Kate Hopper’s memoir of her daughter’s premature birth–Ready for Air–has finally arrived. And it…is…luminous.
On the Brevity Blog, Hopper describes her difficult, ten-year journey to publication. The manuscript of Ready for Air was rejected over and over, by both agents and editors. Many of them complained that the book was “too dark.” Even once she completely rewrote it, it garnered the same complaint. Having now read the book, this stuns me. Because, as I said, this book is luminous.
Yes, it is the story of one of the most difficult times in its author’s life. Yes, there is a moment when both the mother’s and the child’s lives are in danger. Yes, over a third of the book takes place in the NICU: the neonatal intensive care unit, a setting that, with its fluorescent lighting and ubiquitous machinery, is more common in sci-fi than memoir. And yet. Something about Hopper’s voice, steady and calm even as she describes the most dire moments–for instance, lying in a hospital bed, post-preeclampsia, post-C-section, burning up and strangely claustrophobic–makes you able to sympathize with her anguish and at the same time know that something inarguably good is going to come from all this. Hang on, Kate, I found myself saying in my head. You can do it.
I felt extremely close to Hopper as I was reading this book. Closer, probably, than I could be to a friend or family member living through these events. Because of course Hopper is able to voice many of the emotions and thoughts that, as she was living through them, were much more difficult to share. In this extremely intimate account of her struggles, she is completely bare. In her fear. In her discomfort. In her uncertainty. In her anger at healthcare professionals who seem insensitive and unwilling to provide crucial information. (Not all of them were like this, but some certainly were.) The distance of ten years allows her to clearly articulate the depth and nuance of each of these feelings. Having read this book, I almost feel as though I’ve appropriated Hopper’s memories as my own, as though in the distant past, I, too, lived through pregnancy-induced hypertension, watched my daughter struggle through her first weeks of life with artificial respiration and a feeding tube, and had my nipples rubbed raw by a breast pump as I persevered for months in getting her to breastfeed.
When, at long last, Hopper is able to take her tiny daughter home, there is a heartbreaking moment in which she realizes that coming home is not the end of her difficulties. In fact, the most difficult challenges await, and she’s going to have to face most of them in her own house, alone. Her husband is wonderfully supportive, but he has to go to work. And Hopper is so angry at him for this that she could throw things (and does!). I think we have all known a moment like this. When the demands of our daily reality have pushed us so close to our breaking point that we assign blame in knowingly irrational ways. And it’s Hopper’s willingness to own up to this–to articulate this for the rest of us–that gives her writing about this difficult topic its unexpected luminosity.
In sum, Ready for Air is a seamlessly crafted work that carries us to places we will hopefully never have to go, but for which we would be amazingly well prepared if we did. It is engrossing, thought-provoking, and a story you will long carry in your heart.