SIKESTON -- Twenty-two months ago, Amy Stubenrauch learned that although having a child is a life-changing experience in itself, the impact is bigger when a mother goes into premature labor.
"You don't get to take them home -- you have to go there and see them in a plastic crib and almost ask permission to hold them," Stubenrauch said. Her triplets were born eight weeks early and, luckily, have been in good health.
Stubenrauch credited that in part to education and research by the March of Dimes.
And this month, the March of Dimes is working to make its mission heard by all, during National Prematurity Awareness Month.
"Everyone has been touched by the March of Dimes whether you are currently expecting or you are planning parenthood," said Debbie Atchison, division director for the Southeast Missouri March of Dimes. "The March of Dimes' mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects."
That involves teaching all people, not just pregnant women, she continued. So now, the organization is focusing on all sorts of demographics.
"We're trying to get our youth involved a bit stronger than what they have been in the past," Atchison said. "And it's really important for kids in their teen years to know the full importance of taking folic acid and to take care of themselves."
Although students likely aren't expecting or planning to become pregnant, the knowledge and habits they form will follow them until they do have children, she said. One big issue is smoking, which can harm a fetus or small child.
At the New Madrid County Health Department, one of the biggest services offered to women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant and their spouses are smoking cessation classes, said Paula Rost, director of nurses.
"We are really trying to identify smokers," she said. "It causes birth defects and certainly contributes to premature births."
The health department also targets family planning and asks mothers to fill out questionnaires when they come through WIC clinics.
"We basically try to identify any problems they may have had before their pregnancy, during their pregnancy and after," Rost said.
Research like that is what people like Stubenrauch benefit from. "It's not the end of the world anymore to have a premature baby with all of the medical advancements," she said. "The hospitals are so much more well-
equipped nowadays than ever before."
She was also prepared to go into labor prematurely, since she was pregnant with triplets, so Stubenrauch went through extra precautions and knew what sort of warning signs to look for.
But she said those warning signs should be recognized by every expectant mother. They can learn from their doctors or through educational materials and seminars sponsored by the March of Dimes.
Several events are carried out throughout the year, said Atchison, although this month is dedicated to raising awareness. "Whether it's in November or it's in June, we still have this crisis," she said. "We're raising money to fund this research."
Several high school clubs raise money, and there have been golf tournaments and motorcycle poker runs. Stoddard County has hosted a "Walk for America" for several years, and next year's is planned for May.
Before the three-mile walk, volunteers collect money for the March of Dimes, said Tammy Turner, coordinator.
"We walk all through downtown and go through town to really make a presence for the March of Dimes," Turner said. "We have signs that are posted along the walk that give different statistics and facts, too."
Following the walk is a lunch, where someone from the neonatal unit speaks. An ambassador family that has benefited from the March of Dimes, such as Stubenrauch, is also there to share their experience.
"It's a real eye-opening event," Turner said.
Stubenrauch said that although she donated to the March of Dimes before giving birth prematurely, she didn't realize how important it was. Now, she spreads the word to others.
"Until it hits you at home, sometimes we don't tend to have as much vested in that charity," she said. "But if it hasn't happened to you yet, it will to you or someone you know."