I’m sure that there isn’t a person reading this that wouldn’t agree with this statement: when I had my twins, my entire life changed. I was nervous about a lot of things, but once I was more settled into being a parent, and I was getting regular help (thank you, therapy), I was taking a lot more in stride. The one niggling thing that kept surfacing for me was the information that was coming in the news about increasing pollution. Living in New York City at the time, it was really easy to see, smell, and even some days kind of taste the pollution.
Many of us have children that came early. As moms of multiples, we know the fear that days, weeks, or months in the NICU makes us feel. Even if our kids were lucky enough to come “full term” and completely healthy, we know that by nature of being multiples, most are smaller than average and spend less time in utero, making them more vulnerable than a typical singleton, especially in the lung development department! My kids were born at 37 weeks, 3 days. They were pretty big, as twins go, and had no lung issues, but LOTS of my twin mom friends aren’t so lucky. I know they hunker down every time fall and winter come, and try to keep their babies healthy.
Did you know that the asthma rate of babies born at 37 weeks is almost twice the rate of babies born at 40 or more weeks? It goes from 8% for a 40+ week baby to 14% for those born at 37 weeks. For babies born more than 3 weeks early, the rate goes up to 50% more likely than 40-weekers to develop asthma. For babies born more than 8 weeks premature (which includes many multiples), the chance of developing childhood asthma is three times as likely. The study where they found this information out also mentions that premature children (those born more than 2 months early) do not outgrow their vulnerability to asthma.
Chemicals in the air, specifically VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) like methane and benzene, combine with other chemicals emitted from vehicles, factories, power plants, etc., and then combine with heat and sunlight to create ground level ozone, or smog. Now, you might be saying, “I thought ozone was good/normal/totally awesome?” (OR you might be saying, “…um, what?”) Well, what you might think of as ozone is up HIGH in the atmosphere where it protects us from the harmful rays of the sun; but down low, this ground level ozone can really wreak havoc on our health. Just look at health effects in our kiddos: it can harm developing lungs and trigger asthma as well as actually cause bronchitis and pneumonia.
I don’t know about you, but part of my bedtime routine is watching my children while they sleep to make sure they’re breathing (maybe that’s just me, but I’m guessing probably not…) I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but kids simply breathe more than adults. That means that they are sucking this stuff into their developing lungs much more than we are. They also play outside more, so even if you’re sitting there thinking, “We have a filtration system in our house/we don’t live by a road/we are never in a place with cars,” there’s enough of this stuff in the environment that they breathe it. Just look at what your own home exhausts from your furnace and water heater. Our kids breathe it during school drop off and pick up from buses and cars, on the highway during your fun road trips…it’s everywhere. I’m sure many of you live in places where you get ozone warnings on hot summer days that recommend that vulnerable populations stay inside: that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
I worked so hard to make sure these kids were born and I am working even harder to make sure they stay healthy and live on a planet that has a future. No matter what your personal beliefs are about that last part, you have to admit that these children we work so hard to nurture deserve to live in a place that doesn’t make them sick. I know you twin/triplet/quad mamas who have kids with possible lung issues from prematurity live in terror every time something attacks their little respiratory systems. You’ve seen your kiddos struggle to breathe. It’s terrifying, and at the moment there are no current regulations on smog and ground level ozone.
I have always been environmentally minded: I turn off lights when I leave a room, I turn off the water when I’m brushing my teeth, and I recycle everything that is recyclable. That said, especially at the beginning, I have two young kids and I am doing so much in my day to day life, that doing more to reduce pollution and save the world seemed an unreasonable ask. One particularly depressing news day, I was Googling ways I could take action, and I stumbled across the website for Moms Clean Air Force. They had some articles about how to stand up for myself and make my voice heard in the battle against dirty air. They had a tab on their website that was full of petitions with pre-populated fields that would go straight to my elected officials and tell them that I wouldn’t stand for more pollution. They did the work for me. I signed all the petitions. It took (no lie) 5 minutes. Once I began working for them, I realized that kind of action has a name: Naptime Activism. CLEVER! I like it. I can do something. It only takes 5 minutes, and I can STILL have the dishes done before my little loves wake from their nap! Woo hoo! I love this concept and this organization so much that now I work for them!
So here, as moms of multiples, we have this population of kids, many of whom were born early and are vulnerable to lung issues throughout life. Smog and ground level ozone are a real threat to all of us, and (at least in this country) we don’t have adequate laws in place to protect those little lungs that we watch breathe those sweet, sleepy breaths at night. As a parent, especially as a mom of twins, I am working hard to hold my elected officials accountable for their actions in supporting clean air. I have become an activist for my kids (and yours), and if you have those 5 minutes to spare, I encourage you to take that naptime activism to new heights and exercise your power to protect your kids.
It’s critical for our future. It’s critical for our kiddos. Moms of multiples, add your voices to the crowd!
Kelly Nichols is the mom of three year old boy/girl twins, and has shifted from a life of acting/singing/comedy in New York City to working as an advocate for children’s health and the environment based in the Chicago area. She is the lead organizer in Illinois of the national group, Moms Clean Air Force, and is still very theatrical on a day to day basis with her children. In her spare time, she bakes, hikes, and occasionally sleeps.