Kate Hopper's daughter Stella was born two months before doctors could have anticipated. In her new memoir, Ready for Air (University of Minnesota Press), Hopper tells the story of her final weeks of pregnancy, Stella's early life in the hospital, and the "post-NICU world" the family inhabited upon bringing the baby home.
The narrative is "often funny, often terrifying," Hopper said. According to a Star Tribune review, the author "finds that motherhood is not as she had expected it to be... Hopper and her husband cannot even hold Stella when she is born, and Hopper's sadness, and anger, are palpable in her writing."
Hopper began the book in early 2004, in the midst of her time at the MFA program at the University of Minnesota. The new mom took a year off to care for her daughter, and when she returned to the University, Ready for Air became her thesis. She graduated in 2005 with a half-finished draft, which she completed over the next two years. After several rejections, Hopper decided to rewrite the project, giving it new life.
"I printed out the whole manuscript, " she said, "then opened a new Word document and started to write the book again, from the beginning." After two and a half years, Hopper completed a new version of the book, which agent Amy Burtkhardt sold to the University of Minnesota Press in October of 2012.
While Hopper's journey is harrowing, it is not without the power to uplift. "I hope this book is a testament to the strength of motherhood and the transformative power of sharing our stories," She said. The Star Tribune describes Ready for Air as "a comfort to some and an explanation for others, but for [Hopper] it is proof of her own strength."
As for Hopper, she hopes the book will transcend the myths of motherhood. "I had a very challenging first year as a mother," she said, "and part of that had to do with reconciling my reality--the trauma of Stella's birth and the isolation of new motherhood--with the myths of perfect motherhood that are still perpetuated in our society." Hopper hopes Ready for Air will inspire others to "write their truths, whether these are 'acceptable' or not." She wrote her book in part to communicate to readers the strength of a story shared.
Kate Hopper lives in Minneapolis, where she teaches writing courses at the Loft Literary Center, leads writing workshops and retreats, and works in nonprofit development. She has also published a writing guide called Use Your Words, which is based on her Motherhood & Words class.
This Thursday, October 3rd, attend the launch for Ready for Air at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, from 3--7pm.
Read an excerpt from Kate Hopper's Ready for Air:
When we bring Stella home, she's still too small, and I'm petrified. When I hold her I'm afraid that I'll drop her. And sometimes I'm afraid that I'll accidentally throw her like a football across the room--a perfect spiral against the bedroom wall.
I'm scared to confide this even to Donny, and when I finally do, he laughs.
"Throw her like a football?" His hand cups an imaginary ball above his head and he whips it through the air.
But I insist. "No, I'm serious."
I'm holding her now. In fact, I'm always holding her. She screams when we put her down. Her face turns dark red, and a thin, high-pitched wail emerges from her tiny mouth. She's sleeping, now, though. She's an angel, and I can't imagine throwing her, hurting her. But I look at Donny, and he knows I'm scared, that I don't trust myself.
"I've read about this," I say, "the fear of hurting one's own baby; it is a sign of post-partum depression." And I hand him the pamphlet that one of the nurses gave me before I was discharged from the hospital.
"You're not going to hurt our baby," he says to me, quietly now, tender. He's sorry for laughing, for not taking me seriously at first, and he's nervous, fear opening his arms.
"You need to trust yourself." He kisses my forehead. "You're not going to hurt our baby."
"But by accident, maybe?"
"No," he says. "Not even by accident."