Respiratorily, Jane has recovered nicely. She had gone home on oxygen but now was having no trouble breathing. Developmentally, she was behiind - saying only a few words at age three - but not so far behind that there was no hope for improvement. Socially, things were not looking so good. The pediatrician heard, from outside the room, the mother yelling at her. It had been seven months since her last pediatric visit, instead of the recommended one month, and her teeth were rotted to the nub by milk bottle cavities. She had been referred to the dental clinic but mom hadn't taken her, so she had some dental abscesses and needed some teeth extracted. Her mother didn't know what medications she was on.
There's an article in the February issue of Pediatrics that confirms what we have seen before: as a group, very premature babies are at risk for lower IQ's and developmental delay. It also showed another discouraging thing. Babies and children who grow up in a home environment where there is lots of stimulation, where they are read to and spoken to often, played with and paid attention to, tend to develop better than children whose home environment lacks those qualities. This difference seems to be exaggerated in premature babies. Premies brought up in "good" homes can overcome, at least partly, the inherent developmental disadvantage of extremely premature birth, but that disadvantage is amplified for premies raised in "bad" homes.
What's going to happen to Jane? I don't know. She's probably not neglected enough that Protective Services would do much. We cannot completely re-engineer society to place every baby in homes to our liking. I guess we can only try to make their lives a little better in the short time we have with them.