When author Kasey Mathews gave birth four months prematurely to her one pound, eleven ounce daughter, she longed to connect with someone who’d been in her shoes. But she never found that peer and fought her way through loneliness, guilt, and fear alone, eventually finding her own way of approaching prematurity and parenting a preemie. Her experience inspired her to write Preemie: Lessons in Love, Life, and Motherhood, which she wrote in part so other preemie moms and dads could find that peer who would say “I’ve been there and I survived.”
We had a chance to connect with Kasey and to ask her about her experience as a preemie mom and her motivations for writing Preemie.
Q. What motivated you to tell your story in memoir form?
A. The seed for writing Preemie was planted just before my daughter, Andie, turned seven. After she’d arrived so prematurely, I was utterly terrified and at first wanted nothing to do with her. Because of my reaction, I carried around tremendous guilt and shame for years. When I finally dared to speak that truth out loud, I was at long-last released from the clutches of those emotions and began to heal. It occurred to me then that I couldn’t be the only mom to ever respond that way to their premature baby’s birth and decided to “put my truth out there” so that others wouldn’t have to experience the same loneliness I’d felt. It was incredibly healing to write my story and I hope others find it just as healing to read it.
Q. Writing is obviously an important part of your life. Were you journaling through your prematurity journey?
A. I believe writing is an incredibly powerful tool for healing. So much of what we’re “carrying around” becomes less of a burden when it’s put down on the page. That being said, besides a letter I wrote to Andie while she was in the NICU telling her all the things I hoped we do together one day, I never wrote another word about her birth until I began writing the book. I was teaching creative writing classes at the time and found writing about anything other than Andie’s premature birth an escape from my everyday reality. People are often shocked when they learn this because the book is such a detailed account of our lives at the time. But I didn’t need journals to remember. As a writer, I tend to be a careful observer and most of my preemie memories are permanently etched into my brain. On the other hand, I know many mothers who are so grateful they journaled throughout their preemie experience because in retrospect many of their memories are blurred or lost.
Q. A passage in the book that stuck with me was the one in which you said you wish someone who’d ‘been there’ would sit down with you and talk. What kind of support do you wish you’d had early on? Did you ever connect with a preemie parent group?
A. Andie was born nearly 12 years ago, so the networks of support groups that exist today were not available then. There was a group that met on Thursday nights, but we lived so far from the hospital and had left our two year-old in the care of others so much that an evening group just didn’t work for us. What Graham’s Foundation is offering, especially the virtual aspect of support, would have been a welcomed blessing in the weeks, months and years that followed Andie’s birth. I believe that in my case, connecting with others and knowing that they had walked the path before me (even if their experience was completely different) would have facilitated an enormous amount of healing.
Q. You had a unique way of combining holistic medicine and modern medicine to cope with the health issues specific to prematurity. Did you receive any criticism for that? Is it something you feel other parents of preemies should explore?
A. I never experienced any criticism when we began pursuing alternative therapies (at least that I know of!). I think all our friends and family knew we were in such desperate need of help and healing that they saw firsthand how much we benefitted by seeking alternative modalities. Several that we pursued were energy healing, cranial-sacral therapy, osteopathy and Reiki. And this wasn’t just for Andie. I truly believe that these babies arrive so early to be our teachers and help us learn and grow. For me, so much healing and so many powerful life-lessons emerged from the work I did with alternative practitioners. That being said, I want to emphasize that we always pursued parallel paths of traditional and alternative medicine, never abandoning one for the other, and just as importantly, continuing those paths that brought results.
Q. What advice would you like to share with other parents of preemies just starting their prematurity journey? What helped you stay strong?
A. My first piece of advice is Remember to take care of you! I love the analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane. If you don’t breathe first, you are NOT able to help your child. Give yourself permission to take a day off. I remember when I reached the point where my well had run completely dry and one of Andie’s nurses encouraged me to stay home for a day. “We’ll love her when you’re not here,” she told me. So I did. I stayed home for a day and I’ll tell you, that one day lounging in my pajamas was priceless! I also emphasize to parents the importance of speaking their own truth; saying out loud how they’re really feeling. Fear and anxiety love to breed and grow in the dark. By bringing those emotions to light, they lose their power and control. Finally, I urge parents to take everything they hear from doctors, friends, neighbors, TV reports, etc. with a grain of salt. Remember, statistics are just that, statistics. And your child is your child. Let your child show you what he or she is capable of and never let someone else determine or limit your child’s potential.