“The great motherhood friendships are the ones in which two women can admit [how difficult mothering is] quietly to each other, over cups of tea at a table sticky with spilled apple juice and littered with markers without tops.” ― Anna Quindlen
This week, almost ten years after I actually had my first experience with my first baby practice breathing in the womb, I received yet another comment from a mother worried that the practice breathing movements she was feeling were really her baby having seizures. This reminds me of both the power of personal stories and of the power of the internet. I didn’t know ten years ago that my voice would still be able to reach off the page and touch another mother’s life today. That feels good! I also like that this long-lasting post is just my little story. It isn’t a scientific article, it isn’t written in a professional tone, or written with detached objectivity, it is just me telling my story about something that happened and what I learned from it. And, that speaks to other mothers in an irreplaceable way. Since the post now has 130 comments on it, it has become a story-house, so to speak of woman after woman’s stories of this experience and so each woman who comes for the initial story can then benefit from the voices of many other mothers, all in the same place.
And, in a beautiful full-circle experience, the original author of that “miscarriages are labor, miscarriages are birth” quote I’ve used so many times since 2009 and that meant so much to me, found my website this week and left a comment with an update about her own life:
“I am so pleased that my words brought you comfort during a painful time of your life. My miscarriages shaped my life profoundly, as did my experiences as a miscarriage/stillbirth doula. Happily, after many years of infertility, I did give birth to living children, and am now a happy grandmother. The older I get, the more I realize that those little souls who spent their entire lives within me brought me incredible gifts. I am a much better person because they existed…”
Her story and her “old” words reached off the page to me and touched me deeply at a time when I desperately needed them and they’ve gone on and on from there to help many other women.
A lot of other things about stories have been popping off the page at me…
I got a e-newsletter from one of my favorite writers, Jen Loudon, and she was doing an interview with Justine Musk. About said interview with Justine, Jen says:
She writes powerfully about the intersections of so many things I care about: being a creative woman and a feminist, the power of shaping our own stories, the sacred obligation to “connect with your gifts and search for that sweet spot where they cross with the call of the times,” truth, and even thigh-high boots…
And, speaking of feminism and all that good stuff, I followed an internet rabbit trail that started with First the egg’s link to a post at blue milk about slacker moms and white privilege (really good observations, by the way, that behavior reflecting questionable judgement exhibited by a white, middle class mother is way more likely to be blown off or viewed as a funny story than the same story about a poor and/or not-white mother) and eventually landed me at this post about “mothers you hate.” Nestled midway through the article was this interesting observation:
“…The militant mother feels strongly about what happens to her body during birth – and to her baby’s – and she wants women to know about their options. She’s also readily marginalised by powerful institutions. In pro-choice circles we otherwise call the women fighting for rights like these ‘activists’. As a feminist, it concerns me that we’re so intolerant towards birth activism when abortion activism is core to our understanding of bodily autonomy. The activist mother’s beliefs are dismissed as inflexibility, but I’ve had just as many mothers recommend an epidural to me as I’ve had women recommend drug-free births, and they all did so with equal enthusiasm…”
Thinking about mothers and how they interact and how they experience themselves and their lives, my eyes then snapped to this quote in a longer book review:
“…In a sharp observation early in the book, Smyth comments that ‘the role of mother is not immediately intelligible to those who find themselves inhabiting it’ (p. 4). This is certainly borne out in the confessional writing and memoirs of young (feminist) women, who try to make sense of their experiences as a new mother. They write of a crisis of selfhood, feeling undifferentiated in ‘a primordial soup of femaleness’ (Wolf 2001) and of experiencing a gendered, embodied and relational self for the first time (Stephens 2012)…”
Returning to the power of personal stories (but also reminding us not layer our own unresolved personal stories on top of another mother’s grief), I read this very strong, powerful article about miscarriage:
“…I am grieving my enormous loss while simultaneously feeling more at home in my body than ever before. No one seems to want to hear this. No one seems to believe me. Ironically, it wasn’t until I began sharing my story of my daughter emerging from me at 15 weeks that I began to feel sprinkles of shame. Why would I be ashamed of chromosomes gone wrong? How would I have any control over this? Magical thinking and long stored up dark reserves seep out as women experience reproductive hardships. They think they must have done something to “deserve” this, had to have been “unlucky”, and chase every possible line of thinking imaginable to connect the dots. There are no dots here. Miscarriage isn’t about pregnancy ambivalence or anxiety, prior abortions or outbursts of venomous anger, feelings of sadness or anything else that you can seemingly control.
Miscarriage is simpler than all of that. It is loss of life that wasn’t sustainable.
I have fantasies of shouting this from rooftops and tweeting random cryptic notes containing the facts about pregnancy loss in the hopes of galvanizing women’s perceptions of themselves. I daydream about pleading with women not to blame their beautiful bodies for their reproductive devastations. I wish I could dare every woman who has at some point or another wondered if they were somehow the root cause of a reproductive disappointment to turn that question on its head. “What if you are not the reason that this happened to you? What if it just is?” I can’t help but wonder if this would [elicit] more anger, more grief, more relief, and/or more hope. Or maybe something else completely. I am confident that it would engender less competitiveness, less perfectionistic strivings, and more self-love…”
One of my own unresolved bits about my own losses that gets layered on top of (or in the way of listening to) other women’s stories is the WHY of my own losses. I don’t know for certain that Noah’s birth at almost 15 weeks was actually because his life wasn’t sustainable. I continue to have the lingering fear that it was really the UTI I had at the time (the first of my life) that killed him. My gut says that his lifespan only extended that far and was genetically programmed to end at that point, but there is a little part of me that still wonders, what if my body killed him. Ditto with my early miscarriage, my fear is that my hormone levels were low and because I got pregnant again “too soon,” my body couldn’t sustain what might have under different body-circumstances been a perfectly viable baby.
What stories have touched your own life this week? How have your stories helped another mother?
“We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.” — Richard Rhodes