Zoe’s Research and Neonatal Journey

Zoe in IncubatorI was born by emergency C-section at exactly 26 weeks gestation on April 25th 1995 at Wellington Hospital. I weighed approximately 900 grams, I had a head of auburn hair, and my eyes were still fused shut – I wasn’t quite ready to say hello to anyone yet! Soon after my dramatic entrance, I got comfy in what would become my new home for the next three months: Wellington NICU, then located in the Grace Neil Block.

After the first two weeks, I came off the ventilator, and began to tick off my to-do list of things that I needed to get done before I could come home. Some things I found easier to tick off while others took me a bit of trial and error. My NICU stay was complete with blood transfusions, brain bleeds, chest tubes, eye tests, long lines, tube feeds, and oxygen support which continued long after coming home (breathing was something I needed some more practice at). My first few years at home involved many run of the mill trips back to the hospital for check-ups and stays on the Children’s Ward.

Zoe drinking milkToday my early start doesn’t really affect me too much – I am short (but may well have been short anyway), I have eye damage, and I have slightly sub-par lungs. All in all, I think I got off pretty lightly.  Growing up I was always fascinated by the pictures my parents kept of me during my NICU stay – seeing my progress in photos from a scrawny red ventilated baby in an incubator, to a chubby baby at home on oxygen. I suppose my initial decision to look at premature neonatal journeys for my PhD thesis was then a tad selfish – I wanted to learn more about my own origin story, the experiences of those in a similar position to my parents, and the work done by those who kept me alive 22 years ago. 

I am currently in my second year of a PhD in Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington. My research explores the experiences of parents and NICU staff as they care for premature babies from birth, to discharge, and beyond. I am interested in how we talk to, and about, premature babies at various stages along their neonatal journeys. I have been doing interviews with parents and whanau of premature babies, staff who work for NICUs and SCBUs, and other people involved in the area of neonates. 

Zoe graduatesComing back to Wellington NICU, although in a different location, was a surreal experience. Meeting doctors and nurses who were my doctors and nurses in 1995 has been an amazing experience. Seeing the work they do motivates me to continue this area of research. However, it has been meeting the parents and babies who have experienced their own neonatal journeys which has truly made an impact on me and on my research. 

Would you be willing to be interviewed for an hour on your experience?
If this is something you’d be interested in, whether you’re a parents of family member of a prem, or are involved in the care of prems, please feel free to get in contact with me on zoe.poppelwell@vuw.ac.nz for more information or if you have any questions. I’d love to hear from you!