An Interview with Mary Lou Dickerson, author of Small Victories
Interveiw by Allison Martin
Lou Dickerson is a State Legislature in Washington state since 1994
and is the Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee. She has a degree in
journalism and a Masters in social work. Mary Lou Dickerson is an active
advocate for children and has a grown daughter, who was also born prematurely.
Her book, Small Victories is
a wonderful compilation of life stories of adults who were born premature.
What interested you in starting Small Victories?
I've always been interested in prematurity; I was preemie myself and my daughter was also born premature. I became interested in writing Small Victories when a friend of mine had a very low birth weight baby who was born prematurely. I realized at the time that there wasn't anything available about what happened to preemies as they grew up. There were not many real models for either the parents or for the premature children as they were growing up. So I thought I might be able to provide some of those role models, stories, and encouragement. I wanted readers to hear the voices of preemies who are now adults so I interviewed as many as possible. It is important to learn from the lessons of people who have gone before. I also interviewed a few parents of young premature children to give a more current perspective on some of the challenges today. The end of the book has a resource section that parents can use, depending on the needs of their child.
What has been the reaction to your book?
I've received a good reaction from the press about this book. The stories in Small Victories vary widely; some of the interviewees have no visible sign of their prematurity, while others have significant disabilities. The great reaction from the local press may have to do with the fact that I'm well known in my community and people understand it hasn't been done before.
What can parents of younger preemies learn from your book?
They are not alone. Other parents out there are struggling with the same issues. They can also learn about resources they can take advantage of. In the book, each adults preemie gives parents advice. They can listen to the words of the adult preemies and draw their own lessons from each of the chapters. I have some summaries at the end of the book in which I address this also.
What advice do you have for todays parents, in looking back over what you have learned?
When you are in the first few months after your child is born - be assertive. Consider yourself part of the medcal team along with the doctors and nurses and gather as much information as possible.
One of your biggest tasks is breaking down your own isolation as your child starts to mature. There are are support groups out there, take advantage of that.
If your child has any disabilities, learn as much about these disabilities as possible. If you can find older children or even adults who have these disabilties who can share this with your child, that can help as well.
I would say that your expections for your child are incredibly important in shaping how well your child will do. So many of the people in the book talked about their parents expecting them to go to college, even if they had some pretty serious disabilities. They made made the assumption they would go to college and pushed themselves. For the issue of mainst.reaming versus institutionals, if the resources are there mainstreaming is the preferable choice. It helps to find something that they can excel at and feel good about, they can cling to this while striving for independence. Even when things seem bleak, they return to this success.
An overriding theme from the interviews is to treat your child as normally as possible rather than being overly protective. Being overly protective can be a real disservice to your child. Lastly, take care of yourself. It is important, but its a hard lesson, especially for moms.
You mention in your book that preemies today have a more difficult time of it. What are these differences between preemies today and preemies who are now adults?
Some had learning disabilities, but this newer generation is really more apt to have multiple disabiliies. So the challenges are somewhat different. But there still are a lot of lessons to be taken from adult preemies interviewed in Small Victories.
Order the book Small Victories.
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