I talk often about my belief in the power of the personal narrative to change the writer and the reader. In sharing our stories, we are drawn together to sit with our differences and similarities, to see the world from a new perspective.
Everyone loves a story.
I know I do.
But a compelling story is not enough to make a lasting impression on me. I want a good story - yes - but I need the writer and/or narrator to be honest and real or I can't fully give myself over to the experience.
I crave the truth and, if a writer gives it to me, I will follow her anywhere.
Kate Hopper does just that in her new book, Ready for Air.
Ready for Air is a memoir about preeclampsia and the premature birth of Kate's daughter, Stella. The journey begins when her doctor says, "I'm worried about a couple of things..." and escalates quickly. Soon, Kate is in the hospital and preparing to give birth to her daughter at 32 weeks.
Kate provides tiny details that ground the reader in that hospital room with her - how the IV feels in her hand, the way her long hair sticks to her neck and suffocates her - and she conveys her inner thoughts and emotions so effectively that we feel the same confusion and terror that she feels.
After her daughter is born, she takes us to the NICU where the bulk of the book takes place. I have never been in a NICU but Kate creates the physical space in such a way that I am there with her. I could see everything happening around her and her husband, Donny - the health crises and the emotional turmoil.
I was lucky enough to meet Kate earlier this year and spend time with her so I was curious to see if the Kate I knew in the real world would be the same Kate in the book.
And she is.
As Kate recounts her experience, she is earnest and kind and funny. But she is also impatient, angry and sharp.
Kate is no saint and I really like that about her.
Right before Stella is born, she writes, "But there is something about my tan, muscular husband running on a field, kicking a soccer ball, while I lie in a hospital with a suppository in my vagina to ripen my cervix that particularly annoys me."
In another scene, she is nauseous and can't breathe and her mother is telling her about a hospital volunteer who "spreads joy all over the place" and Kate says, "Fuck joy."
It doesn't get any more real than that.
This is a story of survival - baby Stella's and Kate's - but it is also a story about motherhood and all the fears that come with it. Though I have never had a child in the NICU, I could see so many of my own fears in her story - the fear of losing your child, the fear of not being a good mother, the fear of not doing everything just right. It is Kate's willingness to appear vulnerable and even less than noble at times that makes her such a credible narrator and powerful storyteller.
As the story draws to a close, Kate writes about an overly earnest mother in a class,
What we usually hear about motherhood is exactly what this woman was spouting in class: bonding and connection, instant love between mother and child. Where are the other versions of that story? The fear and disappointment, the hours and hours spent each day trying to get your baby to stop crying? Where are the stories about what to do if you're going to hurt your baby? Those stories need to be told, too, don't they?
Yes, those stories need to be told too. Absolutely.
Kate would love you all to suggest NICU's or Hospital Resource Centers that would benefit from a free copy of Ready for Air. Leave a comment on this post on her blog and include the name and address of the hospital (specify NICU or family resource center, etc.). The blog tour ends in November and, after that, Kate 15 hospitals to receive signed copies of the book.
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 Brevity, Literary 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 katehopper.com.