Book Review: Fragile Beginnings

Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU is not an easy read.

Told from the perspective of Dr. Adam Wolfberg, both a perinatologist and preemie dad, the pages are filled with emotional triggers to send me back to my own NICU experience. His daughter, Larissa, was born at 26 weeks when her mother suddenly went into labor. She then suffered a Grade IV brain bleed. (Larissa, not her mom.)

Interspersed throughout the story are thick science discussions about the complex world of saving tiny babies – sometimes to the point of pushing Larissa’s story to the periphery. What can be done for them? How far has tiny baby care come in just a few short years? What are the lasting effects of extreme efforts to save a child? And when is it too much; is palliative care sometimes kinder – a question not of “can it be done,” but “should it be done.”

It struck me that the intricate medical discussions involved the types of scientific development I would have studiously avoided at all costs in a previous life. But now, as a proud preemie mom, I not only devoured the history and background, but I understood quite a bit. This was slightly disturbing.

So why was I reading this?

I got an email from a real-life publicist. It was a pitch from someone who appeared to have actually read my site.

“I notice you write about preemie-related topics. I’m working with father of a premature child, obstetrician, and author Dr. Adam Wolfberg, and I thought you might be interested in taking a look at his new book FRAGILE BEGINNINGS (Beacon Press, Feb. 2012) for review consideration.”

Yes. Yes I would be. Send me the book.

I was keenly curious about the perspective of preemie parenthood indoctrination from someone with knowledge of the medical background. And Wolfberg notes this himself, stating, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

When the muppets were born, I didn’t realize the extent of the dangers they faced. I did not have the medical journals listing the grim statistics. And I’d been banned from the Google by medical staff caring for my tiny children. Wolfberg knows all too well why.

Fragile Beginnings details the history of this precarious medical field. I think this was my favorite part of the book. Did you know that in the not to distant past, preemies were placed in incubators and heralded as sideshow fodder (as recently as the 1930s)?

You see, neonatology is a relatively recent field. Apparently physicians found it much sexier to perform daring surgeries or cure cancer than coax a tiny baby to breathe. Priorities people! When Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born at 35 weeks and succumbed to respiratory distress two days later, priorities changed. Right quick.

In data drawn from 1958-1968, the mortality rate for babies born at 28 weeks was 70 percent. The muppets were 27-weekers. Despite improvements, I discerned from Wolfberg’s citations that 28 weeks is still the magic number – in terms of lasting health issues and hospital resuscitation efforts. Maybe that’s because 28 weeks is when all the important parts finish creating themselves.

I do not recommend this book to newly minted preemie parents. This is not the book to face under the stress, guilt and trauma of prematurity. Again to quote the author, “It is hard to see beyond the overwhelming shock of the situation to a time when the situation will be routine and mundane.” I read “The Premature Baby Book” shortly after the muppets arrival and become so hysterical that my husband hid it atop the refrigerator when I wasn’t looking in an attempt to calm me down.

I DO recommend this book to the friends and family close to those touched by prematurity. I highly suggest preemie parents read this book once your story has reached routine and mundane. It is a fascinating journey through the medical history framed by the very personal and touching story of Larissa. (And it was far easier for me to digest the various tidbits with a diagnosis of “no lasting effects of prematurity” tucked safely in the muppets medical chart.)

Though the babies may be tiny, the challenges they face are not. I applaud the efforts of those who have brought us this far in neo-natal care. And I thank Dr. Wolfberg for sharing his story – which can be summarized as such:

“Parenting is best done selflessly, whether the child is three months premature or 17 years old.”

(Note: This was not a paid review although I did receive the book from the publicist.)


Filed under Books, Hospital, Prematurity

5 Responses to Book Review: Fragile Beginnings

  1. I am so glad you refer to Google as “the Google”. We need to be friends. Oh and this book is in my “to read pile”… good review!

  2. Because there is so much time for free reading, I know. 🙂

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