I told her that her baby was born 15 to 16 weeks early and that every organ, every system of his body was immature. The system that first gets our attention is the lungs; we had to put her baby on a ventilator, and he would likely be on it for weeks to months. I told her about the honeymoon period, how the baby's lungs might improve the first few days, but at the end of the first week worsen. We talked about the baby's immature stomach and intestines, and that it would likely be three to five weeks before he was on full feedings and we could get the IV out. I told her about the immature brain and the chance of bleeding into the brain. Fortunately, the majority of babies even this premature don't have major bleeds, but it's still a significant risk. We discussed the immature eyes, the possibility of blindness, and the increased chances of his needing glasses. We talked about the increased risk of infection in these tiny babies with decreased defenses.
Finally, I told her the chances of survival at 24 weeks is about 57%, perhaps a little better for her son because he had already made it a few hours. Since some of our parents don't understand percentages, I explained that meant a little more than one of every two survives. If the baby survived, he had a 25% to 50% chance of having a significant handicap.
I didn't tell mother about the desaturation episodes that would frequently occur - times when the baby's blood oxygen level falls spontaneously or with the slightest amount of handling. I didn't tell her about the worries she would have over big and little things; about the good days and bad days he would have; about the bother that pumping her breasts would be when she wanted just to nurse a normal baby; about the unknowns there would be of his condition; but most of all, about the huge emotional roller coaster that her life would be the next three months. Even if I did tell her, though, I'm not sure she could really grasp the meaning of it until she experienced it.
At the beginning of our conversation, Mom had seemed a little on edge. By the end of it, she was weeping, and I was glad her relatives were there for support. Like most people, I don't like making people cry, but I guess it's a trade-off for being honest with them.