Preemie (And Giveaway)
July 16, 2012 § 46 Comments
Your story and mine are sure to be different, but if hearing my story allows you a moment away from yours, if it leaves you with a sense of hope, then this story was worth writing down – from Preemie, by Kasey Mathews
So begins Kasey Mathew’s beautiful memoir, Preemie: Lessons in Life, Love, and Motherhood. I was in the passenger seat of my car when I first read this sentence and Scott was steering the car down the 395 out of Alexandria, out of Virginia, out of my life for two years and into North Carolina. We had left the boys with my parents for four days and were going down to try to find a house near the Marine base, Camp Lejeune. What I remember about that April day was the sun through the windshield and the blue sky and Mathew’s words: if it leaves you with a sense of hope, then this story was worth writing down.
The next few pages took me surely and swiftly away from my life and onto the pitching and turning roller coaster that was hers in late November of 2000 when she went into the hospital halfway through her pregnancy because she hadn’t been feeling well. Mathew’s writing is clean and sharp with intense imagery and dialogue that makes you feel as though you are eavesdropping. Add to this that Mathews is a masterful story-teller, creating not just a narrative about what happened but a thriller that will whip you around sharp corners and through the blinding chiaroscuro of light and dark that was her life the during first five years after giving birth to her 1 pound 11 ounce daughter, Andie. Before I read Preemie, I knew that Mathews had set out to write this book to comfort other women who had or will give birth to premature babies, the ones who have to defy odds in order to take a single, unassisted breath. But what she did was to write a book that is both a comfort and a tribute to anyone who has had to stare disaster in the face. In the first chapter, she writes with shattering clarity about those early hours in Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. when she found out that she wasn’t ill but in labor five months early.
“Why is this happening?” I asked. “What did I do?” My voice sounded far away.
“You didn’t do anything.” The nurse on my right held
my hand without looking at me. “This isn’t your fault.”
Their shoes squeaked as they jogged alongside me.
“I know I did something.” The nurses exchanged a look.
My body started shaking. I was so cold. “I never should have
played paddle tennis.”
“It’s nothing you did,” several nurses said at once.
I thought if I could figure out why this was happening, I
could make it stop. I searched for clues, chronicling the past
week’s activities and ingestions. The bath I took Saturday
must have been too hot. I ate sushi. Just vegetables, but
maybe it was the ginger. “I put ginger on some sushi.” They
gripped my ankles tighter. I could see their hands on my legs,
but realized I couldn’t feel them.
Finally, I clutched a nurse’s arm. She was walking back-
wards, facing me, guiding the gurney down the hall. I dug
my fingers into her flesh. I needed to know she was real. She
looked at me. Her eyes, framed in dark circles, softened. I
thought I’d found my sympathetic audience. “You don’t un-
derstand,” I said to her in a more coherent, controlled voice.
“This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.”
She held my gaze for a moment, and I waited. A gold
cross swung at the base of her neck. She continued to look at me. And then she said, “It does now.”
The voice and structure of Preemie are as impressive as its pacing. Often while reading, I flipped the pages back, trying to determine how Mathews had managed such a skillful flashback, such sparse but evocative details, such humor, even as she depicts events that must have been excruciating to live through. She describes the smell of paint in the first house she and her husband lived in, the beer they drank in the summer, their conversations as they lied in bed, sleeplessly staring up at the ceiling. Her sense of structure is both subtle and precise. Mathews places a gentle hand on the reader’s back and loops us through the past and the future until we finally look up and realize we are back at the middle, right where we started. Preemie is a book that reads like a race car.
Preemie is also a book about growing up, about how we transform from a twenty-something into a grown-up and about how growing up is less an age or a decision and more about the choices we make, the steady accumulation of days until we realize we are no longer auditioning, but rather, that we have gotten the part. Throughout the book, Mathews writes with a raw honesty about how it took her days until she was ready to hold her newborn, how hard it was to leave her healthy, two-year old son Tucker and head to the hospital, how she was both overjoyed and overwhelmed to finally take Andie home. “We had so many dreams,” her husband says at one point. “And now everything’s changed.”
During the first precarious months of Andie’s life, Mathews and her husband remodeled their home in record time (because they could not do any construction once Andie was home), suffered a cancer scare, and navigated an almost-daily commute to the Boston hospital to visit Andie all while trying to maintain a normal life for Tucker. And yet, these challenges were only warm-ups for Mathew’s ultimate challenge, which was learning how to trust herself.
Mathews turns to alternative healthcare for reasons that are a mystery even for her. She pursues, Reiki, energy work, and cranial-sacral therapy first as a last resort and then later, as a believer, as someone who has learned that babies need to be protected from the bright lights of the NICU, that to truly heal requires more than hospital beds and prescriptions.
In one of my favorite sections of the book, in a chapter entitled, “Healers,” Mathews describes her first visit to Karen McCarthy, an energy healer. On the phone, McCarthy explains that we humans are not just physical bodies, that we have emotional and spiritual bodies as well. Because Mathews doesn’t understand this at the time, she tells her curious husband that they are going to “a mind-body kind of thing.” Mathews describes the Berber carpet in Karen McCarthy’s house, her turtleneck, and firm handshake. She writes about the sometimes mystical events that surround her life from the perspective of a doubter, who believes only because she can no longer disbelieve.
As Andie continues to grow, so does Mathews. She becomes in equal measures, softer and more fierce. In peeking down every dark alley that might somehow reveal a possibility for her daughter, Mathews details the elliptical journey of her own healing as she travels fearlessly into the center of her own beating heart. She writes about her own transformation with humor, grace, and gritty honesty. This is a story about what happens when the worst happens. It is not so much about rising from the ashes as it is about being reborn in the flames. It is about learning how to trust: in ourselves, in the unknown, and in impossible miracles.
To celebrate this beautiful book, Kasey is giving away a copy of her book to lucky someone. Leave a comment and I’ll randomly pick a winner on Thursday, July 19th.