Thursday, February 4, 2010

On Work and Motherhood

I feel very honored to host Dana of The Kitchen Witch for this week's Won't You Be My Neighbor post. Dana's blog is brimming with an equal measure of humor and insight (a rare combination, I've found), and when she submitted this post to me, I did a double-take, it so closely mirrors my own experience as a mother. I'm confident it will resonate with all of you as well.

When I told my friend Betteanne that I'd gotten the IUD taken out, she said, "Oh My God." It took me a minute to realize that she didn't mean it in a good Oh My God way. In fact, she was horrified.

We were sitting in her garage in the middle of an Oklahoma summer, drinking box wine and smoking cigarettes that we'd stolen from her boyfriend, James. According to Bette, this is the "quintessential Oklahoma experience."

In the driveway, Miss D. and Betteanne's two children were trying to squash beetles using tennis balls and brute force.

"You were going to start writing again," she accused.

"Maybe I'll do both."


"Maybe it won't be so hard this time around," I said, taking a hard slug of Merlot. "I mean, I know when I got pregnant with Miss D., I felt like my brain was sort of hi-jacked by my uterus..."

"Just when you got pregnant? Umm, what about the year and a half afterwards?" she reminded me. "Did your uterus just hi-jack it for those 18 months, too?"

She's right. I haven't written a damn thing in over two years.

"But I didn't even miss it, not even once," I said. "I had absolutely no desire to write at all."

"But now you do--you got it back--and your first thought is that you need to get pregnant again?" Betteanne squashed a mosquito viciously on her kneecap. "I think you're looking for an excuse."

And in truth, compared to sitting down to a blank computer screen after almost three years hiatus, getting drunk on hormones and pushing a human out of a small orifice seems like the much easier endeavor.

"Maybe I just don't have another book in me," I said. "You know, like Harper Lee. She only had one story in her, and nobody thinks that's a horrible thing."

"You're Harper Lee?" Betteanne digested that one. "You know, you're going to have to do a lot better than an unpublished novel about a Teenaged Serial Killer to achieve Harper Lee status, don't you think?"

"Not really on the level of Mockingbird, eh?"

"We were going to be writing again. Together. Both of us." She looked at me through a cloud of smoke. "I just feel...Betrayed by this I guess."


Betrayed. That's a heavy word, betrayed.

I worry that word--that moment--for weeks.

And I still feel no better about it, nor do I have an answer. Because when I got pregnant with Miss D. and stopped writing, I gave myself permission. I mean, this was HUGE, this motherhood thing. No way could I endure the heavy labor of writing and thinking while my body was doing such serious business.

I enjoyed not thinking. I enjoyed getting lost in the language of trimester and fetus. It felt right. It felt like vacation.

After she was born, it felt nothing like vacation, but there was too much to worry about besides my idle brain. Sore nipples, four months of colic, that nagging hemorrhoid--who cared about the Great American Novel?

But then she got easier. Now, easier in Miss D. terms certainly isn't *easy* but I found myself with maybe a spare ten minutes to read again, which made me want to write. Sort of.


When I met my husband, he was really impressed that I was teaching full-time and writing a novel in the spare hours between dinner and bedtime. It was impressive, I guess, and when I finished the novel, he was so proud.

"You're going to sell that thing and I'm going to be able to retire," he said.

Then I got pregnant. And I forgot that novel existed, I cared about it so little. I sent three cover letters out to agents--that was it.


My husband got very adept at NOT asking, "Honey, what did you do today?" while I was pregnant. The first few times he asked, I managed some semblance of cordiality. But then it began to grow horns and become an ugly, mean question.

"What the fuck to you think I've done today?" I snarled. "Meaningless tasks, that's what. Laundry. Scrubbing mildew off the shower. Sanitizing the toilet. Growing this parasite that's making me fat and sick. Meaningless, meaningless tasks."

He sort of got the idea that it was a sore spot with me.


Anne Sexton, the Pulitzer prize-winning poet, used to claim that she was utterly useless except for the fact that she knew how to "diaper babies and make white sauce." Some days I feel like that, and that's when I think I probably ought to write again, if only to prove to myself that I've still got any soul left. Some days I'm an empty container and I have no idea how to get full again.

Of course, Anne Sexton had to be institutionalized for postpartum depression and eventually killed herself, so I'm not so sure if writing is the answer to an empty container.

When we moved to this small town, I had the bad judgment to mention that I was a writer. I know it's my fault, but when people ask, "Hey, is anything happening with that novel?" I want to punch them in the face.

Don't they know I've had a baby? A colicky nightmare who turned into a very willful toddler? How on Earth am I expected to write? I'm shoveling shit here in the trenches, people!


My husband desperately wants me to write again. He mentions it sometimes, softly and late at night, when he thinks I can be trusted. I want to *want* to write for him. I do. I want to have that piece of me back, a piece of me that he really respected. A piece that I respected.

Betteanne feels betrayed. My husband feels hopeful and upgrades my laptop. If they feel these things, why can't I? Where the Hell are the answers for this and can someone, anyone, please fill this container?

And so, as the poet Linda Pastan once said, "I sit and rub these words together, waiting for a spark."

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