Motherhood & Words

a letter to my daughter on her 10th birthday.

Dear Stella,

I know I’ve been talking a lot lately about how grown-up you seem. And it’s true. Each time I look at you I’m amazed by the young person that you’ve become. And now you’re ten years old.

When you were one, two, and three years old, I spent your birthday reliving the day you were born. When I woke in the morning, I would look at the time and think, yes, this is when I jolted from my hospital bed, nauseous, the magnesium sulfate thick in my veins. As the clock ticked into late morning and then afternoon, I nodded and thought, this is when the doctor hooked me up to the rice bag. This is when she told me you weren’t tolerating labor. This is when they rolled me into the operating room. This is when, this is when. It was as if I had to relive that day in the safety that the future provided – a future in which you made it out of the NICU alive, a future in which together we made it through the long winter that followed your hospitalization, a future in which you were growing into a healthy, funny, happy, smart little girl.

And now you’re not little anymore. You’ve outgrown your booster seat. You read to yourself at night. You no longer need help shampooing your hair. You wear deodorant, for God’s sake. You’ve outgrown holding my hand in public, and you don’t much like hugs when I meet you at the bus stop. That’s okay though, because you still let me snuggle you at home. You still crawl into my lap, your long, tan legs draped over the arm of the chair. When you do that, I look into your blue-gray eyes, kiss your nose, and squeeze you tight.

I couldn’t have known that you would become who you are—that’s not the way life works, of course. But I wish that on the day you were born, I could have had a glimmer of who you’d be, because then those early days and weeks wouldn’t have been so terrifying. I wouldn’t have been so afraid to love you, to lose you.

When you were just a couple of weeks old, I met a man, a friend of a friend, who, when he heard that you were a preemie and that you were in the NICU, took out his wallet and pulled out a photograph of his two daughters. He told me their names and then pointed to his older daughter and said that she’d been born three months early. I stared at the photo. His daughter had long dark hair, a narrow face, beautiful blue eyes. “She’s okay?” I asked.

“Perfect,” he said. “A normal twelve-year-old.”

I remember feeling a rush of hope. I couldn’t imagine you like that—a girl, almost a young woman. I couldn’t imagine a sister, another daughter.  Then he squeezed my hand and said, “Your daughter is going to be okay.”

Do you remember last fall, Stella, when we stopped to get bagels in St. Paul? There was a woman holding the door and she had a tiny baby in her arms. I could tell right away he was a preemie—the bulbous eyes, the narrow cheeks. I asked her how hold he was and she titled her head and said, “Well, he was born 8 weeks early, so he should only be a week old.”

“I thought so,” I said, smiling. “He’s got that look.” And then I put my arm around your shoulders and said, “Well, this is my 32-weeker, and now she’s nine.” And do you remember the woman’s face, the way it lit up, full of hope?

I want you to always be proud of the fact that you were a preemie, that you were born a fighter. I know you understand the power in that, and I also know you understand the importance of sharing your story. Because stories are what connect us to each other. They give hope.

Today I’m not looking at the clock every hour, remembering the day you were born. That day and those weeks and months have loosened their hold on me. Now it’s more recent events I remember: you on the Spanish Web at circus camp, twirling in the air like some weightless fairy; you on the soccer field on my birthday with your alternating double scissors and Maradona moves, scoring your first goal of the season; you holding Zoë’s hand her first day of kindergarten, taking such good care of your little sister. I’m so proud of you, Stella. I love you so much. Happy Birthday, my sweet one.

**Stella read this, we cried, and she said it was okay to post. 

**This is cross-posted on the UMP blog. Check out the photo of preemie Stella. 3 lbs.


Posted in


I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Jennifer on September 13, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Thanks for this. My twins were 35 weekers and sometimes I STILL feel like I’m not ‘over’ how everything went with their birth and infancy. But I look at them today, healthy, smart 6 year olds, and it helps. A LOT.

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Oh Jennifer, I know. And even though I said I wouldn’t think of that birth day today, it crept it’s way into my day. I’m so glad your twins are okay. Thank you for reading!

  2. Sue on September 13, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I have tears puddling on my chest as I read this. I am so glad Stella let you post it. The part about afraid to love you;afraid to lose you grabbed me. Today is the anniversary of the day Abbey was diagnosed with leukaemia and even though she survived and thrived I remember it with every cell of my body. Thanks Kate.

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Oh Sue, thank you. And I can imagine that you are right back there at diagnosis day. Thinking of you, my dear. I wish we could toast to our girls together!

  3. Janine Kovac on September 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Oh! This makes me cry! I also sneak looks at Stella, alternating between thinking, “She was a preemie” and just seeing Stella as she is–a growing girl with a twinkle in her eye.

    We have our NICU reunion next Sunday. I’ll be thinking about you guys.

    (And thank you for telling us that Stella was ok with you posting this.)

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you, my dear. And I know–I keep seeing her backing out of the room saying, in that silly, aren’t-you-so-special kind of way, “Oh, you’re talking about the book!” Twinkling indeed.

      Have a wonderful time at your reunion. They will be blown away by the boys!

  4. Nina on September 13, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Just beautiful. And I love that it’s Stella read and approved.

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you, Nina! Yes, it felt like it was her letter, and so I wanted to make sure she was okay sending it out into the world. She’s so gracious and proud, I think.

  5. Amy Spencer on September 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Beautiful letter, Kate. I still sometimes do the “this is when” thing, too. I totally relate to your note. It really is amazing to think about how our kids have grown up so beautifully since that scary time. I have made the tradition of never working on my kids birthdays, and that has been my way of giving myself the open day to process the milestone however I may need to each year. Some years unexpected things creep in to my mind and memory. Sometimes good stuff, sometimes post-traumatic stress stuff. It is helpful to have the time and flexibility to just go with it.

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 2:56 pm

      Thank you, Amy. And that is such a fabulous idea to really give yourself that space to experience whatever may come up. I’m thinking of you guys so much these days, and I’m so grateful to have your stories woven into mine.


  6. Alyssa on September 13, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    This is exactly what I needed tonight, thank you. We are turning the corner into all of those anniversaries that surround the birth of my soon to be 2 year old who was born weighing 1lb 7oz. Im starting to see that glimmer and I look forward to seeing how these reflections change as the years pass by.

    • Kate on September 13, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      Oh Alyssa, thank you so much for commenting. It is so hard, especially with a micro-preemie. I look forward to following your journey!

  7. Angie Mizzell on September 15, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    “I wish that on the day you were born, I could have had a glimmer of who you’d be, because then those early days and weeks wouldn’t have been so terrifying. I wouldn’t have been so afraid to love you, to lose you.”

    That’s when I had to stop reading the first time because I couldn’t see through the tears. And now, you are the mom who is encouraging others. It’s amazing really.

    I especially loved this: “That day and those weeks and months have loosened their hold on me.” I’m so glad you’re there. xoxo

    • Kate on September 16, 2013 at 7:46 am

      Thank you so much, Angie! And you’re right–Stella’s birth and those early years are why I do what I do. I’m so grateful for that! xoxo K

  8. Andrea on September 16, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Lovely…what a great mom you are. And a great writer. Can’t wait for the book!!

    • Kate on September 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

      OH thank you, Andrea!! And I can’t wait to hear what you think of you. 🙂

  9. Stephinie on September 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

    Oh Kate. I’m in tears here too. This is beautiful.
    Happy (birth)day to you both~~~

    • Kate on September 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

      Thank you so much, Stephinie!

  10. Laura LaFave on September 16, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    I never post because you are such a dear friend Kate that it is something like having your mom post and say that you are the greatest writer that ever lived (i.e. not objective, completely biased). But I am compelled after reading this one. Gus and I read the post and were in tears (ok I was, not him). He loved the line about soccer and was surprised that Stella is using deodorant (he is struggling to remember to do so too). He read it with great intent and sat back and said, “Aww…. that is so sweet”. And I can hardly think of any other words to sum it up better. You are such an amazing wordsmith and Stella is such an amazing kid and we are humbled to know both of you! Thank you for sharing this communique to Stella with all of us… Even for those of us who do not have preemies or kids are touched so wholly and completely by your prose. Keep up the good work!

    • Kate on September 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

      Oh Laura, now I’m in tears reading your note. Thank you for posting, and thank you to you and Gus for reading and for being such an important part of our lives!

  11. Alison on September 22, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Happy Belated 10th Birthday, Stella!
    This is especially poignant, as I’m reading your birth story, so beautifully written by your Mom.
    Kate, I am loving your book. Thank you for the privilege of an early look. 🙂

    • Kate on September 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm

      Thank you so much, Alison! And I’m honored to have you on board for the tour! Can’t wait to read your thoughts!! xo

  12. […] now, almost exactly ten years after Stella was born. I recently wrote a letter to Stella, which she let me post on my blog, and in that I talk about how the events of her birth have lost their hold on me. But it’s funny, […]