Kate Ogg has an answer ready for the day her son Jamie asks who’s older, he or his twin sister:
“Technically, you’re two minutes older,” she’ll tell him, “but Emily’s been alive longer.”
Shortly after Jamie and Emily were born prematurely at 27 weeks on March 25, 2010, doctors told Ogg and her husband David that Jamie had died. Nurses placed his limp body across his mother’s bare chest so she could say goodbye.
But after five minutes, Jamie began to move. The baby’s doctor told the Oggs his movements were reflexive and not a sign of life. But as his mother continued cuddling him, Jamie opened his eyes. Kate put some breast milk on her finger, and he eagerly accepted it. Their tiny baby grew stronger and stronger in his mother’s arms, and their final goodbye turned into a hello.
“I’d carried him inside me for only six months – not long enough – but I wanted to meet him, and to hold him, and for him to know us,” Kate Ogg told TODAY’s Ann Curry in 2010. “We’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to lose him, and we were just trying to make the most of those last, precious moments.”
“We feel so fortunate,” David Ogg told TODAY. “We’re the luckiest people in the world.”
The Oggs’ experience garnered international media attention and dramatically highlighted the benefits of parents holding newborns skin-to-skin on their bare chests, which is commonly called “kangaroo care.” Though the medical benefits of skin-to-skin contact are well documented, it's still not encouraged, or even allowed, at many hospitals.
Jamie and Emily, now nearly 2, are doing great, Kate Ogg said in a Skype interview as she and her husband held the tow-headed toddlers on their laps. In November, the family moved from Sydney, Australia, to a home with an ocean view in Nelson, New Zealand, “a very chilled-out town,” she said.
The twins’ last checkups showed they are developing completely normally, she said. To demonstrate, she asked, “Where’s your nose? Where are your ears?” and the twins pointed to the correct body parts. “Where’s your belly?” she asked, and the kids obediently lifted their shirts.
Soon after the twins’ premature birth – and Jamie’s revival – the Oggs promised themselves they wouldn’t drive themselves crazy worrying about potential problems related to their children’s prematurity. They’d enjoy their babies, and cross those bridges when they got to them. “If there was a problem,” Kate Ogg says they figured, “we’d find out about it eventually.”
Still, Ogg and her husband think about Jamie’s brush with death “all the time. Probably too much,” she said. She panics if the twins sleep in and she doesn’t hear a sound from the nursery. “I’m a bit too morbid, I think.”
Sharing their story publicly also led to some unintended emotional consequences. A Colorado woman told Ogg Jamie’s story caused distress in a support group for parents who’ve lost babies. “The portrayal of our story almost suggested if you love your baby enough you can bring it back to life. That’s one of the concerns we had about going public.”
Surprise! Their 'little sumo'
As the spotlight faded, the Oggs returned to normal life as a happy family – and these days they have a new blessing to count.
The big news lately in the Ogg family is that Jamie and Emily now have a little brother, Charlie, born April 27.
Jamie and Emily were conceived via in vitro fertilization, and the Oggs had planned to try it again when the twins turned 1. So Kate Ogg was pretty surprised when she learned she was already three months pregnant before the twins were even a year old. She hadn’t undergone any fertility treatments and figured her missed periods were due to breastfeeding Jamie and Emily.
Charlie Ogg also tried to arrive extremely early, at 20 weeks, but made it to term thanks to stitches to close his mother’s cervix and the hiring of an au pair to do the heavy lifting with the twins while mom was on bed rest.
Ogg had gestational diabetes while pregnant with Charlie, who weighed more than 10 pounds at birth — more than four times his brother’s and sister’s birth weight of just over 2 pounds each. The three now wear the same size diaper, and Charlie can wear Jamie’s clothes. Ogg describes her youngest as “a little sumo.”
She held him for three and a half hours after the delivery.
“Just give him to me when he’s born,” Ogg instructed her doctor. As a result of her experience with the twins, she says, ‘’I’m more confident in telling medical professionals what I want with my babies.”
The science behind kangeroo care
While the Oggs have been enjoying their three healthy children, the story of Jamie’s remarkable birth has helped publicize the growing body of research behind kangaroo care.
It's not a miracle cure. Nurse researcher Susan Ludington pioneered kangaroo care in the United States, and she cautions: “It does not resurrect the dead.” Ludington, a professor of pediatric nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, speculates that Jamie might have had an ineffective heart beat that was difficult to detect.
What she’d like to think happened, Ludington says, is that skin-to-skin contact with his parents made him more alert. In 2005, she says, researchers identified a special set of nerves in babies that are “exceedingly sensitive” to pleasant human touch.
Skin-to-skin contact with their mothers releases oxytocin, the so-called “cuddle hormone,” which affects multiple areas of newborns’ brains, Ludington says. The hormone makes their heart beat and breathing become more regular.
Kangaroo care can also help minimize pain in preterm and full-term babies. Celeste Johnston, director of research at the McGill University School of Nursing in Montreal, has investigated its use in babies born as early as 28 weeks’ gestation.
In Johnston’s studies now, all babies are held skin-to-skin with their mothers before undergoing a procedure such as a heel stick. “I can’t do control groups (with no skin-to-skin contact) anymore,” she says, “because I don’t think it’s ethical.”
The length of time moms hold babies before procedures doesn’t seem to matter, says Johnston, who’s found even 15 minutes of skin-to-skin contact effectively minimizes pain.
“The evidence is really pretty overwhelming about how good it is for term and preterm babies,” nursing researcher Diane Spatz says of kangaroo care, which she prefers to call skin-to-skin. “It’s not like we need more research… but we have to get people to actually do it.”
Despite the evidence that it works, the medical establishment has been slow to recommend skin-to-skin contact with newborns. Ignorance about the research findings and fear of handling premature babies are two of the main obstacles, say Ludington and Spatz, who works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“In the United States, our biggest reason is the physicians don’t know about it because it’s nursing-generated knowledge,” Ludington says. “The physicians want to see the data, but they don’t read any nursing journals.”
Fear plays a role, too, Spatz says. “I still see in most NICUs (neonatal intensive care units) that skin-to-skin is not a standard of care.” NICU babies tend to be tiny and fragile and hooked up to tubes and machines, and both nurses and parents worry about trying to move them, she says.
Her hospital has filmed an instructional video that’s used in NICU’s around the world, Spatz says. It shows step-by-step how to transfer a critically ill baby from an incubator to the parent’s chest. Practicing with a doll first helps eliminate the fear factor.
“It’s the thing the parents look forward to the most in their entire lives,” Spatz says. “The first time they get to hold their baby skin to skin, everyone cries. The nurses are crying, the parents are crying. It’s so beautiful.”
Up until that point, it’s like the nurse owns the baby, Spatz says. “Once you do skin-to-skin, that baby is yours.”
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