The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes – Born Too Soon: Pre-term Births on the Rise

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Amy Miller and the two year-old twins Devon and FelixIt’s been two years since my twins, Felix and Devon were born on July 27, 2007. In that time pretty much every mother with grown children has advised me to “enjoy it while you can” because this wondrous time will seem like it flew by. “They’ll never be babies again!” they say. “Good”, I reply.

I wish I could say that the time has flown by but the fact is that the first year and a half were pretty challenging for us as first-time parents. Don’t get me wrong. I count my blessings every minute of every day. I have two beautiful, healthy, happy little boys. But it’s only been recently that Alex and I feel that we’ve found a rhythm with them and we’re starting to actually have fun. They are talking, singing, dancing, running and just recently, interacting and playing more with each other. They make us laugh all the time. Who knew that toddlers had such a sense of humor?

As a result of the QUEST story, my pregnancy became more of a public event than I expected it to be. Naturally, after the boys were born, there were several inquiries as to our well-being. Here’s what happened:

After lying in bed at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco for 30 days, I was very close to the end of my rope. Bed rest is infinitely more difficult that I could have ever imagined. When I was 34 weeks and 5 days pregnant, after an evening of crying to Alex that I couldn’t take much more of it, I decided to wind down and go to sleep. Normally, Alex would drive back to Oakland, where we lived at the time. But it was 1AM and even though he had to be at work at 6AM, he was too tired to go home. We asked a nurse to bring him a cot to sleep on in my room. Thank goodness we did. About 10 minutes after we turned off the lights, I felt my water break. If he’d gone back across the Bay Bridge, he would have missed the birth. We called the nurses and doctors and they decided to deliver the boys via caesarian section. Devon, or “baby A” as he was called at that time, was still breech and doctors will not deliver twins vaginally if the first baby is breech.

By 3:30AM, I had two little pink, wrinkly babies. Baby A was 4lbs. 12 oz., Baby B was 4 lbs., 6 oz. They stayed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for 2 weeks then we took them home. They were perfectly healthy but just needed to gain a bit of weight and be able to keep their temperatures up without the help of an incubator. The rest, as they say, is history. They are now developing normally; growing and learning new things every hour, it seems. Life is good.

I’m also very happy to report that the other two families in the QUEST story are doing very well, too. Trynne Miller and David Prince’s identical twin daughters, Kate and Charlotte, were born at 28 weeks and 5 days gestation. Average gestation for twins is 35-36 weeks. For a singleton, it’s approximately 40 weeks. Kate weighed 2 lbs. 8 oz., Charlotte was 2 lbs., 5 oz. They were in the NICU for 8 weeks before going home. Today, according to father, David:

Kate and Charlotte Miller-Prince

"They have 'caught up to their age' in terms of their height and weight, and I suspect also
their skills, as they're dancing and talking up a storm. Charlotte (aka Charlie) is speaking in complete, well-formed paragraphs… but we can only understand a few of the words of them."

Josephine Tooley Boyd at age 2

The other child in the story, Josephine Tooley Boyd was born at 28 weeks, 2 days. She was 2 lbs., 12 oz. at birth. She spent 55 days in the hospital before going home at 4 lbs., 6oz. Mother Sarah and her husband moved the family to Oregon in early 2009. According to Sarah, Josephine is “doing great” and quite a big girl. She’s already in the 99th percentile for height and weight for her actual age, not even her “adjusted” age, which is a common parameter for preemies. She’s a talker, speaking in three word sentences and seemingly possesses above average motor skills. She loves playing outdoors and especially loves tractors.

All three children were enrolled in UCSF’s longitudinal MRI study to monitor development of preemies through the first couple of years of their lives. No problems were ever detected with any of these children. But they were the lucky ones. In our society today, preterm birth affects more than 530,000 children and the numbers continues to rise.

In November 2008, the March of Dimes released a “report card” for the nation on prematurely, which assigns grades to both the nation overall as well as to states which are based on how well they address the issue of prematurity.

The U.S. earned a “D” and not a single state received and “A”. The only state to earn a "B" was Vermont. Eight others earned a "C," 23 states earned a "D," and 18 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia got failing grades of "F."

There’s lots of good research being done but we still have a long way to go before we understand enough about why prematurity occurs that we can prevent it. Until then, visit the March of Dimes website for important information for all pregnant women that will help them recognize the early signs of preterm labor and possible risks for premature birth.

Sometimes, I think back to those thirty days when I was hospitalized prior to their birth and I remember all the things that I was fretting about. Would the boys be healthy? Will I be a good mother? Will our relationship weather the turmoil of two newborns? Will I love them? Will they love me? How will we be able to afford two children? How can we manage to both work full-time when I go back to QUEST in a few months? Believe me, if there was an issue to worry about, I did it. I think that’s pretty normal for first time mothers but lying in a hospital bed with nothing else to do immediately prior to being forced to deal with these issues really amplified those concerns for me.

Now that I’m an old hand at motherhood, I can look back and realize that many of these issues have a way of working themselves out. We figure things out as we go. We adjust to the changes that come along with parenthood because we have no choice but to do so. And thankfully, we did not have any short or long-term health issues to deal with as a result of their premature birth.


Watch the Born Too Soon: Pre-term Births on the Rise television story online.


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Category: Biology, Health, Television

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Amy Miller

About the Author ()

Amy Miller is the Supervising Producer and Partner at Spine Films, a boutique independent production company specializing in hard science factual television. Prior to joining the Spine team, Amy worked for six years at KQED (PBS) in San Francisco as the Series Producer of QUEST, a multimedia science and environment series. It was at KQED that she was finally able to merge her lifelong passions for science and storytelling. Originally from Iowa, Amy grew up in Colorado then landed in San Francisco in 1991. She studied biology and film production at University of Colorado and San Francisco State University, and since graduating in 1995, she has worked as a camera assistant, documentary filmmaker, TV producer and correspondent on a variety of cable and public television shows including two other KQED series, "Spark" and "Independent View". For her work in television, she has earned ten regional Emmy awards, two AAAS Kavli Science Journalism awards, and a Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism Feature Writing award.
  • Kim Delosier

    On a whim, I just typed "Kate Charlotte UCSF premature twins" into google and this came right up! My son, Elliot, was in the NICU with all three of these girls. I remember Josephine's mom bringing in a miniscule bikini on July 4th, 2007 and bathing her in a tiny plastic tub with "Josephine's Spa" written on the side. I wasn't in the mood for much humor at the time, but it was cute. The twins were across the aisle from Elliot for a few days, and I never got to meet their parents. They were tiny, but seemingly very stable–they just ate, slept, and grew. It's truly amazing to see these photos and read the updates. Elliot has always been healthy as well and is doing great.