Stories about: Societal Issues

Babies born extremely premature are surviving. How do they do in the long run?

The NICU at Boston Children's Hospital in 1976

Thirty years ago, no one would have expected babies born extremely prematurely—between 23 and 25 weeks’ gestation, considered the edge of viability—to survive long enough to worry about what the future might hold for them as third graders.

But times change. Treatments like surfactants and prenatal steroids, along with improvements in ventilators and nutrition, have often enabled children born in that “gray zone” to survive.

Thus, doctors and parents now can start to ask questions about the long-term development of extremely premature babies. How will he do—physically, cognitively, intellectually—in the long run? What impairments might she face, and how severe will they be?

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Eating disorders affect boys, gay and lesbian youth

“When asked to conjure an image of a patient living with an eating disorder, I imagine many people picture a young, thin woman. This reflects two common stereotypes: that eating disorders only affect women, and that all people with eating disorders are low-weighted. In fact, clinical experience and an evolving field of research show that many males struggle with eating disorders,” says Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, fellow in Adolescent Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Similarly, parents and health care providers may see gay, lesbian and bisexual youth in terms of their sexual identities and forget that these teens may face body image and weight control issues as well.

Two recent studies published by researchers at Boston Children’s debunk these stereotypes and may change the way parents and providers think about eating disorders and risky weight control behaviors in all teens.

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Personal space invasion: thoughts on belly-touching during pregnancy

In Pennsylvania, if you touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking, you can be charged with harassment.

If there had been a law like that in Massachusetts during my pregnancies, I could have charged a whole lot of people.

It caught me off guard when I was pregnant with my eldest. The only touching I had ever had before from acquaintances or strangers was a handshake, a touch on the arm, an occasional barely-touching hug or an air-peck on the cheek. All of a sudden hands were solidly on my belly, often without warning, let alone permission. It was like all social norms of personal space were thrown out the window.

It caught me so off guard that I didn’t know what to say or do. The people were saying nice things, so it felt like it would be curmudgeonly to tell people to keep their hands off me (as much as I wanted to say that). And once I started letting it happen, well, it was hard to stop. After a while, and certainly by the time my sixth was born, I didn’t even notice.  People touched, commented, guessed gender (and were oddly often right), everywhere I went. It was like my belly had become public property.

Which, actually, is how I came to understand it.

It’s the same with babies, after all. When my babies were born people still came up and, without asking, got right into their faces (and mine), touching them and talking to them. This was less surprising to me; after all, that’s how people are about babies. This gave me a different perspective on all that belly-touching during pregnancy: people thought of my belly as the baby. The fact that my skin and muscle were in the way was irrelevant.

And as annoying as all that personal space invasion was, it was undeniably celebratory. People were genuinely happy for me, and genuinely cared about my well-being and the well-being of my child.

It made me think about my favorite quote from Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

We do belong to each other. We are connected; our well-being affects everyone else, in small and sometimes big ways. And while the phrase “our children are our future” is overused and corny, it’s true. In a very real way, our children do belong to everyone.

We should celebrate and support pregnancy. Yeah, sure, it might be better to do it in a way that didn’t make anyone feel invaded or harassed. I absolutely think that at a minimum, folks should ask before touching another person’s body in any non-emergency situation.

But, honestly, I’d rather live in a world where people forget to ask and reach out than in one where everyone keeps their hands to themselves. I’d rather we show our belonging to each other every chance we get.


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Why I’m Rethinking Multitasking

We got a puppy a couple of weeks ago, and since then I’ve been getting less done.

This might not be such a bad thing.

I recently read a blog written by a Connecticut mom about how she left her 4-year-old daughter unattended in the bathtub when she heard an email chime on her iPad—only to come back a couple of minutes later to find her asleep, slumping down, close to slipping underwater. “I almost killed my daughter,” she wrote.

My first thought: there but for the grace of God go I.

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