Maggie McCracken understands the reality of preterm birth. In 2009, when she was just 22.5 weeks into her pregnancy, amniotic fluid began leaking from her uterus. She and her husband Quinton, a former professional baseball player, “needed to decide whether to [try to] save Isaiah or not. We just said, ‘Of course we will,’” she remembers.
McCracken was a little less than 24 weeks along when doctors performed an emergency C-section to save her son. Isaiah was born on July 7, 2009, weighing just 1.7 pounds.
“They told us we were in for the fight of our lives,” she says. “He was born at 23.6 weeks and had less than a 10 percent chance of surviving.”
Isaiah was in the hospital for more than four months. In the process, he received three surgeries and seven blood transfusions. Because he was on an incubator, McCracken couldn’t hold her son for two-and-a-half months, which was “hard, since most moms get to hold their children right after birth.”
Isaiah now goes to speech and occupational therapy and will turn 3 in July. Looking at him, “you would never knew he was a preemie — he’s huge!” McCracken says. Her son has the unique honor of being the youngest child born at Scottsdale Shea Medical Center to survive his birth.
McCracken got involved in the March of Dimes after her son’s birth, because “no one had answers for me.”
“I did all the right things, took my vitamins and didn’t know what went wrong,” she said.
She searched “preemie” on the Internet and found the March of Dimes website, which she said helped her understand what went wrong with her pregnancy.
McCracken is now a mission mom and an ambassador for the organization, which means she tells her story at different functions and to the press. She says she has a unique advantage in publicizing the cause because of her husband’s reputation as a former professional baseball player for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He played the sport for 12 years before returning to the state to work in the Diamondbacks front office because Arizona is “our home,” McCracken says.
McCracken began her own charity, called Miracles Do Happen, to “pay it forward” and hold events to donate proceeds to March of Dimes.
The McCracken family had no choice in Isaiah’s early birth. But increasing numbers of women in Arizona are actually choosing to give birth early to accommodate everything from busy schedules to personal preferences for a child’s birth date.
If a baby is born at 35 weeks, its brain is just two-thirds the size of a baby born two to three weeks later, according to McCracken.
Last week, three health organizations pledged to lower the state’s preterm birth rate 8 percent by 2014 as part of a statewide campaign discouraging early induction.
At a news conference, the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Perinatal Trust and the Arizona chapter of the March of Dimes announced that the organizations are working together to encourage measures to lower premature births and infant mortality.
In 2009, Arizona’s preterm birth rate was 12.7 percent, according to the most recent March of Dimes report card. The pledge announced Monday aims to lower that rate to 11.6 percent by 2014.
The focus will be on eliminating the induction of labor prior to 39 weeks of gestation. Doctors have a responsibility, McCracken says, to educate mothers about the dangers of inducing labor early.
“It is much more difficult to watch a kid push and struggle through therapy then it is to just wait an extra week until the baby is ready,” McCracken says.
Some baseball wives even induce labor to match their husband’s jersey number, which McCracken says is “bewildering.”
“They don’t know the damage it can have, though, because their doctors aren’t educating them,” she says.
Preterm birth costs the country $26 billion annually, according to a 2006 Institute of Medicine report. It is the leading cause of infant mortality and one million babies die each year from birth prior to 37 weeks, according to a March of Dimes press release.
“Moms should let nature take its course and go on the baby’s schedule as opposed to their own,” says McCracken.