when I found out I was pregnant, but continued to workout, decreasing my visits as I became larger and more uncomfortable. I thought that for sure my only goal was getting those babies above 5 pounds in order to avoid any medical complications, and that working out and eating well would accomplish that. Maybe it didn’t keep both boys out of the NICU, but I do believe it assisted in expediating Sebastian’s discharge. Both boys were over 5 pounds and dang if Sebastian isn’t a little fighter. When my NICU nurse friend told me that Sebastian was discharged in a shorter time than she’s ever seen for babies with his condition, I attributed it to our mutual gym. Maybe I said it in jest, but it’s true that women should reach a healthy weight before they’re even pregnant. Eating healthy and participating in regular physical activities are recommended before and during pregnancy.
I am so grateful that Sebastian is with us. He’s a sweet little guy with the strength of a thousand. Babies are amazing and resilient, and he proves it to me every day. There were so many moments in the hospital when I was terrified and depressed, when we were moving forward, but even further back. Regardless of the situation, Sebastian kept right on fighting. He has a couple more surgeries to go, but I just know he will pull through.
I hope more women put forth an effort and attempt to prevent birth defects. I do not wish a NICU stay on anyone, but I will say that I am grateful for those amazing nurses, doctors, and other medical staff members. Their positive outlooks just about kept me going.