Though I was provided with a copy of Ready for Air for review, all opinions expressed are my own.
A confession: I am cautious about reading prematurity memoirs, for two reasons. First, they bring back to consciousness feelings from the day of Daphne’s birth and her darkest NICU days. I am not actively trying to avoid these memories, but I also try not to stir them up if I don’t have to. Second, I find it very difficult not to compare every NICU experience to my NICU experience. Every preemie baby has his or her own unique journey, of course, so comparison is not a useful exercise.
Kate Hopper’s daughter Stella was born at 32 weeks due to preeclampsia, and spent a month in the NICU. Having had a micro-preemie who came home with some pretty scary long-term health problems after five months in the NICU, I initially rolled my eyes a bit. Her trauma is not as bad as my trauma, right? After the first couple of pages, though, I was hooked by what is universal about the prematurity experience.
Through gorgeous, vivid storytelling, we see the great divide in Hopper’s life before and after Stella’s premature birth. We see her exciting life as a graduate student and teacher, her happy marriage to a professional soccer player about to embark in a career change. Hopper has a comfortable new house, orchids to care for, a healthy pregnancy and a baby girl to welcome in a couple of months. Then, one hot summer day, a regular prenatal appointment changes everything. Hopper’s description of preeclampsia is absolutely terrifying. Later in the book she mentions that she feels compelled to describe the gory details of her illness and Stella’s birth, again and again. This is something that many of us struggle with, and I think it is because every time we tell the story, it helps us understand and make a little peace with something that crashes violently against the hopes and expectations of a pregnant woman. She says to a nurse the day she is discharged without her baby: “But it’s not fair. This isn’t how it’s suppose to happen.” The nurse answers: “I know. But this is your birth story. This is your daughter’s birth story, and you need to accept that.”
Ready for Air is particularly unique and touching because, more than just describe Stella’s traumatic birth and NICU stay, it tells the story of the journey of a mother from the moment things start going wrong. Hopper is refreshingly honest and candid. Initially, trauma and fear make her too cautious to bond with Stella. Then, she blames herself for not being as skilled and natural at parenting as her husband. Fear and guilt. Do these sound familiar, fellow preemie parents?
Hopper also describes the dark days after Stella’s discharge. Cooped up in the house, under quarantine, with a difficult baby who does not feed easily, and cries most of the day, Hopper sees her mind slipping and fears Stella will be defined by her prematurity. We go along on her journey, day by day, and see both baby and Mom growing stronger, creating a new normal. In the epilogue, we learn that Stella is a vibrant, healthy child, with a full-term younger sister. Hopper has learned to accept her birth experience, as the nurse had advised her. She now counsels families in the NICU and teaches women to write about their own experiences so they can, like her, use their words to learn and heal.
If you’d like to read Hopper’s book, enter our giveaway below. She is donating a copy to one lucky mom. You’ll also have a chance to chat with Hopper live during our Facebook Chat this month, where she’ll join us for the normal chat time plus a special evening chat. As an added bonus, our Preemie Babies 101 Lead Blogger, Angie, has reviewed her other book, Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, and a copy of that book is being given away as well. Details for that giveaway will be announced during the Facebook Chat. Good luck!