Writing Prompt: Jessica Chapman Responds
Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Nadia Colburn’s essay, Writing and Not Writing Motherhood and the Self. We asked, “Is your writing centered on your experience as a mother and the lives of your children? Or does it explore other topics related to your life and identity? What do you feel your choice or tendency in this regard says about your experience of motherhood or your purpose for writing? Below is Jessica Chapman’s response.
My writing has largely ceased since I became a mother. Not only do I not write about motherhood, I don’t write much of anything at all. In the almost seven-and-a-half years since Nina was born and the just-over-six since Luke’s birth, I’ve written sporadically at best.
Even my journal—a five-year bullet model purchased so I could capture snippets of toddlerhood—is barely pockmarked, containing, for the most part, notes about what books (also not about motherhood) I’ve been reading. Entire months are vacant. A baby memory book my husband gave me years ago also remains untouched.
I haven’t written a lick about my kids’ births, just 15 months apart, nor about my postpartum anxiety. Nothing about my daughter’s spate of biting at daycare. Nothing about starting therapy just shy of my son’s first birthday, struggling with anger, starting antidepressants. Not a word about my darling husband, who has buoyed us through it all.
The major reason I haven’t written about motherhood is straightforward: I’m a journalist. I’m trained to ask questions and document answers, to research and report data, to look outward rather than inward.
But being a journalist only sort of answers the question. Plenty of journalists mine their mothering and parenting experiences for ideas and stories. I have pretty deliberately avoided this. Why?
The easy answer is that I’ve always felt more comfortable interrogating the world and analyzing the experiences of others. The harder answer is that it’s just too painful to contemplate. Sometimes I’m still in shock that I’m a mother at all. It feels raw and challenging enough just to go through motherhood, let alone write about it.
The other question is why I’ve stopped writing much of anything since becoming a mom.
It’s not a lack of interest. It’s more like I feel less interesting. These days, my mind is more crowded with following remote learning requirements, locating water bottles, and refereeing disputes than anything that feels consequential enough to write about.
After all, I’ve been a music critic, a food blogger, and a correspondent for a legal newswire. I updated a travel guide for Micronesia and was the lone reporter on a small island in the Western Pacific Ocean for over a year. I’ve written about politics and the environment. I spent a summer covering South Padre Island.
Sometimes I think my ship has sailed.
But lately, these self-defeating thoughts have been evolving. Surely my capabilities haven’t diminished. My curiosity definitely hasn’t waned. I think it’s more that I’ve misplaced my purpose and am working on rediscovering it—and enriching it with my experiences as a mother.
I recognize intellectually that motherhood is a source of strength and power. I just haven’t yet fully inhabited and embraced the role. It seems so incongruous to my late nights covering concerts and eating at new restaurants. Certainly there is a sense of loss.
It’s taking me time to course correct. But it’s a big ocean out there.
Jessica Chapman is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in 5280, Westword, Minnesota Monthly, City Pages, Texas Observer, The Austin Chronicle and others. She has also worked in communications, most recently for a high-needs school. She lives in Denver, Colo. with her husband and two children.