The Bookworm Sez: “Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU” by Adam Wolfberg

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c.2012, Harvard Health / Beacon Press          $25.95 / $29.00 Canada          176 pages
You remember thinking that you’d never seen anything so small.
The tiny buttons seemed impossible for adult fingers to maneuver. The shoes wouldn’t accommodate your big toe, the little hat barely fit over your fist, and the teensy socks? They looked like they’d been knitted by fairies.
Little things for little people, that’s what they were, and your child grew so fast that she wore them just once.  That’s what babies do: they shoot up like the proverbial bad weed. But, as you’ll see in the new memoir Fragile Beginnings: Discoveries and Triumphs in the Newborn ICU by Adam Wolfberg, MD, sometimes, that’s not enough.
Kelly Lowry sensed that something wasn’t quite right.
With three months to go before her third child was due, Kelly knew she shouldn’t be having contractions. Lowry and her husband, Adam Wolfberg, planned to name their baby Larissa and their two older girls were eager for a little sister, although not for several more weeks.
But Larissa couldn’t wait, and was born after 28 weeks in the womb. As an obstetrics resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Adam Wolfberg knew what this early birth meant for his daughter, and it wasn’t good.
Generally speaking, babies born before a certain point in pregnancy die more often than not, says Wolfberg. Almost every hospital has established policies concerning the life-or-death decisions made for the smallest newborns and doctors give their best, but the truth is that some babies are simply born too small to survive.
About the size of a man’s hand, Larissa was in that “iffy” zone with a prognosis that might’ve been better, had she not suffered bleeding in her brain as a result of birth. Tests indicated that the situation was severe but though there was hope, the probability was that she would have severe physical and mental impairments.
Wolfberg searched every corner of the internet for scraps of good news while Larissa got the best care possible. Still, though researchers constantly look for ways to help babies in her situation – as well as adults who’ve suffered head and spinal injuries – doctors didn’t seem too optimistic for her.
But then the little girl surprised everyone: she thrived.
There’s a lot to like about “Fragile Beginnings,” starting with the hope that it gives to parents of the tiniest of babies.
As an obstetrician, author Adam Wolfberg had a unique perspective on his daughter’s care and the cutting-edge research that went into it. Wolfberg gives his readers an idea of what’s happening in laboratories and hospitals in the U.S. and Canada, and how the brain’s plasticity could give patients and parents some exciting news.
As a father, though, Wolfberg the doctor became Wolfberg the patient, and his reaction to that gives this memoir another different slant. Frustration of this sort is something we just don’t read about very often…
I won’t give away the ending of this book; you’ll have to read it yourself. Let’s just say, though, that if you’re a parent, at under 200 pages and like every little thing, “Fragile Beginnings” will mean a lot.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books. For more information, visit bookwormsez@gmail.com.

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