Baby Nga was born at home in her mother’s bed. They weren’t sure exactly what day she was due to arrive, but they knew that this day was too early; the midwife shook her head with fading hope that the infant would make it.
She was too small. She was too early. Medical skills in Vietnam were not advanced enough in the early 1940s to save many of the babies who were born prematurely.
Nga’s mother gently wrapped her in tiny blankets and slept next to her baby where it was warmest—near the oven, the only “incubator” available. Her birthdate was not recorded.
Just over twenty years later, Nga was pregnant with her first child and living in the United States. “You will need a C-section,” the doctors told her. “You are too small to give birth.” It didn’t make any difference how she planned to have her baby, because, like Nga, her newborn decided to enter the world weeks ahead of schedule. At 5 pounds, she was small, but the doctors in Memphis knew how to care for a baby born at this stage of development.
My mother named me Joy to mark the arrival of 5 pounds of happiness into our new family.
I knew the story of my mother’s birth. Her “real” birthday was a running joke in the family because the day on her birth certificate was chosen as a lucky day, not because it was the actual day that she was born. Even my grandmother wasn’t sure what the actual calendar day was. I also knew that I was premature. I didn’t know that this medical history would eventually put my own child at risk of being born early.
My beautiful daughter Kendall was born at 35 weeks, before I had a chance to assemble baby shower gifts or fully stock the nursery. A dresser drawer was briefly considered as a temporary bassinet. Like many late preterm newborns, Kendall appeared as a full-sized baby. She had some digestive issues in the first months, but she was healthy and strong.
We were lucky.
While medical science has advanced leaps and bounds in the three generations since my own mother was born in the 1940s, prematurity remains the top cause of newborn mortality in the United States. In fact, it is the single greatest cause of death in children under five around the world. Every year, approximately 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation, and the number is on the rise.
Johnson & Johnson has been focused on reducing preterm births – so newborns have healthier lives – for many years. On February 8, we announced a major global Public Private Partnership, Born On Time, with World Vision, Plan International Canada, Save the Children Canada and the Government of Canada, bringing together resources and expertise to tackle prematurity in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali: three countries where the burden of newborn deaths is high and governments have been committed to improving survival rates.
This first-of-its kind partnership will seek to go beyond the clinic and into the community. The framework includes factors related to Lifestyle, Infection, Nutrition and Contraception (LINC) that can lead to preterm birth, hopefully laying a foundation for a healthier future for more newborns.
Born On Time is designed to move the needle and make a long-term impact. There are a number of areas of focus:
- Training health workers to provide quality care before, during and between pregnancies
- Building strong, well-equipped health centers
- Working with community and religious leaders and traditional birth attendants so they can help families understand the risks.
Together, these are just some of the interventions championed by this innovative partnership, designed to ensure more babies can be born on time, healthy and able to live life to their fullest potential.
My family’s story is similar to the stories that I hear from other moms. We know how different the outcomes from our birth story could have been. I couldn’t be more proud of Johnson & Johnson’s role in writing a new story for babies who will be Born on Time as a result of this new partnership. It continues our legacy to strive for a world where more women, children and families are able to live healthy, productive lives.
Joy Marini is Executive Director, Worldwide Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson, a position she assumed in 2007 following six years with the Johnson & Johnson Pediatric Institute.
Joy leads the Company’s global philanthropy focused on improving health for women, children and adolescents. This portfolio includes programs worldwide on maternal and infant survival, child health, and women’s and girls’ empowerment. She leads the Johnson & Johnson 5-year commitment to the Every Newborn Action Plan, which will improve skills and knowledge of birth attendants and mothers in 20 countries.
Joy has been instrumental in establishing multi-sector, long-term collaborations to improve health and empower girls and women. Her team works with UN, NGO and Government partners to develop sustainable programs that range from clinical training; to the integration of health, equity and empowerment.
Joy is an active blogger on the Huffington Post and other outlets, and can be followed on Twitter @joymarini. She has two college-age children and was a Girl Scout leader for 13 years.