|Book Review by Janine Kovac:
Ready for Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood by Kate HopperThe memoir Ready for Air: A Journey through Premature Motherhood, by Minneapolis-based author and writing teacher Kate Hopper, sat on my bedside for weeks before I had the courage to open it. Truthfully, I was afraid of what I’d read. My three-month NICU stay with my micro-preemie twins was harrowing enough and I didn’t want to read something that would provoke my own painful and scary NICU memories. The mere thought of it made my stomach twist.
But my curiosity got the better of me. I knew Kate Hopper through her online writing class Motherhood and Words and through her book Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. She had exercises with titles such as “Writing the Hard Stuff” and “What Shapes Us: Reflection and Place.” I wanted to know—how did someone who designed those lessons apply them to her own writing?
Kate’s memoir begins when she is seven months’ pregnant and discovers she has a severe bout of preeclampsia. Baby Stella is born eight weeks early. I found myself nodding as I read that Stella’s “scrawny legs were splayed out like a frog’s” and how “purple veins track across her skull like a spider’s web.”
“This cannot by my baby,” Kate writes. “This is not how it’s supposed to happen.”
I had also felt stunned when I’d stood over my babies and looked down at the tiniest humans. I had never imagined babies could be so small. Unlike Kate, however, my instinct was to push away those details. I feared that if I admitted how alien they looked, it would mean that I didn’t love them the way I loved my perfectly healthy toddler. And I worried that by admitting to myself that I was disappointed, I couldn’t be optimistic at the same time.
So I cracked jokes instead.
“It’s not like I’m the one giving them blood transfusions,” I’d told our primary nurse. “That would be something to worry about!”
In contrast, Kate writes the honest, raw truth. She uncovers her feelings and describes her experience. She gets mad and she gets sad. She worries, she wonders, she feels guilty.
When I read how Kate snapped at a nurse, I remembered the way I had yelled to the administrator who wanted me to sign the twins’ birth certificates. (“They might die!” I’d told him.) When I read about Kate’s mother-guilt it in turn freed me to admit my own (“I should have been able to produce more milk.”).
But most importantly, when I read Kate’s sweet promise to Baby Stella (“I won’t breathe until you breathe, okay?”), I saw how fear and optimism can live side by side, how painful truth does not preclude unconditional love.
At the end of Ready For Air Kate writes, “It has always seemed strange to me that the solitary act of writing makes me feel more connected to the world, but it does.”
How fitting then, that Kate’s writing made me feel more connected to the world, too.
Ready For Air (University of Minnesota Press, 2013) is available online and at a bookstore near you. Read more here.