Last week we shared the first part of an interview with Eleanor R., a now adult preemie who was born at only 24 weeks gestation. In Part I of our two-part interview, she talks openly about about the circumstances surrounding her birth, her early life, and her family’s time in the NICU. Below is the conclusion of our interview with this remarkable preemie!
Have you had to deal with any lasting health effects related to extreme prematurity into your teen years and adulthood?
I have been incredibly fortunate to enjoy good health for years. I am more at risk for contracting respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia and could have glaucoma earlier than expected as a result of my prematurity; however, my nearsightedness is due to genetics. I am usually the youngest person to get a pneumonia vaccine every few years and the nurse always does a double take when she sees me among the elderly patients.
Do you think being born very early had an impact on how your parents treated you? How about your peers?
I always had the impression that my parents were, not unreasonably, very concerned about my health and always let my teachers and doctors know about my prematurity. However, I could do all the outdoor activities my peers did if I felt inclined. I was more of a quiet child who preferred to read instead of running around outside. My friends seemed curious about my visible scars, which would serve as a good introduction to mention my prematurity. They would express surprise but their parents, if I told them, seemed to be more impressed and would sometimes ask my parents about my birth. I think the NICU experience was emotionally trying for them but they would mention a few details about me as a baby if asked.
My parents told me they wanted more children but I was so sick they thought I would be an only child. My sister was born three years later and was born to term without complication, mostly as a result of excellent prenatal care according to my parents. The contrast in experiences is marked but my sister and I love each other, despite being like night and day with very different personalities.
What do you do or did you do professionally? What are your hobbies, if any?
I am a graduate student at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England. I am pursuing an MA in Museum Studies and would like to work in the field of museum education. I love working with children and would ideally like to teach in a museum setting. I enjoy reading, traveling, and meeting new people. I have been fortunate to be able to travel extensively around Europe and Canada as a child because of my parents’ jobs and love to explore as a result.
Overall, how has being born very early affected you and your outlook on life?
I feel fortunate to be here and try to live every day with the knowledge that I could easily not be here. I try to enjoy my time here, however short or long it may ultimately be. I realize that I am very lucky; I am very much aware that I could easily be in a wheelchair or be unable to live independently. Despite my rough start, I can live the life I want to pursue. I appreciate all that my parents have done for me.
What would you most like other people to know about how early prematurity can affect people, either in the short or the long term? What should people know?
I think people would never realize I was born prematurely unless I told them. Therefore, the effects of prematurity may not be readily apparent. I do not ask for special treatment or anyone’s pity. Most of all, I would like people to be aware that happy endings can result from such extreme prematurity; the “happiness” may differ from person to person. My parents are just happy I’m alive – being healthy is just the icing on the cake, so to speak.