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Early: An Intimate History of Premature Birth and What It Teaches Us About Being Human

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Inspired by Sarah DiGregorio’s harrowing experience giving birth to her premature daughter, Early is a compelling and empathetic blend of memoir and rigorous reporting that tells the story of neonatology – and explores the questions raised by premature birth. ‘Early is a definitive history of neonatology, written with urgency and clarity, beauty and compassion. DiGrego Inspired by Sarah DiGregorio’s harrowing experience giving birth to her premature daughter, Early is a compelling and empathetic blend of memoir and rigorous reporting that tells the story of neonatology – and explores the questions raised by premature birth. ‘Early is a definitive history of neonatology, written with urgency and clarity, beauty and compassion. DiGregorio is at once a clear-eyed reporter and a mother who has lived through the reality of neonatal intensive care, and her balance of the two narrative strands is pitch-perfect. A popular science book that deserves its place among the best’ Francesca Segal, author of Mother ShipThe heart of many hospitals is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It is a place where humanity, ethics, and science collide in dramatic and deeply personal ways as parents, doctors, and nurses grapple with sometimes unanswerable questions: When does life begin? When and how should life end? And what does it mean to be human?The NICU is a place made of stories – the stories of mothers and babies who spend days, weeks and even months waiting to go home, and the dedicated clinicians who care for these tiny, developing humans. Early explores these stories, as well as the evolution of neonatology and its breakthroughs – how modern medicine can be successful at saving infants at five and a half months gestation who weigh less than a pound, when only a few decades ago there were essentially no treatments for premature babies.For the first time, Sarah DiGregorio tells the complete story of this science – and the many people it has touched. Weaving her own experiences, those of other parents, and NICU clinicians with deeply researched reporting, Early delves deep into the history and future of neonatology, one of the most boundary pushing medical disciplines: how it came to be, how it is evolving, and the political, cultural, and ethical issues that continue to arise in the face of dramatic scientific developments.Eye-opening and vital, Early uses premature birth as a lens to view our own humanity, and the humanity of those around us.


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Inspired by Sarah DiGregorio’s harrowing experience giving birth to her premature daughter, Early is a compelling and empathetic blend of memoir and rigorous reporting that tells the story of neonatology – and explores the questions raised by premature birth. ‘Early is a definitive history of neonatology, written with urgency and clarity, beauty and compassion. DiGrego Inspired by Sarah DiGregorio’s harrowing experience giving birth to her premature daughter, Early is a compelling and empathetic blend of memoir and rigorous reporting that tells the story of neonatology – and explores the questions raised by premature birth. ‘Early is a definitive history of neonatology, written with urgency and clarity, beauty and compassion. DiGregorio is at once a clear-eyed reporter and a mother who has lived through the reality of neonatal intensive care, and her balance of the two narrative strands is pitch-perfect. A popular science book that deserves its place among the best’ Francesca Segal, author of Mother ShipThe heart of many hospitals is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). It is a place where humanity, ethics, and science collide in dramatic and deeply personal ways as parents, doctors, and nurses grapple with sometimes unanswerable questions: When does life begin? When and how should life end? And what does it mean to be human?The NICU is a place made of stories – the stories of mothers and babies who spend days, weeks and even months waiting to go home, and the dedicated clinicians who care for these tiny, developing humans. Early explores these stories, as well as the evolution of neonatology and its breakthroughs – how modern medicine can be successful at saving infants at five and a half months gestation who weigh less than a pound, when only a few decades ago there were essentially no treatments for premature babies.For the first time, Sarah DiGregorio tells the complete story of this science – and the many people it has touched. Weaving her own experiences, those of other parents, and NICU clinicians with deeply researched reporting, Early delves deep into the history and future of neonatology, one of the most boundary pushing medical disciplines: how it came to be, how it is evolving, and the political, cultural, and ethical issues that continue to arise in the face of dramatic scientific developments.Eye-opening and vital, Early uses premature birth as a lens to view our own humanity, and the humanity of those around us.

30 review for Early: An Intimate History of Premature Birth and What It Teaches Us About Being Human

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Crotty

    So interesting. My grandson was born at 28 weeks so when I saw this book it really piqued my curiosity. I saw him and my daughter on so many pages. It was heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. So much information and history in this book. Even if you don’t have a preemie in your family you would still learn so much and enjoy this. I highly recommend this book. These babies are champions of how we should all live our lives. So brave and beautiful. I can not imagine our lives without “ So interesting. My grandson was born at 28 weeks so when I saw this book it really piqued my curiosity. I saw him and my daughter on so many pages. It was heartbreaking and uplifting all at the same time. So much information and history in this book. Even if you don’t have a preemie in your family you would still learn so much and enjoy this. I highly recommend this book. These babies are champions of how we should all live our lives. So brave and beautiful. I can not imagine our lives without “little sprout.” Jaxson is joy personified every single day.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Thank you, Sarah DiGregorio, for writing this book. The historical context behind the modern day NICU was fascinating. The research on prematurity in current society is presented in a nuanced way. There is not nearly enough written about the NICU experience in general, so to have it written about so clearly and thoughtfully is just really great. I wanted to highlight every sentence.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

    4.5 stars. Wow. I could read DiGregorio write about cereal boxes. I started this book intending just to read her personal story of delivering a preemie, but I quickly found myself devouring this entire book. DiGregorio's investigation of preemie care past, present and future is fascinating. She clearly has a stake in the game, and her interest and personal story propel this well researched book. A fascinating, can't stop turning the pages account of how we've handled premature birth in the past, 4.5 stars. Wow. I could read DiGregorio write about cereal boxes. I started this book intending just to read her personal story of delivering a preemie, but I quickly found myself devouring this entire book. DiGregorio's investigation of preemie care past, present and future is fascinating. She clearly has a stake in the game, and her interest and personal story propel this well researched book. A fascinating, can't stop turning the pages account of how we've handled premature birth in the past, how hospitals handle it today (this varies widely), the various reasons premature birth happens (including the stress of systemic racism) and where experts want to go with preemie care in the near future. If you have the slightest interest in any of the above, pick this book up! This completely changed how I view premature babies, and makes me appreciate even more that my son held on until 39 weeks. My experience would have been very different if he'd been born when I started having contractions at 31 weeks. I would not recommend this to women who are currently pregnant. Highly recommended. I hope she writes more books. Recommended for fans of Mary Roach.

  4. 5 out of 5

    LibraryLaur

    I have a personal interest in this topic (my second child was born at 30 weeks), and I found this book fascinating. Well-written and engaging, it covered a lot of ground, from the history of neonatology to its future. It also included the author's personal story of having a premature baby, as well as other parents' stories, and a lot of thought-provoking statistics. *Thanks to the publisher for making an e-galley available for review through edelweiss!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    An informative and thought-provoking treatise that takes a deep-dive into the historical, sociocultural, and political influences on our current understanding of preterm birth. DiGregorio does not shy away from difficult or taboo conversations and dispels a number of myths surrounding this subject. I appreciated her ability to seamlessly interweave the facts with numerous moving anecdotes. I recommend this book to anyone interested or involved in maternal health care and neonatology.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Allie Schmitt

    As a NICU RN for over 14 years, I found this book to be thought provoking and contained accurate NICU information. However, some chapters were so full of personal opinion and liberal bias, that it made it very difficult to want to continue to read at times. Good on the facts, bad on the politics.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    My only critiques are that I wish there was more than one book like this and I also wish we talked more about racial disparity and how to battle it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ro

    I had the dubious distinction of being a miracle baby in the early 60's when NICU's were in their infancy -- 14 weeks premature and the weight of 6 sticks of butter. God laughed, I lived due to the skill of medical professionals. My dad would tell me what he remembered from that time. My folks would call the hospital a few times each day and check on Baby Duran. They would learn things like if I gained or lost a gram, or if I had flutters (a pretty euphemism for requiring resuscitation). My dad I had the dubious distinction of being a miracle baby in the early 60's when NICU's were in their infancy -- 14 weeks premature and the weight of 6 sticks of butter. God laughed, I lived due to the skill of medical professionals. My dad would tell me what he remembered from that time. My folks would call the hospital a few times each day and check on Baby Duran. They would learn things like if I gained or lost a gram, or if I had flutters (a pretty euphemism for requiring resuscitation). My dad was a frequent visitor, my mother was not -- by the instruction of the hospital -- at least not until I hit some significant milestone and was out of the woods. I have always known how lucky I am to be here. After reading this book I realize how very fortunate I am to be remarkably healthy and without major disabilities. Part of the attraction of this book to me is to learn how the great luck of being born at one of the finest hospitals came about. Also I wanted to answer the what if's about my pre-maturity. Those questions were largely answered. In the first part of the book which was a narrative about the evolution of the care of preemies and how the NICU evolved with incubators, ventilators, specialty training etc. What I hadn't bargained for, but valued was the book's exploration in the second half of how premature birth is a public health crisis. This was eye-opening and frightening, and the data is undeniable. I especially valued the conversations that the author had with practitioners and leading researchers who struggle and succeed in finding methods of addressing the crisis, in working to prolong pregnancy, looking to care and support the entire family in the care of preemie babies. This was a heartfelt, eye-opening book that is well written and blends excellent science writing with personal memoir and investigative creative non-fiction. It is both an informative and emotional read and it brings to light a world that people do not really talk about and that few see first hand.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kirsten stracke

    This book was an interesting and well written read. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in birth infants and child development. It is absolutely amazing the advancements in medical technology that just in the last 60 or 70 years that have led to amazing amazingly better prognosis for premature infants. I have to admit that I found the end of the book somewhat jarring. After exploring and championing cutting-edge preemie treatment, the author transitions from a thoughtful analysis of This book was an interesting and well written read. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in birth infants and child development. It is absolutely amazing the advancements in medical technology that just in the last 60 or 70 years that have led to amazing amazingly better prognosis for premature infants. I have to admit that I found the end of the book somewhat jarring. After exploring and championing cutting-edge preemie treatment, the author transitions from a thoughtful analysis of comfort care (no lifesaving treatment when it wouldn't be helpful) vs resuscitation to a defense of abortion rights. For all of the in-depth information shared in the book, both medical and otherwise, I have to say it baffled me that the author continued to endorse abortion. She spends the bulk of the book examining the amazing scientific, political, and mindset changes that had to occur in order for premature children to be even given a chance at life, and then turns right around and easily accepts that we should not allow them to be born if the mother doesn't want them to. It's just hard for me to accept that level of cognitive dissonance. I even found it interesting her discussion of the concept of changelings and other historical mentions of what likely were premature babies, and what basically amounts to societally endorsed infanticide.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ilene Goldman

    Have you ever read a book that you didn't know you NEEDED to read? That book for me is "Early." DiGregorio's own experience with the premature birth of her daughter triggered this gorgeously written, thoroughly researched compelling history of how medical treatment of premature babies has evolved in the past century. Moreover, it shines light on the ripple effects of premies that are rarely shared with parents, as well as the societal effects. And it does what so many medical histories fail to d Have you ever read a book that you didn't know you NEEDED to read? That book for me is "Early." DiGregorio's own experience with the premature birth of her daughter triggered this gorgeously written, thoroughly researched compelling history of how medical treatment of premature babies has evolved in the past century. Moreover, it shines light on the ripple effects of premies that are rarely shared with parents, as well as the societal effects. And it does what so many medical histories fail to do--it takes an uncompromising look at the role racism and race play in medical outcomes. For this alone, I thank DiGregorio as she has changed my understanding with a simple sentence about racism, not race being more to blame for disparate outcomes. This is a book I needed 15 years ago, as I brought my own daughter into the world. She was a "mere" 4 weeks old, and had other known medical complexities. DiGregorio's book helped me understand, perhaps, some of the adjacent challenges she has suffered in a whole new light. Thank you, Sarah.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    While the frame around this story is the author's own story of her daughter, Mira, this is only a bit of memoir membrane (placenta?) around a standard nonfiction examination of how science and medicine has evolved in dealing with pre-term babies. Definitely some trigger moments for anyone who has spent time around newborns in medical distress, premie or not. The author does a good job of weaving this particular story into some of the wider context around reproductive justice and healthcare equity While the frame around this story is the author's own story of her daughter, Mira, this is only a bit of memoir membrane (placenta?) around a standard nonfiction examination of how science and medicine has evolved in dealing with pre-term babies. Definitely some trigger moments for anyone who has spent time around newborns in medical distress, premie or not. The author does a good job of weaving this particular story into some of the wider context around reproductive justice and healthcare equity. I like that she dedicated the final chapter to giving premature children their own voice, but I could have used even a bit more of their own stories and their own perspectives. I wish that chapter had been longer.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emi

    As a NICU nurse, I started reading this book cautiously, prepared to critique and criticize anything that might be misrepresented. But I was so pleased to discover that it surpassed my expectations by a long-shot. The author is an incredibly eloquent writer who is thorough and well-researched. She tackles every facet of preterm birth from the history (and potential future) of neonatology, to the role of racism in maternal healthcare and early deliveries, to the delicate and heart-breaking matter As a NICU nurse, I started reading this book cautiously, prepared to critique and criticize anything that might be misrepresented. But I was so pleased to discover that it surpassed my expectations by a long-shot. The author is an incredibly eloquent writer who is thorough and well-researched. She tackles every facet of preterm birth from the history (and potential future) of neonatology, to the role of racism in maternal healthcare and early deliveries, to the delicate and heart-breaking matter of end-of-life and infant hospice, and much more. I was very impressed and would recommend this book to anyone who likes good writing based on solid research, and/or who has any interest in or connection to the mysterious world of the NICU.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    In 1921, the author’s great-grandmother wrapped her one pound twins in cotton, tucked them into a shoebox and put them in the oven. So began a family line of preemies who have benefited from creative treatments over the course of the last century. EARLY is less a personal story, though that certainly motivated and informs the research, than a really fascinating look at the discoveries, inventions, and technologies that have pushed the age of viability down to 22 weeks, and the parents and medica In 1921, the author’s great-grandmother wrapped her one pound twins in cotton, tucked them into a shoebox and put them in the oven. So began a family line of preemies who have benefited from creative treatments over the course of the last century. EARLY is less a personal story, though that certainly motivated and informs the research, than a really fascinating look at the discoveries, inventions, and technologies that have pushed the age of viability down to 22 weeks, and the parents and medical professionals who led the way. DiGregorio examines the ethical questions around trial of therapy (is, using treatment to see if treatment will work), the development of neonatal palliative comfort care, the connections between restrictive abortion policies and prematurity, and the benefits of group prenatal care. It’s beautifully written and I learned so much.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Debbi

    I much prefer fiction to non fiction but my husband ordered this because I am a twin and we were low birth weight twins. He wanted to find out more of what we went through (a long time ago!). At first it brought up some of my own issues with my last pregnancy, but then I was able to get into it. The most fascinating part for me was the issue of racism. I had always known the low income issue but never that racism could cause so much anxiety to cause preterm births. Wow! That was an eyeopener for I much prefer fiction to non fiction but my husband ordered this because I am a twin and we were low birth weight twins. He wanted to find out more of what we went through (a long time ago!). At first it brought up some of my own issues with my last pregnancy, but then I was able to get into it. The most fascinating part for me was the issue of racism. I had always known the low income issue but never that racism could cause so much anxiety to cause preterm births. Wow! That was an eyeopener for me. It was well researched and I was impressed how much hands on research this author did travelling all over to meet with experts. Well done.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Deirdre Lohrmann

    I would recommend this book to everyone. There are a lot of important facts and opinions which needed to be spoken about premature births and how hospitals and nursing practices have changed when handling preemies. My child was a preemie by only a month but this book really spoke to me. The problems that are out there and not addressed from multiple points. From racial stressors leading to premature birth to lack of medical care and support. There is no one cause for preemies to be born as early I would recommend this book to everyone. There are a lot of important facts and opinions which needed to be spoken about premature births and how hospitals and nursing practices have changed when handling preemies. My child was a preemie by only a month but this book really spoke to me. The problems that are out there and not addressed from multiple points. From racial stressors leading to premature birth to lack of medical care and support. There is no one cause for preemies to be born as early as they are but they are. Each case is different There is hope for parents of preemies from just a few weeks early to months.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hailey Simpson

    “Caring for them [premature babies] is like touching some essence, something you aren’t supposed to see: the terrible beauty of a human being built, gorgeous and unknowable.” Although I enjoyed it, I’d be hesitant to recommend unless it’s a population or topic you are particularly interested in. However, it’s a really remarkable book on prematurity and neonatology. Gave such beautiful language to the incredible little world I’m so fortunate get to call “work” during the week.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

    A huge surprise 5 star book! I just picked this up when I saw it on the library app and it blew me away. Very thorough and thoughtful with a holistic take on preterm births, what their incidence says about the health of society, the lives of birthing parents, and lifelong consideration of preterm babies. Also, majorly surprised that a huge portion of the book looked at my hometown Shreveport. A must read for anyone who works in healthcare, especially early intervention.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Go Livia

    After attending Sarah’s book introduction talk, I was so in awe of her work. My partner decided to get me her book at the end of the night. Her curiosity let her to a very educational journey and I am grateful that she used that to share her experience. It’s very accessible to read and moving. She is a great storyteller and I would love to see more of her work. We need more strong and brave people like her who uses their strength and experience to educate ourselves.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bill

    With my wife being a 6 week premature, low-birth weight twin who survived with limited medical advances 70 years ago, this was a very interesting read to me. It was a great exploration of how far medical science has evolved in caring for the extremely premature infant and some of the ethical issues that result.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

    Very insightful as I have been caring for more and more “NICU graduates”, as they transfer to our unit before going home (“Feeding and growing”). Also fun to read about Dr. Flake and Dr. Partridge and their research, as one of their surgical Nurse Practitioners 😉. Very well written. Should be a must read for others in the medical field.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa Ya Lopez

    I work in a Nicu as a child life specialist. I found this book informative & insightful and it will definitely improve my practice. I appreciate all the research that went into making this, and opening my eyes to a lot of things I was unaware of such as: group prenatal care & how racism can lead to prematurity. I work in a Nicu as a child life specialist. I found this book informative & insightful and it will definitely improve my practice. I appreciate all the research that went into making this, and opening my eyes to a lot of things I was unaware of such as: group prenatal care & how racism can lead to prematurity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Vivian

    Fascinating. Learned so much about the history of care for premies, and the inequities in care for premies in our country.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elliot

    i couldn't put it down

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brianne

    Incredible book. More complete review to come.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sbedjfink

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michele Baltay

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jeanmarie

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kristen V-g

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mahrukh

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Bossons

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