After Page One: Honesty
A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
The Perils of Writing Memoir
Sitting on my side of the bed, in the same spot where I had just given birth the day before, I began to write. The pile of bloodstained sheets still stacked in the corner of my bedroom. I meant to write about how I went from an unplanned cesarean to a home birth and lived to tell about it.
Instead, family memories that have repeated over and over in my head for three decades poured onto the page. I wrote about the time I peeked around a corner just out of sight of my parents at the front door. A police officer stepped into the house. My sister pulled on the back of my pink-flowered nightgown urging me back into the bedroom. I swatted her hand away. The police officer gripped the bicep of my hysterical mother.
My redheaded newborn baby wiggled next to me in bed. How could my mother leave her babies? I traced my son’s cheek with the inside of my finger. He squirmed. His eyes glued shut.
A month old, I wrote with him wrapped to my chest. Six months old, I wrote with him in a backpack. I joined a writer’s group. I wrote in my car.
“Keep going,” my writing group advised me. “Write now. Worry about changing names and publishing later.”
With the freedom to write, my memories grew into a memoir and when I turned in the last chapter to my writing group three years after that home birth, they wiped tears away and applauded.
I submitted that chapter as a stand-alone piece to a well-known online periodical, not expecting it to actually get published.
“This is a riveting read,” the editor said.
Quickly, too quickly, in 24 hours, she published it on their homepage. My piece radiated pixels from my computer screen. My skin tingled. I sat there staring at it for several minutes with my hands covering my open mouth. I texted my husband; took a screenshot of my story next to George Bush’s face, and called my parents. My mom answered, the one who raised my brother, my sister, and me with my dad after my birth mother left.
“That’s great, Thais,” she said.
I warned her that she made an appearance in it, but that I changed her name. An uncomfortably long silence followed. She said she’d read it.
I received heartfelt letters from readers. They shared similar experiences with me. Amazed at what my writing could evoke in others, I wrote each and every person back.
When my parents read the piece, it deeply hurt them. My dad said that it was so painful to read that he wanted to read it a second time but just couldn’t.
I got off the phone with them and curled up shaking in bed. This was not why I wrote this book. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. How do I write about birth without writing about my own birth and my own mothers? I got up and went through my entire manuscript with new eyes. My parents’ divorce, my childhood, I cut and edited.
I painted a picture of my heart like a painter would splatter her emotion with thick, rich colors onto a canvas. If I could hand you the manuscript now it might pulse in your hands. What was left was a story about me as my own person. My own kind of mother.
The stories that remain, I’ve handpicked like bloomed red roses. The other stories linger tight and closed like new buds. I’ll watch those closed buds open and open until the air circulates all the way down where the pedals attach to the stem. Maybe I’ll cut them off for my kitchen counter. Or, maybe I’ll just walk out to them, basking in the sun next to the fence, and watch the breeze blow the pedals off one by one. And then, they’ll be gone.
Join our After Page One series. We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude. The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio at the bottom of your post so readers can learn more about you and your projects.