Tales of many mothers

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11, 2011 - 1:59 PM

Kate Hopper helps moms put their stories of transition on paper.

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Kate Hopper held her two daughters Stella, 7, and Zoe, 2

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Kate Hopper has always been skeptical of what she calls "a myth of motherhood" -- that the minute you see your new baby, you will fall in love.

"I know that I was too scared to love my oldest when she was born," said Hopper, of Minneapolis. "I definitely think you work your way through the transition into motherhood."

As founder of Mother Words, a class offered both online and at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, Hopper helps mothers tell the stories of their own transitions, many filled with both heartache and joy. She has written her own memoir about the birth of her first daughter and has a Mother Words blog.

Q When did you begin writing the story of your life as a mother?

A My oldest daughter Stella, who is 7 years old, was a preemie, born two months early because I had severe pre-eclampsia. She spent a month at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis and once she came home, she had to stay inside the house for five months for health reasons. During that time, I started to write her story and found that writing really saved me. I started to feel grounded again.

Q Why do many moms feel compelled to write their own stories?

A There are all kinds of reasons. Some of them just want to record snapshots of their children's lives. Others have very deep and personal stories they want to tell. I hear about a lot of tragedy in my classes -- mothers who have lost children, those who have kids with illnesses or special needs. I always feel grateful to know their stories because it is an opportunity for us to share our collective experience of motherhood without judgment.

Q There are a lot of memoirs about motherhood out there. What are your current favorites?

A I know some people refer to these books as "momoirs," which is a way to dismiss the importance of these stories, but they are always about universal subjects like identity, faith (although not necessarily in the religious sense), love and marriage.

"Live Through This: A Mother's Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love," by Debra Gwartney, is a really powerful story about two of Debra's four daughters, teenagers at the time, who ran away from home and how she came to realize she had to take more responsibility for their decision to leave.

Vicki Forman has a book called "This Lovely Life" that is one of the best motherhood memoirs I have ever read. It is about the premature birth of her twins at 24 weeks -- one was removed from life support and the other was severely disabled and died at the age of 8.

Both of these books are very personal stories, but again, very universal.

Q As the mother of two daughters (youngest Zoe turns 3 in March), how do you encourage them to be creative? Does Stella like to write?

A Stella always has a project going! I buy her blank notebooks with divided pages, so she'll draw a picture on top and write something on the bottom. For Christmas, we got a gerbil named Nibbles and the day after we brought him home, we were already in the vet's office because there had been an accident with his tail. She wrote a story about the experience, totally owning her responsibility, and writing it without any censorship.

Zoe will color and draw because she likes to copy Stella. We also read every night together.

Q With the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter, do you think kids growing up today will be as interested in writing stories?

A I certainly hope so. I think there is so much focus on the immediacy of life with Facebook -- "here's what I did today." I have a Twitter account, but I always have to go through and delete letters because I can't stick to 140 characters! No story of anyone's life just happens in blips. There seems to be a loss of narrative. It's important to have time for reflection -- you have to pull meaning out of your life and your experiences.

I think writing in a journal can help kids deal with their fears or anxieties. If they know they are writing something that is just for them, that the world will never see, it can really help them understand the way they are feeling about school, their friends or anything else that is going on.

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

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