Friday, November 1, 2013

Ready for Air

Through visiting here, many of you have learned about me through the stories I tell on my blog. Mostly humorous, with the shift lately to heartfelt pieces from the loss of my mother and my nephew this year. It's been a heart breaking year... when I look at how I've kept going, it makes me take stock and  realize, I am stronger than I think.

Sometimes, we just want to forget something happened. But that doesn't help anyone. Thank you to Kate Hopper and her book Ready for Air, for taking me back to a place where re-examination sheds the light needed to understand seasons in life, and how we survive. I've weathered much, some episodes in my life loom larger than others. And some, so significant that words are inadequate.

Like the birth of my children, all three, truly joyous occasions, but not playing out the way I had fantasized.

Being a mother is something I have wanted for as long as I remember, and when I was pregnant with my first child I was floating on air. I imagined baby showers thrown by my friends, coming home with a baby to a nursery lovingly set up by my husband. What I had never imagined was going into pre-term labor at 31 and a half weeks due to pre-eclampsia and delivering a baby that was not a "take home" baby. For this to happen two more times with my other two children, is something I especially didn't expect.

All three of my children were born early and stayed in the hospital's NICU. When your dreams are as opposite from reality as you can imagine, it's an isolating experience. You are caught so off guard and things move so fast, because the situation is dire. Action has to be taken fast and you have no time to celebrate, send out announcements, set up a nursery before hand, rally troops or resources to your side. Life, so frail, from minute to minute, becomes a strategy of survival -- and there is no room for the romantic. You're not prepared, not mentally nor physically, and neither is your home. This is life when you have a baby that is premature and in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). When you do come home, it is with a baby smaller than most, and attached to apnea wires and a monitor. Other mothers are jarred awake by their newborn's robust cries, while you sleep lighter than you ever have, one ear open for the beeping alert of an EKG lead.

I needed to push those memories far away, and thought I had, until I finished reading Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, a book I sank into cathartically. Authored by Kate Hopper, Ready for Air is about Kate's thrust into motherhood, delivering early due to health complications, and the uncertainty that goes with delivering a premature baby. The morning I received the email from Kate asking me if I would host a giveaway for her book about premature birth and NICU I sat, stunned. This was such a long ago story from my life... one I purposely had stopped thinking about, because those were times heavy with fear, desperate prayer, and cautious hope for a new baby's survival. I relived it through Kate's book, and I had to --so that those days didn't hold darkness for me anymore. Seeing what I lived through, made me see myself as a hero.

What made those times the most difficult of my life -- beyond the obvious fear of losing your child, or survival with permanent life-altering conditions -- was the aloneness and abruptness of it all. To be ripped from one day of eagerly anticipated motherhood, to the solemn, unable to speak clench of the touch and go of the days with a baby in NICU, where you see other mothers who delivered around you taking their babies home, and you wait, alone in your hospital room. Though your mind tells you skilled hands are caring for your baby, all your heart knows is that they're other hands, not your hands.

It was this very plunge back into those challenging days, that made me say yes, I would be honored to review Kate Hopper's book, and help to get a copy of Ready for Air to mothers, with premies or not. Ready for Air is a story of survival, one that can be told, passed on, shared, so that our survival stories can be heard by those that need to hear them; that's how we see how much we've survived along the way. Reading Kate's book helped me look at those days differently. When we finally were home with Alec, Xavier, and Auggie, I just wanted to shut and lock the door tight behind us. We were home, and they were with me, and that's all I wanted to know. But healing means understanding, and Kate is the one who took me by the hand and had me look under the bed, saying, "See? No monsters."

I know Kate's words would bring that much needed thread of hope, when everything seems to be unraveling. Kate's book is a balm to mothers living through the twists and turns of a sudden premature birth, and has the potential to be an NICU staple. The pages offer a look into what life in this season is like, so that others can be a support system. Friends and family want to help, and Kate provides understanding and insight for them. Her words of experience have the power to pull anyone stumbling through the unending days of NICU. Mothers, fathers, families in the isolation and emotional not-knowing of premie days, will find a place of trust in these chapters.

We are braver and stronger than we know, but how comforting to have a mother lighting the path ahead for us, on a trail she's blazed before, turning around and offering us her lamp, whispering with encouragement and assurance, "Here, find yourself in my words, let me walk with you and take each tentative step through these long days and nights with you. You have me and I know, I know, just how very hard it is to step into uncertainty." This is why Kate wrote Ready for Air, because she remembers the path when it was dark and long, and those that shone a light ahead for her.

Thank you, Kate, for your love, and for your work, you will be that message of hope and understanding that so many need when a birth comes too early, but a parents' love, never not ready.

Kate has generously provided a copy of Ready for Air to each blog to go to a reader and is also asking blog readers to suggest NICUs that they would like a copy sent to. 15 winning NICUs will be chosen at the end of the tour to have signed books sent to them. 
*Please leave a comment on Kate's blog, Motherhood and Words, if you'd like a copy of Kate's book, as well as the name of a hospital NICU, that you'd like to enter in Kate's giveaway.

Kate Hopper is the author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers. Kate holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota and has been the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, a Minnesota State Arts Board Grant, and a Sustainable Arts Grant. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals, including BrevityLiterary Mama, Poets & Writers, and The New York Times online. She is an editor at Literary Mama. She teaches online and at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. For more information about Kate’s writing and teaching, visit find out more about Kate, visit her blog Motherhood and Words, follow her on Facebook and Twitter and, of course, buy Ready for Air.



  1. Oh Alex....always, you always have words that quickly bring me to tears. Sometimes the tears are simply for the wonder of the relief some must feel when they hear them. I wish I had known about this book when my cousin's wife delivered so early over a year ago, but at least now I can write the title down, possibly get a copy to her, and certainly have on hand for the next time someone needs it. By the way, part of what I admire most about your strength is the grace you show while having it. xoxox

    1. Andrea, it's you who always has the right words. Thank you. Though this happened 18 years ago, it's just as frightening today as then. I had no one then... but this book would have meant the world to me, to have someone say "you'll make it, no matter the outcome." Thank you so much. xo

    2. Andrea, I love that about her, too! So much strength and also the grace to write about some of the most challenging times while she's going through them. She's amazing!

      I hope your cousin's baby is doing well now.

  2. This post is so poignant and timely, as I have two close friends who have both lost their infants in the past year and were unable to ever bring them home. Days, weeks spent in the NICU gave me such respect for what they do there and the courageous parents who stand by--hearts filled with hope, love and ache. I imagine this book will touch so many people in so many ways.

    Thank you for bringing this to light on your blog and talking about the incredible strength of the parents and staff during such a confusing and heartbreaking time. XO

    1. Abby, I'm so sorry to hear about your friends' babies. That's just devastating. Thinking of them and hoping for healing.

  3. Dear Abby: (I can never resist) Yes, this book can heal. I was overcome reading it, in the way that is necessary to see how rock solid and incredible we are. When I read the same harrowing experiences as mine, I thought, WOW, I did all that? I did ALL that. We are something. Thank you so much for your love. xo

  4. I loved Kate's book. Even though neither of my children were preemies, I could relate - because the moment we are thrust into motherhood no matter which way, it's all frightening and unknown, even more so when it's weeks before you're ready. Truly, a great book, and your review, beautiful.

    1. I love that, Alison. Thank you, my dear.

  5. Sweet Alexandra, thank you so much for this. I love that it helped you see your own braveness! That makes my day. Thank you!!!

  6. ...took me by the hand and had me look under the bed, saying, "See? No monsters."

    So well said.

  7. One of the things I cherish most about reading memoir (including, of course, other parents' blogs) is the way it's expanded my understanding of what's "normal." What a powerful gift Kate gives to her readers: helping us understanding her experience of unexpected labor and delivery complications and showing us the way she survived them with heart and, often, humor. Thank you for highlighting Kate's important work here, Alexandra, and, as always, for having the strength to share your own story. xo

  8. Two of my favorite people in one place (oh, and Kristen too, in the comment above mine!)! Alexandra, I knew you had difficulties but I didn't realize that all 3 of your boys had spent time in the NICU. Thank you for reading and writing about Kate's book here and for reminding us that it's important to face those memories. My son was taken to the NICU as well and a good girlfriend of mine just observed the 10 year anniversary of the day she lost her boy in the NICU. While my own experience wasn't as dire as many other mothers', I do remember clearly that initial but stubborn feeling of, "This isn't how it was supposed to be...this isn't how I had dreamt it would happen." And then, in time, you learn to accept that this is your birth story, and that it doesn't matter at all how your baby got here, only that s/he did. Kate's book is on my to-read list!

  9. This sounds like a book I'd love to get my hands on. Though not yet familiar with pregnancy and the effects on body, mind, nerves, etc., I'm oddly drawn to books like these.

    Alexandra, I'm sorry you had to relive some painful memories but I hope when you look back on them you can see how far you've come and the beautiful milestones your boys represent in your life. Thanks for a wonderful review. XOXO



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