This is my last “Birthing the Mother Writer” column for Literary Mama, and so it is a way of saying good-bye to all the readers and reader-writers and editors and copy editors who have made this column possible since 2009.
But motherhood itself is also always saying good-bye. My very first column ended this way: “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.”
The cycles of birth and death are interconnected and come directly from the mother―her wisdom, her body, her history, her mythology. As I wrote in a column from 2012:
When the sixteenth century Dutch scholar, Erasmus, was translating the story of Pandora from the Greek version he found in Hesiod’s eighth century B.E. text, he mistranslated pithos as pyxis. What we know as Pandora’s box was originally a vase.
Think of the shape of a vase. Its female curves. The beautiful flowers it can embrace. The cool water. It is this vase that, when tipped over, symbolizes the womb from which all life comes.
And when it tips, it also brings death. And loss. Every moment of every day as a mother is one less day you have a baby, or a toddler, or a teenager, or a son or daughter who lives with you.
Mothering holds within it, then, ancient wisdom that comes from millennia of women devoted to the hard practice of letting go. You hold this wisdom within you, too.
And as we birth ourselves as mother writers, we learn to let go of who we were in order to become who we will be.
Audre Lorde, one of my favorite poets and writers, was also a mother and cancer survivor. Her own philosophy about living in the face of death was developed partly from Heidegger’s “being towards death” and partly from her own experience as an African American, lesbian, warrior poet.
In the poem, “Today Is Not the Day,” from her posthumous collection, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance, Lorde writes,
I am not afraid to say
I am dying
but I do not want to do it
looking the other way
As I say good-bye to this column, I am mourning so many deaths.
Never again will my stepdaughter Laura wear her Batman costume at her fifth birthday party. Never again will my toddler daughter Lily ask for ice cream with syrup as “ihhm heamm and urrupp surrup.” Never again will I pick up my child on a Friday afternoon from elementary school and say, “How was your day? What do you want to do?” Never again will there be Santa Claus knowing exactly what house to go to because he keeps track of the visitation schedule. Never again will Mother’s Day include a card with only one word on it: LILY in large letters because she has just learned to write. Never again will there be the first day of middle school, the awkward years of growth spurts and puberty and sudden shyness. Never again will I hold their whole bodies in the night when they are sick. Never again will I be the woman I was in my twenties and thirties, so optimistic, so tired, so in love with mothering, so hardworking, and trying so hard.
Never again will I be an unpublished author. Never again will I wince when someone asks if they’ve heard of me. Never again will I think writing has left me; I know now that sometimes she gets tired, just as I do. Never again will I think inspiration is all I need. Never again will I think that my dreams are unimportant. Now I know that I am making a difference. Never again will I take the good writing days for granted. I certainly will never doubt that discipline is the greatest part of the process. Never again will I wonder if a deadline is a good thing. Never again will I wonder what it’s like to work with a great editor. Never again will I think that it’s impossible for women writers and mothers from all over the world to come together to create something life changing and amazing as we have done at Literary Mama.
And so I say good-bye. With tremendous gratitude and tears in my eyes and running down my cheeks.
But you know I wouldn’t leave you without a writing prompt.
What good-byes have you endured as a mother? What deaths have you mourned as a writer? What selves have you left behind? As I leave you, I encourage you to write about these losses in your journal.
My first column was about journaling, and this last one ends by returning to it.
For I believe, as a mother and a writer, that it’s important to have a writing practice that is just for you―a journal for your dreams, worries, fears, hopes, and desires. Writing regularly in a truthful way creates a sacred circle between your hand, the pen, the paper, your belly, and your heart. In this sacred circle, a transformation is taking place. You are saying goodbye to who you were and opening into who you might become.
One of the pieces of wisdom I teach regularly is, “You write for the woman you are becoming.”
What this means is that writing changes you. You already know that mothering changes you. The practice itself creates a different self, someone who knows―not only intellectually but physically, spiritually and emotionally.
But like pregnancy and other sacred processes that take place best in private, this writing must not be shared too soon. Give it―and yourself―time to gestate.
The birth happens later―sometimes in nine months, sometimes years after. We can’t plan it. We can’t predict. But we can show up on the page in a spirit of openness and receiving.
And this is not the time to edit or criticize or cross out, either. Revision, editing, submission, working with an editor, negotiating publication―this column has addressed all those processes over the years.
But what I want to leave you with today is the encouragement to keep writing.
Keep letting go of who you think you are.
Keep birthing the mother writer within you who has amazing visions for your life and your mothering and your work.
These visions, I know with all my heart, are waiting in the wings for you, ready to be born.