“Birthing the Mother Writer” is my new, interactive column that explores aspects of becoming both a mother and a writer and provides opportunities for readers to write their own responses — and then receive feedback from me — in order to develop and deepen their own writing.
Mothering is both a private and public experience; writing, too, exists in both realms. We may mother in our homes and in our hearts in private ways, but the time comes when we also take this mothering out into the world — and learn to negotiate social interactions, deal with feedback and criticism, and model for our children how to “be in the world,” not just in our own families.
In the same way, writing can be kept purely private; many mothers keep journals, scrapbooks, or books of memories for themselves. But to “birth the mother writer,” one must learn to move writing into a public space. This column provides an opportunity for readers to participate in such a process and to witness how it works. In each column, I will offer an example of the kind of writing you might explore as you birth your own mother writer self; here is the creative nonfiction piece I shaped out of my own journal entries.
Deciding to Ride the Waves of Motherhood
June 7, 1999
I hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It comes in whooshes, like waves that run to the shore. The baby is rushing, working like a hummingbird to build and grow, while I find myself feeling puffy and slow, sleeping more than ever before. I wonder where I will find the energy to keep up with this child.
December 21, 1993
We are trying to put up the Christmas tree, this new little family of my partner, his daughter, and me. We need to trim the bottom branches to fit it into the stand, and the kitchen steak knife we’ve been using for the past forty-five minutes is not working. My partner goes to buy a saw, leaving us alone. His daughter takes the opportunity to wield a broom around the room, crashing it into the glass case that holds the stereo. My nerves are raw. “Do I have to scream at you every minute?” I yell, finding myself in a rage. She looks up at me with big five-year-old eyes and says, “Yes.” We both laugh. I have never screamed at her in anger since.
October 10, 1995
But I do scream with joy. I have discovered how to let go. In years past, at the fair, I would cling to the bar in front of me, tensing every muscle and holding on for dear life. This time with my partner’s daughter, I learn to relax and let go. We emerge after the ride, hair tangled, eyes big and bright, yelling, “Let’s do it again!”
May 14, 1979
At twelve years old, while on vacation with my family at the beach, I go to the bathroom to change into my swimsuit and notice blood. My first period. “Now I can have a baby,” I think to myself. I tuck the pad between my legs and wade in the shallow waves, prudent, not going all the way in.
November 20, 1988
On the way back from a class during my last semester in college, I stop in to see a friend in her dorm room. She looks pale and has been crying. I ask what’s wrong. She says, in a small voice, that she is pregnant. I try to be comforting but I know she will have an abortion. She is like someone who is drowning, someone I cannot save. I vow to myself, as I have many times before, never to get pregnant. I walk back to my dorm, filled with the certainty that my career, my mind, my own life, will be enough.
March 8, 1998
I have been married for almost a year. I am a stepmother now. I have tried the career, the mind, the life I imagined for myself a decade ago. It is not enough. I look out the window and see a phantom child, my child, playing in the yard, and I know I am seeing my future. I wonder about what sacrifices I will have to make. The journey to motherhood begins long before conception. I realize I have been preparing for it all my life.
April 4, 1999
It is Easter, at midnight. I do not go to church anymore but still worship — the full white circle of the moon rising in the east is what is holy to me now, as it mirrors the full white circle in me, which has just welcomed another’s entrance, opened to the arrival of new life.
July 3, 1999
The four of us — my husband, my stepdaughter, my unborn child, and I — step into a raft at a water park in Orlando. Our wet legs entwine in the center, our arms dangle at the sides. We lift off, sway with the waves down the gentle incline, laugh and squeal at the bumps in the path. We are careening into the future, like waves that rush to the shore. It takes no energy, no push, no plan. We are not in control and we scream with excitement and fear. And despite my fear of the pain that lurks, waiting for me down there, there is no turning back. We must hold on to each other, with faith and love, and laugh.
April 19, 2002
On a warm green day, I sit in our backyard surrounded by newborn caterpillars, an old married cardinal couple, and a lizard with a pink throat. My toddler daughter naps inside the house. I take out notes from my journals, and spread them out before me like fortune cards. How I came to be this mother, full of love and forgiveness and gratitude, is the story I will tell. I gather up the cards, put them in order, and rise, to head back into the house to begin. By the time I reach this page, the green and pink lizard has joined me, at my window, hanging onto the screen and looking in. Reminding me that all mamas navigate the waters of this decision in their own way, eventually giving up the attempt to cling and hold on, and learning to relax and let go.
I invite you to explore this month’s theme by reading through some of your old journals and taking notes on significant scenes or moments. Turn these into a creative non-fiction piece about how you decided to become a mother. Please email your responses of 1000 words or less to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[DOT]com by August 25th. Be sure to put “Birthing the Mother Writer: 1” in the subject line, and place the text in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive public suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.