RFA CoverReady for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood

No woman dreams of having a premature baby when she becomes pregnant. Whether she imagines a home or hospital birth, the imagined outcome is always the same: a healthy baby cradled in her arms. But millions of women do not experience the birth of their dreams. In the United States alone, half a million babies are born prematurely every year, more than one thousand every day.

In September 2003, when I was pregnant with my first child and just beginning my third year in the MFA program at the University Minnesota, I began exhibiting signs of preeclampsia, the pregnancy-induced disease that affects over 200,000 U.S. women and causes an estimated 76,000 maternal deaths worldwide every year.

Two months before my due date, when my symptoms became life-threatening, my daughter, Stella, was born via C-section, and my husband and I were thrust into the uncertainty and terror of the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Stella spent four weeks in the hospital and five winter months inside with me, quarantined from the world.

Ready for Air is an often funny, often terrifying account of the final weeks of my pregnancy, the “this-was-not-part-of-the-plan” first weeks of my daughter’s life in the hospital, and the isolated, post-NICU world we inhabited after we took her home. Ready for Air is a story about learning to live with uncertainty. It’s about the different ways that men and women deal with crisis and the unexpected. It’s about faith and writing and the power of words to transform us.

Praise for Ready for Air

“Hopper’s memoir can be seen as a comfort to some and an explanation for others, but for her it is proof of her own strength as she writes, ‘As long as I have words, I’ll be strong enough.’ [An] emotional, informative memoir.”  — Minneapolis StarTribune

“After severe preeclampsia derails Kate Hopper’s birth plan, the author confronts her fears of preemie parenthood with brazen honesty and an occasional fitting expletive. Her memoir, a testament to the delights and uncertainties of motherhood, reads like a novel, though you won’t forget for a second that her story is true.”  —Pregnancy & Newborn

“Hopper articulates the difficulties her family experienced but also shares the stories of others she encountered along the way with Stella. Strangers in restaurants, ‘roommates’ in the neonatal unit, and friends and poets all had words that gave her strength. Hopper’s own words will appeal to others in similar straits.” —Therese Nielsen, Library Journal

“[Hopper] is a multifaceted narrator whose complex reactions to the relentless challenges of her daughter’s premature birth are raw, uncensored, unapologetic, and unladylike…Ready for Air [is] a story that bucks the traditional narrative while offering women a model of what it means to be a mother and be wholly, incorrigibly yourself.” —Literary Mama

“I had a hard time putting this book down.”  —NPR, Wisconsin Public Radio, Judith Siers-Poisson

Ready for Air looks unflinchingly at the psychological realities of learning to be a parent when other people are in a charge of a baby that can’t come home.” —MinnPost

“This [is a] beautiful, brave book. [Hopper’s] story is sure to be a crucial one for parents of premature babies, but it’s also a book for anyone who has ever had her life go a bit askew. As Kate writes in her memoir, ‘I followed the rules, I did what I was told, and it didn’t matter.’ Parenting, after all, ends up being about learning how little you can control things.” —Mutha Magazine

Ready for Air is an urgent memoir that plumbs the depths of the narrator’s interior as she grapples with the premature birth of her daughter and with her own identity as mother. It is a book of truths that pulls back the curtain on a rarely talked about experience—preeclampsia and premature birth—and strikes a universal truth about what it means to be female in today’s world.” —Writing Women’s Lives, Marilyn Bousquin

Ready for Air is a breathtakingly honest account of the first months of motherhood with a premature newborn. There is no writer I’d rather follow this journey with than Kate Hopper. Her storytelling skills are stunning. You will be rooting for her and her new family all the way.” —Hope Edelman, Motherless Daughters

“Hopper’s raw, hopeful memoir—about the harrowing days leading up to the premature birth of her daughter, and the harrowing weeks in the NICU that follow—is all paradox and ambiguity. Which is exactly how it is to become a parent: time stands still and gallops off; the world telescopes into microcosm and flings itself open; aching uncertainty meets unprecedented fortitude. Hopper takes us on an epic journey with her tiny baby—a stunning, breathless journey that shines with sincerity—and you’ll be so grateful that you came.” —Catherine Newman, author of Waiting for Birdy

“In Kate Hopper’s Ready for Air, a new mother is shoved to the brink of tragedy. There on the edge, she discovers her own resiliency, her own version of faith, the strength of her marriage, and a heart-bursting devotion to her premature infant daughter. But don’t fret that this is some sentimental journey. Hopper does not soft pedal. Instead, she’s a writer willing to acknowledge the most visceral human responses to trouble, including pain and fear, bristling impatience, and the pure fire of anger. She bravely explores what happens when we expect joy and instead are handed harrowing challenge, and she does so with a fresh, piercing, and, at times, humorous voice. I can’t imagine a parent who wouldn’t relate to this compelling story of a child nearly slipping away. –Debra Gwartney, author of Live Through This

“Kate Hopper’s Ready for Air came to me at a moment in life when I needed her unabashed, beautiful description of this unmarked breathless territory: a birth plan gone awry. Hopper does not simply chronicle her experience as a new mother; she stakes a claim with her edgy and wise renderings of a woman admitting every limitation, from money to energy to health to hope. By sharing on the page what cannot be said aloud, Hopper’s gorgeous words make room for more real women in the nursery.” —Sonya Huber, author of Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir and Opa Nobody


Interviews with Kate about Ready for Air

Minneapolis StarTribune – Memoirists write from the heart

NPR – Wisconsin Public Radio, The Larry Meiller Show

Mom Enough – I talk with Marti and Erin about life in the NICU

Mutha Magazine – a conversation with novelist Amy Shearn

Newbie Writers

Writing Women’s Lives

5 x Friday: University of Minnesota English Department

Lisa Romeo Writes