I’m a book lover. If I could have another job in this life, I would work in a big, beautiful book store, overflowing with books - children’s books, novels, non-fiction, whatever I can get my hands on. I love the stories. I love the different ways authors express themselves, the ways they paint pictures in my mind. I love the covers. I love the feel of the books in my hands. I don't like electronic readers, and I doubt I will ever love them the way I love real, honest-to-goodness printed books. My most recent read was Kate Hopper’s Ready for Air, a Journey through Premature Motherhood and I thoroughly enjoyed it. From the instant I felt it in my hands, with it’s beautiful, smooth cover and those adorable little toes, I wanted to pull up a blanket, make a cup of cocoa, and read for the afternoon. Once I started, I had a hard time putting it down.
As a NICU nurse, I have my own experiences with prematurity and life inside the NICU. After reading Kate’s eloquent memoir, I have a new and much-appreciated insight into what this journey can mean to the families of the babies. I think any person who has ventured through the NICU, parents and staff alike, will enjoy this compelling, humorous, honest and hopeful story.
But you decide for yourself! I’ve selected eight of my favorite moments from the book to share with you today (it was hard to choose just 8!). Take a minute or two to immerse yourself in the story. If you decide you want a copy of your own, buy one online today! Enjoy!
When I walk out of the office a few minutes later, I’m clutching an appointment card with one hand and my belly with the other. I concentrate on the heat of my skin as I step into the bustle of downtown. I don’t notice the cars or the blaring of horns. I don’t notice the sweat running down the backs of my legs. I walk the eight blocks back to my car, holding tight to my belly and trying to convince myself that everything will be fine. 
By midmorning my contractions are coming regularly, but they are still the early ones - if it were'nt for the vomiting and the pressure on my chest and the incredible heat emanating from my skin, I would be in what our birthing class instructors called the "smiling phase" of labor. I try to remember the breathing exercises we practiced on the floor of our classroom, but they seem silly.
I take a deep breath. This cannot be my baby. This is not how it’s supposed to happen. I look up, around the large room: nurses hovering over incubators, monitors beeping, alarms sounding. Through the the windows at the end of the room the sky is blue, bright fall blue. How can that be? How can my baby be here, in this place? How can the sun be shining outside? 
On Tuesday morning, when the nurse wakes me at seven to pump, I start crying and can’t stop. Donny climbs into my narrow bed and wraps his arms around me. I press my face into his shoulder and weep into his T-shirt. I cry for Stella, lying under the unremitting glare of the phototherapy lights. I cry for myself, for the tender wound stretching between my pelvic bones. I cry because I don’t know what else to do. 
I look at the clock. It’s 7:30. The doctor doesn’t usually call until 9:00. I lift the phone from its cradle. ”Hello?” But it’s not the doctor, it’s Donny, and as soon as I hear his voice - Hi, Hon - I know something’s wrong. “Don’t panic,” he says. “But something happened.” Something happened. Donny always calls the NICU on his way to work to see how Stella’s night went. Something happened means something happened to our daughter. No, I won’t go there. It’s something else. My mind ticks through other possibilities: a dead aunt, an injured dog on the side of the road; a car accident on the highway, cars tangled in a mess of metal. But even as I settle on another tragedy, I know none of these is the something he means. 
Mimi always gave me credit when her orchids bloomed. "Kate, you're a genius," she'd say. I would smile and shrug off her compliment, but secretely I was pleased that she thought I was responsible for the silky petals, the blasts of color. Week after week I groomed and watered these plants, but I didn't do anything special. Mostly, I just watched and waited. And suddenly, as I stand in Mimi's greenhouse, surrounded by all that throbbing color, I understand that this is what I must do with Stella as well. I must wait. I must be patient. And eventually, she will come home. Eventually, I will feel like her mother. 
You aren’t supposed to ask about the other babies in the NICU. That’s one of the rules in the handbook. But how do I pretend we’re here alone in this room full of whirring machines and beeping alarms? I can't. I watch parents come and go. I watch nurses hover over isolettes. I listen for snippets of conversations and try to piece together each baby’s story. Because each baby has a story. Even though they’re small, they have stories and their parents have stories. 
I lean against the door frame and watch them sleep, and then I walk to the window and stare out at the city lights that stretch as far as I can see. It’s the middle of the night, and here we are, alone with our daughter for the first time since she was born, four weeks ago. Tears catch in my throat. This month shouldn’t have existed for Stella; she should still be inside me. And I can almost feel this time - these first weeks of her life - float up an vainsh into the dark sky outside the window. I’m tempted to let them go. This never happened. But when I look down at Donny, holding our daughter to his chest, I know I can’t do that. These weeks did exist - for her, for us - and I can’t pretend they didn’t. 
Kate generously donated one copy for one lucky NICU Central winner - congratulations to Rebecca!