The Preemie Primer: Recommended Reading for Mamas on Bedrest

September 2nd, 2010

When you are pregnant, you are bombarded with information and advertisements for everything from infant swaddling blankets, to formulas, to cord blood banking, to strollers. Much of the  information that I received in my bag at each of my first obstetrical visits was useless. They were simply little leaflets trying to sell me things that I didn’t really want or need. How much better it would have been if I had received a copy of The Preemie Primer: A Complete Guide for Parents of Premature Babies-From Birth Through the Toddler Years and Beyond.

The Preemie Primer was written by Jennifer Gunter, MD, a board certified obstetrician/gynecologist, who is also board certified in pain medicine and board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation. At a first glance it seems like Dr. Gunter is yet another “expert” telling you what the “scientific evidence” says you should do for your baby. While Gunter offers comprehensive information on caring for a premature infant, the book is far from dry and overly ‘jargoned’.  At its best it is a deeply personal account of how Jennifer Gunter, wife and mother, navigated the peaks and valleys of caring for her markedly premature boys Oliver and Victor (born at 26 weeks) while also grieving the loss of their triplet brother Aidan, born at 22 weeks. She is simply sharing what she learned and knows with other parents and has created a powerful resource for parents of preemies.

Now I don’t want to discount Dr. Gunter’s knowledge. She has done a great job of pulling together the necessary medical information pertaining to preterm labor, prematurity and caring for mom and baby (ies) post partum. But the honest truth is that much of the “medical” information is freely available-on the web and in books and texts.  But The Preemie Primer is for parents of preemies who, at a time when this information is in critical need, they dont’ have a nanosecond to spare seeking it out. Part of what makes it such an excellent resource is that not only is the medical information readily at hand in one place, Dr. Gunter also includes information on self care for parents (asking for help with post partum depression for example, deep breathing, meditating…) and navigating the complex US insurance system to get the care premature babies and children desperately need. Yes, the chapters on  “The Mind-Body Connection” and “Making the System Work for You” were really helpful and informative and a welcome departure from the sterile statistics, instructions and definitions.

But far and away the “precious jewel” of this book is that it is written by Jennifer Gunter, wife and mother to two navigated the peaks and valleys of caring for her markedly premature boys Oliver and Victor (born at 26 weeks) while also grieving the loss of their triplet brother Aidan, born at 22 weeks.premature little boys and an angel in heaven. The success of The Preemie Primer results from the fact that as I read it, I felt as if I was sitting across from Jennifer Gunter, drinking coffee and chatting as she tells her story.  I think the most powerful parts of the book are the gray insets that tell her personal story, her personal struggles to care for her living boys while at the same time grieving her angel Aidan. The times she was so overwhelmed with emotions that all she could do was cry. At those times her credentials were irrelevant. She was a mom, struggling for herself and for her sons, and as vulnerable as the rest of us.

One of my favorite vignettes was her conversation with the hospital representative as she disputed charges for Aidan. Anyone who has ever had the frustration of speaking with hospital representatives who are insensitive, unyielding and basically ignorant to medical procedures will totally relate to this conversation. Gunter was arguing to have charges made for Aidan’s “care” removed from her hospital bill.  You feel the pang in your own heart as you hear Gunter tell this representative that Aidan died and did not receive care as is indicated on the bill.

While I like and highly recommend The Preemie Primer (Remember, I said it should be in every new OB bag!), I realize it is a tough sell. In the same way that obstetricians don’t discuss the possibility of bed rest until a woman is having it prescribed, I doubt The Preemie Primer will become recommended reading for mainstream pregnancy. And this is unfortunate. Having had a late preterm birth, I would have loved to have had even an inkling of what to expect. As high risk as I was, no one ever even mentioned that I was at risk for preterm labor. I was never counseled about the signs and symptoms of preterm labor. When I delivered my daugher at 36 wks and 6 d, I fully expected to have her put on my chest, to nurse her and then to have her in my room. Instead she was whisked away from me by nurses and neonatologists and then admitted to the NICU (which is never mentioned or visited in hospital tours). I was completely blind-sided by the entire experience.

Our culture likes to “stay positive” and always “look on the bright side”.  But turning a blind eye to potential catastrophe is just plain stupid. No woman wants bed rest, a premature infant or, heaven forbid, to have a stillbirth. But the reality is that these events happen. Just because we don’t talk about them or “don’t have that in my family or medical history” doesn’t mean that they can’t happen to us. Obstetricians and midwives should talk about them (at the very least) and give parents tools and resources that they can readily access in the event that the most awful and unexpected happens. So yes, I do think that The Preemie Primer should be put in OB bags-or made readily available in OB offices, hospital gift shops, family resource centers and the like.

We have to face the fact that not everyone has the picture perfect pregnancy, labor and delivery. But things needn’t spiral completely out of control. Research shows that patients who feel that their health care providers are honest and up front with them, explaining every test and treatment and potential outcome are far less likely to come away with ill feelings or to sue their providers. We have to have the hard conversations. But if OB’s and midwives don’t want to do that, or feel uncomfortable or as if they are “scaring” their patients, then have resources readily available.  As Dr. Gunter said herself during our podcast interview, “Plan for the worst but expect the best”.

The Preemie Primer is available on this website via our store in the Infancy/Childhood section. We respectfully ask that if you decide to purchase The Preemie Primer as a result of reading this blog post or listening to the podcast interview with Dr. Gunter that you do so via our store as it helps to fund the operation of this website.

Share your stories of preterm labor and caring for a premature infant below.

One response to “The Preemie Primer: Recommended Reading for Mamas on Bedrest”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jennifer Gunter and Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Dr. Jennifer Gunter. Dr. Jennifer Gunter said: Lovely review of The Preemie Primer @Mamasonbesrest calls it "recommended reading" […]

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