Q&A: “Preemie” Author Kasey Mathews on Choosing Love Over Fear

In her new memoir "Preemie: Lessons in Love, Life, and Motherhood," Kasey Mathews bravely and frankly chronicles the emotional, physical and psychological journey that began when her daughter was born at twenty-five weeks weighing one pound, eleven ounces. While the story is much too real to be a fairy tale, it does have a happy ending in that “Andie wears skinny jeans now, makes up dances behind her closed bedroom door, has contact lenses, and won’t wear skirts to school because she complains that she can’t run as fast as the boys…” Here Kasey joins us to expand upon the story and share insight into how the book came to be.

Signature: What compelled to write a memoir about your experience of giving birth to your premature daughter? 

Kasey Mathews: When she was born so early -- 25 weeks into my pregnancy -- I was terrified, completely lost, and incredibly alone.  I had a healthy two-year-old at home, and I wanted nothing to do with a pound-and-a-half baby who didn’t look like any human baby I’d ever seen.  For years I carried around tremendous guilt and shame that I’d felt that way about my own child.  I searched for a book where someone else had expressed those same emotions. Eventually, I gave up my search, but decided that I couldn’t have been the only person to ever feel that way, and if no one else was going to say it out loud, I would.  I wrote “Preemie” because I wanted others to know that they are not alone.

B: You wrote so openly about the terror and uncertainty you felt about loving an “alien looking” baby.  Did you worry about how your daughter would feel if she were to read it someday?

KM: Once I decided to write my story, in order to tell it honestly and truthfully, I had to let go of all worry about what others would think, including my daughter.  Of course, now that it’s written and my “truths” are out there for the entire world to see, I’m incredibly anxious about being judged.  Ironically, the one I’m least worried about judging me is my daughter.  For years now I’ve talked openly with her about my reactions to her birth and how I was so afraid to love her for fear I’d lose her.  If anything, I’m proud to model to her the importance of speaking her own truth and not allowing debilitating emotions to live in the dark where they grow and breed.  I have recently started reading select parts of the book to Andie, but she’s mainly just interested in finding the swear words.

B: You write that motherhood didn’t come naturally to you, yet at one point in the book a fierce maternal side of you emerges.  Can you explain where that came from? 

KM: Even with the birth of my full-term, eight-pound baby boy, I was fearful and uncertain as a new mother, and I struggled to embrace that maternal side of myself.  Then when Andie was born, I questioned whether it even existed at all.  I had completely sealed off my heart to protect myself from loving a baby I might lose.  But when the moment came to leave the hospital without my baby, something deep and primal woke within me.  When I stood in the middle of the hospital ward screaming, “I can’t leave my baby behind,” I suddenly knew that the “mother” in me had been there all along.

B: It wasn’t until Andie was seven that you began writing “Preemie.”  Why did you wait that long?

KM:There was no way I could have written the book before then.  I was really still recovering from the trauma of Andie’s birth, still trying to live a “normal” life that wasn’t fueled by the constant anxiety and worry of everything falling apart.  Andie had just turned seven when I had a monumental breakthrough moment which finally allowed me to let go of all the guilt, shame, and fear I’d been carrying for all those years.  It was then that I started writing down the story, and once I started, I couldn’t stop.

B: When your ob-gyn points out that your ongoing anxiety may in fact be PTSD [post- traumatic stress disorder], you question his judgment. Why? 

KM: I believed PTSD was an affliction of soldiers and others who’d been in a war zone. I hadn’t known that PTSD is a common affliction of “preemie” parents.  But once I learned more about it, it made perfect sense because in many ways, the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] is like a war zone.  With all of the harrowing ups and downs, the surgeries and medical interventions, most parents are left completely frayed and petrified. And the story doesn’t end there. Once those babies leave the NICU, life at home with a preemie can be incredibly chaotic, lonely, and debilitating.  Without the daily support of the NICU doctors, nurses, and therapists, parents often find themselves lost and isolated in their new life at home.

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