More on “Love Your Fate” — and books to give away

“Everyone has a story. Mine began in November of 2000 when I thought I’d given birth to the smallest baby ever born.”

So begins Kasey Mathews’ moving memoir Preemie, an account not only of a birth story gone terribly awry but also of a young woman giving birth to herself, learning to love and accept the person she is through the harrowing, humbling process of learning to love and accept her tiny, excruciatingly fragile baby girl, born more than four months premature.

Nearly twenty-three years after my own first pregnancy, I still remember a line from one of the many parenting books I read in preparation for my daunting new role of “mother.” The gist of it was something like this: “In the days after you give birth, you will grieve the death of the idealized baby you have envisioned for nine months. And you will begin to love and accept the real, imperfect, and perfectly beautiful child who has come to you.”

The very idea of grief having any part to play in the miracle of birth was too frightening to contemplate. And the notion that my own baby might be anything less than perfect was the kind of middle-of-the-night anxiety that I tried desperately to avoid. Much better, I was certain, to envision only the best outcomes: an easy delivery, a healthy baby, happiness all around.

But best outcomes are not always ours to call, and sometimes perfection is found not in our idealized images of the way we believe things “ought” to be, but in our fumbling, awkward, valiant efforts to grow up and become the people we are truly meant to be. For of course, before we can deeply love another flawed, imperfect, vulnerable soul, we must first be willing to love ourselves — even if who we are is so much less than who we still aspire to become.

Any woman who has experienced the trauma of giving birth to a premature baby knows just how quickly, and how devastatingly, a life can turn. One day you are choosing paint colors for the nursery, the next you are staring at the ceiling of a hospital emergency room; one minute you are diligently practicing your “hut” breathing, the next you are being prepped for anesthesia; one minute you are envisioning your own beautiful baby at your breast, the next you are swaddled in sterile scrubs, staring down at a pitifully small one-pound creature that looks nothing like the newborn of your dreams but, as Kasey so vividly describes, more like “a potato with tiny arms and legs.”

“I thought if I could figure out why this was happening, I could make it stop,” Kasey writes, describing the confusion she feels as emergency room nurses begin the race to save her unborn baby’s life. She searches for clues, chronicling the past week’s activities: the bath she took, the sushi she ate, a game of paddle tennis. The nurses assure Kasey it’s not her fault that her March baby is coming in November, that it’s nothing she did, nothing she can control.

Finally, I clutched a nurse’s arm. She was walking backwards, 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 understand,” 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.”

Last week, I wrote here about the momentous challenge inherent in the words “amor fati,” or “love your fate.” Preemie is the courageous account of one woman’s struggle to do just that, to love not only her fate but also the small, desperately vulnerable and miraculously determined little girl who survived against all odds to become her mother’s greatest spiritual teacher.

Kasey Mathews tells deep, painful truths about how it feels when a “perfect” life is jolted by reality. She writes about guilt and failure, shock and shame, loneliness and confusion and loss. And she writes about her own halting journey from darkness into light and from fear toward faith, a journey that surely illuminates our greatest and most universal human task: the work of learning to embrace imperfect beauty, of realizing that a good life is determined not by what happens to us, but by what we choose to make of it. Once again, amor fati.

I first met Kasey just three years ago this week. My own memoir, The Gift of an Ordinary Day had been in the stores for two days, and I was doing my very first book signing at a nearby book shop. There were all of four people in attendance; two of them were blood relations (my mother and my brother), the third was a mother from Jack’s class at school, and the fourth was a lovely woman I’d never seen before. She sat down in a chair near the back and waved to me with a warm smile, as if we were already friends. I thought perhaps she’d wandered in by mistake, so little publicity had been done for this event. But no, it turned out that she was an actual reader; she had in fact come that day to see me. I scrapped my prepared talk, read a couple of chapters, and then sat down to chat a bit with my charitable audience of four.

Kasey introduced herself, and told us she was writing a book. As she shared the story of her daughter’s birth, and of the fear and surrender and hard-won happiness of the last nine years of her family’s life together, I found myself wishing that she would hurry up and finish writing. I wanted to read it, to hear about how Andie persevered and grew, and even more, how her beautiful mom had grown right alongside her. I didn’t doubt for a moment that Kasey had a book in her. Her quiet eloquence confirmed her as a story teller, and her determination to offer hope and support to other women facing challenges of their own would surely carry her across the finish line.

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into Kasey and Andie, now a lively twelve year old, outside the grocery store downtown. Although I’ve followed each stage of Preemie’s long labor and triumphant delivery (nothing premature about this birth!) I had missed Kasey’s book publication party, earlier this summer. It was my first opportunity to say “Congratulations!” in person.

“I want to write about your book!” I told her. And with that, she reached into the back seat of her car, grabbed a copy, signed it, and handed it to me.

To win this signed copy of Preemie, along with a signed copy of my very first book, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, just leave a comment below. Write about how the words amor fati have resonated in YOUR life. Or, of course, just let me know you’d like to read this special book. I will draw a winner at random on Saturday, September 8. (In the meantime, visit Kasey at http://www.kaseymathews.com/.)

JIMMY FUND MARATHON WALK UPDATE:

I have just a week more to train for my 26.2 mile walk on September 9, in memory of my friend Diane. I’ve listened to a couple of books on Audible.com while walking the New Hampshire countryside. But mostly, these days, I watch the seasons change, and remember my friend, and our talks two summers ago as she thought about the legacy she would leave. It is for her, for these memories, that I will walk next Sunday.

To read more about my reasons for making this walk, click HERE.

Click HERE to make a donation on my personal fundraising page.

And to all of you who have already supported me in this effort, my heartfelt thanks!

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your comments

  1. This sounds like a FANTASTIC book and this was a beautiful post…it actually left my teary eyed in the middle of Panera!!

    Your words…

    “sometimes perfection is found not in our idealized images of the way we believe things “ought” to be, but in our fumbling, awkward, valiant efforts to grow up and become the people we are truly meant to be.”

    …cut right to my heart.

    Even though motherhood has not had extra challenges like those that Kasey has faced, I have struggled with what you call “amor fati” or loving my fate…it’s a long story, but just my accepting that perhaps my goals for myself (set before I became a mom) in so many areas of my life seem SO unrealistic today with my 5 year old and 3 year old demanding more of me than I could have ever imagined (all normal “demands” but demands nonetheless). I often wonder where my creative, writing self has gone, or where to ever find the time for any of that…

    Would love to read this book and your book Mitten Strings for God remains one of my FAVORITES on motherhood…would love to win a copy to pass on to another mother!!!

    Thanks for this post!

  2. The Preemie book resonates with me, as the mother of a now healthy 11 year old born in Oct 2000 with a major birth defect. I can quite distinctly remember the point in the pregnancy at which I realised I needed to stop regretting what could have been, and to stop looking ahead to what might be (giving birth to a baby whose lungs might not be ‘compatible with life’ as the medics put it) and instead, to start ‘loving my fate’; taking each day as it came and enjoying every moment with my unborn baby. That was a huge life lesson. I’m in the UK, so don’t enter me in the comp – having seen a pic of Preemie on Karen Maezen Miller’s site with your endorsement on the cover, I’m just grateful that it prompted me to re-read my copy of Mitten Strings for God and to discover the Gift of an Ordinary Day, and this blog!

  3. MargieAnn says:

    I have been trying to love my fate and to look at the delicate balance of letting go and holding on – learning and growing I am – something will grow from all of this, and it will be me! as this year my dear daughter is a senior in high school and this summer I left my son at his first assignment – training – as an Infantry officer – as he graduated from West Point this past spring. So, I really am trying to embrace what you so eloquently wrote about loving my fate – a soldier’s mama and a senior’s mama as this fall begins. In the end what matters most, how well did you live, how well did you love, and how well did you learn to let go – whether in small ways or bigger ones. And I am going to try to not look at my life as a series of lasts as in the last day for something but as a series of firsts – the first phone call from training from my son and the first home football game for my daughter as a senior! Blessings, peace, and joy to you and much gratitude for your sharing and enlightening us all. Margie

  4. My awakening also began on day 1 of my son’s life. My full-term, 6+ lb baby only survived his first day of life due to the quick response of a delivery room nurse. Twenty two years and 2 kidney transplants later my son is a senior in college, still teaching me lessons every day. I look forward to reading Premie!

  5. “For of course, before we can deeply love another flawed, imperfect, vulnerable soul, we must first be willing to love ourselves — even if who we are is so much less than who we still aspire to become.”

    Your words are so wise and so true. My own daughter, now 15, was a 3 lb. preemie who almost died in utero. The deeply felt emotions that accompany such a birth linger for many years. She has had several major medical issues to overcome, but she is healthy and beautiful…and deeply loved.

    Your blog is, as always, beautifully written. Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. At the same moment this new post was coming in to my inbox, I was forwarding your original Love your Fate~Amor Fati blog post to a friend in need of reading it. You never cease to amaze and inspire me, Katrina. Thank you.

  7. I am trying to learn Amor Fati!

  8. I just wrote a letter to my daughter for her 8th birthday with 15 things I wanted her to know and remember forever. One of them was Amor Fati. I have had my shares of hurdles to jump over the past few years. I kept thinking and hoping that when the storm had passed, then it would all be okay and life would be “better”. Then I realized life is not about waiting for the dust clouds to settle but learning to live and enjoy life despite them- amor fati!

  9. I would love to read both of these books. Owning our own story – not just accepting it, but loving it, is the hardest thing we can do.

  10. SueinMtVernon says:

    Your post last week was like an “aha” moment for me. If someone would have told me 23 years ago that my life would resemble the life I am currently living, I would not have believed them. Twenty three years ago, I was happily married with a beautiful newborn son. My parents were healthy. Today, I am a single full-time mother. My grown son moved to Florida for a new job – my mother passed away in 2009 – and my father is in a nursing home suffering with dementia. My close knit family of four has dwindled down to just me in a house all by myself. I suffer with loneliness and depression. I now realize I need to Amor Fati. I’ve been dealt a totally unexpected set of cards, but you’ve made me realize I need to embrace the imperfection and unexpected and find that silver lining. Some days are easier than others, but I know that brighter days are ahead for me.
    Thank you for the chance to win!

  11. On the cusp of my daughter’s second birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about her birth, and birth in general, as I now tend to as her birthday approaches. My daughter was the opposite of a preemie, born at just over 41 weeks, but there were still so many things about her birth and delivery that were unexpected. And that’s what motherhood has taught me thus far: every day is an exercise in letting go of how I thought it would be, a lesson that repeats itself over and over and over again.

    I would love to win a copy of this book!

  12. I would love to win a copy of this book – it sounds like an amazing story. Amor Fati – not easy to do. My now 96 year old mom has been living with us for the past two years and though I am glad she is with us, I miss the freedom of being able to do things and go places on the spur of the moment, since she really can’t be left alone. Your posts from the last two weeks have shown me that rather than wishing for something else, I can be grateful for the special times I am spending with my mom, and enjoy them to their fullest. Thank you for giving me the glimpse that my life is as it should be, and that these days are precious and memorable with my mom, and are truly a gift.

  13. Your recent post, Amor Fati, came at a perfect time in my life. I have been savoring its wisdom for the past week, and I am hoping that each day I embrace that attitude a bit more than the previous day. Can’t wait to read Preemie!

  14. I am a big Kasey fan and have a copy of Preemie on my stack … I so look forward to reading it. I hadn’t made the connection between your glorious love your fate post and this story, but it’s glowing at me now. xoxo

  15. First- I love love your writing. I found this blog after recently giving birth to our second child with chromosomal abnormalities and I life if struggle; I’m indeed in the trenches of how in fact I am going to ever “love my fate”. Thank you for your healing words!

  16. Jennifer Simcic says:

    Katrina, I love your writing, and “Mitten Strings” was the guiding voice in my first years of motherhood. I would love to win the signed copies of both these books, thanks!!

  17. Jen Robertson says:

    Love Your Fate ..
    Years ago, I was a young nursing student, struggling to decide whether nursing was right for me, or not. I remember telling someone what I did like about my first chosen career: I like giving meds and I love to look after babies.
    A few weeks ago, I was up late one night looking after my young son who is diabetic and was testing very high for blood sugar. After testing, correcting, testing, giving a shot and changing his pump site I sat by his bed and watched him sleep. Suddenly I remembered that day long ago, and I knew, for sure, that my son had chosen me to be his Mommy!

    Love you fate.

    Jen Robertson

  18. Thank you for your beautiful words. I love to read memoirs of motherhood and have particularly enjoyed “Mitten Strings for God” and “An Ordinary Day”. Motherhood is full of so many joys and so many challenges and as you say it can’t all be perfect. Thank you for sharing such heartfelt stories of joys and challenges. As a mother of two and a Child and Family Counselor, I am always learning from my own children and the families I work with. I would love to win copies of these books to share with the families I work with and to read for myself. I look forward to your next blog :-)

  19. 17.5 years after my own preemie motherhood story began, the opening paragraphs of this book bring tears of memory to my eyes. My beautiful, lovely and thankfully healthy daughter is now a senior in high school and I can’t wait to read this book! Thank you so much for sharing it!

  20. This book sounds so compelling, it is enlightening to listen to other mothers’ birth stories, every one of them unique. After suffering 3 miscarriages, the birth of our first, healthy, full-term baby was a joy-filled moment, finally feeling like I could stop holding my breath, as I hoped for a baby for so long. That was 18 years ago and we have 4 children now!

  21. I cant wait to read it, katrina. I love a good memoir.

    I truly know what love your fate means in a very real way. I do wonder sometimes how I would have turned out if I’d been born with two normal feet. But it’s probably not even close to who I am today, and I’m pretty attached to this version of me.

    A very good friend of mine, who also struggles with the same issues as your friend Debbie, gave me a beautiful fridge magnet this year. She and I share medical stuff with each other, sometimes feeling like we’re the only moms on the planet who visit a doctor more for ourselves than our children.

    The painting is lovely, but the words remind me, every day,

    Who knows what their life is *supposed* to look like? This *is* your life.

    Yes, this is my life. And I’m so very happy that it is.

    Hope all is well for you in NH. I love feeling connected to you through these posts. My book comes out in two weeks. I’ll let you know when it hits Amazon.

    Thanks for all your encouragement through the years. You are a gem.

    Judy
    justonefoot.com

  22. I look forward to reading this book. Thx

  23. At 46, I’m not sure I’ve realized just what my fate is…I know life isn’t exactly as I envisioned it in my perfect dream of years ago but it is full of life, love, and a beautiful family. Making the most of each and every day!

    I’d love to read Preemie. And thanks for your beautiful words.

  24. Dede Cummings says:

    Katrina, I don’t know you, but feel like we’ve met…. I loved your video of you reading from your first book! It was so unbelievably true, and I found myself thinking, “How does she know!” The question of one’s fate not only concerned the philosophers, and religious thinkers, it also concerns us in our everyday lives. Why did I almost die due to complications of Crohn’s disease, why did something traumatic happen to one of my kids, why, etc.? You are so open and willing to put yourself out there, it’s obvious why you have so many followers! I found your site and first book because of Kasey in fact—I became her literary agent after I started reading her perfectly-written memoir (storyline, narrative arc, great characters all in place!) and could NOT put it down!

    Thank you for writing such a great review and helping spread the word—I wish I were your agent ;) And, while I did not have a Preemie, Kasey’s book resonated with me because of the question of amor fati—a personal woman’s story of love and acceptance.

    Best regards, Dede Cummings

  25. Love your fate, love your life, just love. I am so looking forward to reading an inspirational book of love.

  26. Katrina, I love how you pull my worlds together. I have had Kasey on my radar, but I haven’t gotten her book yet. Her story is one that is dear to my heart, of course, because of Stella’s premature birth. My memoir is being shopped around now (still). But I’m heartened to know that Kasey’s story is out in the world.

    And I’m planning on donating to your walk in honor of Diane later this week. It’s on my list of things to do.

    Warmly,
    Kate

  27. Your posts always inspire me to think think think. I have actually had the words amor fati go round and round in my head off and on throughout the past couple of days…. I want to love my fate but then I think I am unsure of what to love because what truly is my fate…. Is my fate the life I am living right now or is it something more, something else? Have I sabotaged my fate by accepting a path that is convenient and safe or is my current path actually my true fate? I love most aspects of my life but sometimes I am not sure this is my fated life….:)

  28. Maria Kirchner says:

    Hi Katrina
    You write with grace, which indeed is a gift. As life weaves itself in and out of my days I feel I am constantly on the battle lines, one moment accepting my fate and the next grieving my fate. Perhaps in all our lives this is a common battle, learning to accept what is and what is not. My beautiful daughter , once filled with life and a passion for living, has for the past several years suffered with a relentless mental illness. To watch your once free spirited creative loving child become a prisoner, at the age of twelve, to her mind, is not a fate easy to make peace with…but I try.
    Thank-you
    Maria

  29. katrina, my heart is raw just hearing about this story. i’d love a copy of both books. thank you.

  30. “a good life is determined not by what happens to us, but by what we choose to make of it” I love this line — and, oh, how how I struggle to make it real! I spent this morning looking over my shoulder for a different, better fate. Didn’t work. Now, I’m settling back into me.

    Preemie sounds like a beautiful story. Thanks for writing about it here.

  31. On January 19th 2011 my life as I knew it was over: my husband was out of the blue diagnosed with a rare genetic kind of acute leukemia. Amor fati? I can wholeheartedly say yes to that now. Our lives have been turned upside down and inside out, however our love has deepened to an extent I never ever held possible.
    Today my husband is alive – and every single day I’m forced to live in the precious moment, because only there I’m able to see that he is still with me and our two little boys. Fully embracing life as it is my Zen practice. (At this moment I’m working on my memoir, and retelling the story has turned into a practice of its own…)

    Our eldest son was born prematurely too, so I’d love to read Preemie!

  32. Marilyn Allan says:

    I’ve always wanted to be a mother and thought when my husband and I married that getting pregnant would be easy – I’d just pop them out. 4 years went by with no pregnancies, besides myself with sadness I went to a support group and accidentally learned about a sub group of people who were waiting to adopt. I never considered adoption but the joy on these expectant parents faces, knowing that following the adoption process they would be parents, gave me great hope and excitement. I realized parenting a child didn’t mean it first had to grow in me. When the nurse led me to my baby, 24 hours old, she felt so right, so lovely and perfect and I felt whole. I’ve come to understand that my daughters soul, from her birth mother, not from me, was the one meant for us. I love my fate and realize it’s often beyond my wildest dreams.

  33. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.
    Now that summer is over, I am looking for a book to read. It has been awhile since I read Mitten Strings and am thinking of reading both of your books again. I’d love to win copies of these two books.
    Thank you for your posts. They are inspiring and meaningful.

  34. Katrina,
    Your introduction of the concept of amor fati from your last post has really touched me. Just the words alone sound embraceable and delicious! My fate, thus far, has been pretty delightful. (Sure there are minor bumps, infractions, setbacks, etc., but overall all is well). But to that end, there is always the fear of what is lurking around the corner. And the work is to just let that go, embrace the now, stay connected to the blessings and recognize them as such. As the mom of a late-term preemie, I would love to read this book and as a birthworker, I would love to share it with my students and clients! As you know, I’m a huge fan of your Mitten Strings for God (already own it!) and am eagerly awaiting your new one!

  35. Our twin sons were born at 26 weeks gestation but are healthy and happy four-year-olds now. I am definitely going to read Preemie and would love a free copy. Your writing is very inspiring, Katrina. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight.

  36. I would love to read this book. My journey also started with my 23 weeker Eloise. I laid on hospital bed rest for 5 weeks trying to learn to live my fate. My daughter is now 2 and I still struggle with the multiple medical appointments, however I wouldn’t change a thing about her. She is the most beautiful little girl I know:)

  37. Kelly Alexander says:

    Your “Amor Fati” post resonated with me for several reasons. On July 3 this summer, as all across the nation folks were dusting off barbecue pits, manicuring lawns and preparing to celebrate our nation’s birth and freedom in general, my daughters and I were the first responders to an accident in our neighborhood involving a husband and father of 10. One of this man’s brave children frantically knocked on my door pleading for help. My 15-year-old son was working with his dad, and my daughters, 21 and 18, were uncharacteristically home that summer day. The 21-year-old now college senior, had just returned from a six-week internship with a senator in DC. The 18-year-old (an almost preemie herself who demanded 14 weeks of bedrest to forestall delivery to 36 weeks) was preparing to move 700 miles away for her freshman year of college. We’d decided to spend the few weeks our schedules allowed doing something new: a “home school” of sorts in which my girls would learn to cook and sew and serve the community, life lessons they’d learned sporadically throughout very rigorous college prep high school careers crammed with extraordinary extracurricular activities. They’d been high school dance team captain and newspaper editor in chief respectively, but they didn’t know much about making a home. And so it was that on the second day of our little Cajun home school, a 10-year-old knocked on the door and started us on a journey of real learning. Our 45-year-old neighbor, who’d started the day with plans to teach a few of his children how to dive for an upcoming beach vacation, suffered a neck injury that has left him paralyzed from the chest down. Three of his sons, all 12 and younger, pulled him from the pool and resuscitated him before any other adults were on the scene. My girls and I stayed with 9 of the children (the 10th is due in February) while paramedics took him and his wife to the hospital, and continued to cook and care for them until out-of-town family arrived. Watching this family’s bravery in the face of life-altering injury, seeing them exemplify “Amor Fati” and witness their faith each day in the way they have joyfully embraced their new life has been inspiring and humbling. This man moved home the day before Hurricane Isaac hit our South Louisiana, and I watched again as neighbors banded together to locate a generator (for power outages) and helped his sons prepare a yard for wind gusts and heavy rains. Throughout, this man has continued to teach his children, love his wife, minister to his church, and live his life, a life no doubt dramatically different from the one he was living and the one he envisioned just a few months ago. When I read “Amor Fati” and read about the book “Preemie,” I thought of my neighbors, who are loving and living their fate as they await the birth of their third daughter, who will no doubt enter a world vastly different from the one they imagined for her when she was conceived but one filled with love, faith, possibility and hope nonetheless. As I grieve the loss of my daughters’ presence, now both attending college more than a day’s drive away, it is comforting to be reminded that we all face loss and change each day, that we all must decide to love and live our fate.

  38. Fate has dealt me a blow this past month. Nothing to do but make the best of it. Love it, NO, time will tell.

  39. Two things come to mind about loving your fate. It has parallels in the physical world. I got a sudden, sharp muscle spasm. I remembered to “try to relax into the pain. Accept it and embrace it.” The agony instantly diminished. Another time I wished for/prayed for a specific result. It did not happen. After a time, I came to understand that a better path had opened. Now I think of Leonard Cohen’s If It Be Your Will:

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