Immediately after M was born, his heart rate spiked to more than 300 beats per minute. The nurses blew oxygen by his face as I held him, still wet and slippery, on my lap, until the pediatrician arrived and they whisked him away to the nursery for an EKG. He came back to me with electrodes stuck to his chest and an oxygen monitor clipped to his toe. Whenever the monitor slipped out of position, it set off a piercing alarm, which set M off screaming, which brought in the nurses to check to see if his heart rate had spiked again.
Three days later, we left the hospital to head directly to the pediatric cardiologist for an echocardiogram. Before we left, the hospital gave us a cheap stethoscope, a prescription for digoxin, and instructions to keep a plastic baggie of ice cubes in the freezer. If M’s heart rate went up, we were to add water to the ice cubes and place the baggie over M’s face, to trigger his dive reflex, stopping his heart briefly to allow it to reset at a normal rate (we only had to do this once, and it was every bit as horrible as it sounds).
I did not know it at the time, sitting in the cardiologist’s office, still stiff and in pain from giving birth, wearing pajama pants and a shark t-shirt (I had not expected to go anywhere upon leaving the hospital), but this was my first introduction to the most profound truths of motherhood: you have no way of knowing how this is all going to turn out and, what’s more, you have no control. This is a lesson that continues to reassert itself with great urgency as my children careen toward the teenage years.
Which brings me to today's post topic. I first “met” Kate Hopper about five or six years ago, when I took her Motherwords (now “Motherhood and Words”) class online. At the same time that she was midwifing her cyber-students’ stories, she was working on her own memoir, Ready for Air, and I remember her describing the theme of the book as “learning to live with uncertainty.” Which seems like it could be the theme of all of parenting.
Having read––in our class materials and discussions, as well as on her blog, and in her wonderful writing handbook Use Your Words––about the rigors of Kate’s writing and rewriting process and the challenges of getting the book published, I feel so very happy for her that Ready for Air is now out in the world, and so very honored to have been sent a copy to read write about here.
The book begins with Kate heavy, swollen, hot, and miserable. She thinks she’s just having a sucky pregnancy, but soon finds out that she’s suffering from pregnancy-induced hypertension, and events begin to cascade as she is admitted to the hospital, injected with magnesium sulfate, and, eventually, wheeled into the OR where daughter Stella is delivered by emergency caesarian two months early. What follows is Kate’s journey through coping with her baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, and then coming home, quarantined in the Minnesota winter, with her preemie.
I brought the book to the beach and to bed with me, and found myself unable to put it down, wanting to read “just one more chapter,” dying to know what would happen next.
One of the things that makes this book so readable is how very honest Kate is about herself and how funny she can be, even in the face of terror. Yet she doesn’t resort to that self-deprecating-yet-snarky tone I’ve noticed has popped up in so much writing in the last few years. I love that this woman, who is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, can have a fit that her husband brought home the wrong scent of soap. It makes her feel real, and makes me feel much better about the many fits I had when I spent my days at home with a crying baby (or two).
In her essay “Talking About Mothers” Sara Ruddick writes, “In writing as in living, it is difficult to describe the pleasures of motherhood without sentimentality, to discuss the inevitable pain without false pathos, to balance the grim and the satisfying aspects and to speak of each honestly.” Kate Hopper has hit that sweet spot in Ready for Air. As I read, Kate's love for Stella, her fear, her exhaustion, her frustration, all radiated off the page, and always felt completely genuine and not sentimental. Now I’m going to go back and read Ready for Air again, much more slowly this time, to try and see how she pulled it off.
As a part of her blog book tour, Kate would love to have readers suggest NICUs or Hospital Resource Centers that they think would benefit from a free copy of Ready for Air. Please comment on this post on Kate's blog and include in your comment the name and address of the hospital, specifying whether it goes to the NICU or family resource center, etc. At the end of the tour, Kate will randomly pick 15 hospitals to receive signed copies of Ready for Air.
Kate Hopper is the author of www.katehopper.com. and 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