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Love and Loss: Michigan family speaks out on Prematurity Awareness Day

Twins Rowan and Noah were born at 26 weeks 5 days, weighing just 3 pounds between the two of them. Noah passed 8 days later.

Andrea and Troy Bouman haven't had their family together in months. The couple has been taking turns visiting their daughter Rowan at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital for months. 

The Boumans have only gone home to the Upper Peninsula twice since the birth of their twins, Rowan and Noah, on July 31. The first was the night Noah died, just 8 days after their birth. The second was the night of his burial.

Andrea gave birth to the twins after just 26 weeks and 5 days gestation, which is considered very early. Noah weighed just two pounds and one ounce. Rowan was even smaller at just one pound and 13 ounces. 

According to Dr. Ben Doctor, a Neonatologist with Spectrum Health, any baby born earlier than the 30-week mark, or weighing less than 1.5 kilograms (about 3.3 pounds) is considered very early, and will need to begin it's life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. He says 1.5% of all American babies are born very early.

The Boumans had to do their interview from separate locations because of COVID protocols, Andrea was home with their 4-year-old, while Troy held Rowan at the hospital. 

13 On Your Side asked what advice Andrea would give parents dealing with loss and a child in the NICU, to which she responded, "When the days get long and it feels like it will never end, it will.”

After the interview was over, Andrea had a moment to think more on the question. She realized she wanted to offer a different sentiment to families in a similar position. She equated the experience to a rollercoaster — one that they never expected to be on.

"My real advice to parents," Andrea sent in an email, "is to hold and interact with your baby as much as possible. It is scary to touch or hold a tiny baby, but even changing diapers is empowering. Skin-to-skin has been shown over and over to improve outcomes for babies, help with bonding and growth."

The importance of that skin-to-skin contact, also known as Kangaroo Care, was echoed by Dr. Doctor. he said even though it takes a number of team members to move a baby from the incubator to their parents arms, two hours of contact with a parent each day can make a big difference. 

"It's been really instrumental in allowing us to enjoy these moments like I am now," Troy said. 

The Boumans said it almost feels like Rowan has two birthdays, July 31, when she was born, and her due date, which passed a week ago. Rather than a celebration, the day brought to light the importance of letting herself grieve, which she said is important for any parent with a prematurely born child. 

"Even if their baby is doing well, they are grieving the absence of a normal pregnancy," she said. "The opportunity to bring baby home with them, even missing the chance for a baby shower. It is ok to mourn that."

According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies are born prematurely worldwide each year, coming out to roughly one in every 10 babies. 

On any given day, the NICU at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is caring for an average of 85 babies, which equates to the NICU team treating around 1,600 babies each year.

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