Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood


Welcome to the Literary Mama blog. For the time being, I’ll be your guide -- even though I guess I don’t yet strictly qualify as one of the "literary mamas" around here. Not just yet. My due date isn’t for another five weeks. But when that day does (finally, finally) come, I feel pretty sure that I’ll fit right in. I’ve always tried to read my way through everything and this pregnancy stuff has been no exception.

When I got pregnant for the first time -- it must have been around two years ago now, although I’ve lost track -- the first thing I did was rush out and buy a stack of books. I bought the standards, of course, like What to Expect When You’re Expecting, The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy, The Mayo Clinic Complete Book of Pregnancy and Baby’s First Year, and child development books, certainly, like The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About The Mind and What’s Going On In There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life. I read thought-provoking, often disturbing socio-political commentary like Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions and Ann Crittenden’s The Price of Motherhood but also more personal offerings like Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, Lauren Slater’s Love Works Like This, and Andi Buchanan’s Mother Shock. I devoured the excellent magazine Brain, Child. And when I miscarried that first time, I went straight back to the bookstore for a copy of Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility. That particular book, with its implicit, crazy, laughable promise that fertility is something that can be controlled, saw me through three more miscarriages. Still. Books, even when they fell short, or at least fell short in my case, helped to buoy me up. So did, especially, the writing of women I discovered online, voices encountered on sites like this one and on blogs like Chez Miscarriage.

It was only when I’d started researching adoption -- at the time I’d just made my way through Karin Evans’ The Lost Daughters of China, Kay Ann Johnson’s Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son, and Nancy McCabe’s Meeting Sophie, A Memoir of Adoption -- that I found out I was pregnant again. As this particular pregnancy progressed successfully from first trimester to second to third, I reflected on the time of the miscarriages. Often made exhausted, weepy, and slow-witted by pregnancy hormones, I tried to write, fumblingly, about what had happened then and about what was happening now. And as I tried to pin things down in words -- these fragile little floppy, half-winged arrangements of sound and letters not big enough, not powerful enough to carry the emotions and experiences I want them to describe -- I believed, with relief, that I’d never again go through such dramatic swings from euphoria to despair and back again.

I was wrong. A month ago my husband’s mother died suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep. She was only 59 years old. I have never seen a more terrible sight than David’s face as he shouted "What!" and "No!" into the telephone that had woken us from sleep at 4:30 in the morning, as he hung up and crumpled back onto the bed. I hate that horrible black telephone now. Every time I see it I want to smash it to bits and bury them under the melting snow and the rotting leaves in the backyard. The fifteen minute drive that morning from our house to David’s parents’ place was the longest drive of our lives -- and we’ve driven clear across the country from British Columbia to Nova Scotia with an old, sick cat wailing in the front seat between us.

The day after the funeral, tired of spending almost a week cooped up inside the airless, empty house receiving mourners, David, his father, and I found ourselves standing fuzzy-headed and bleary-eyed in a bookstore. We went first to the shelves of books that are supposed to help you deal with death. We stared at the spines of On Death and Dying and I Wasn’t Ready to Say Good-Bye. Then we went to the shelves of books that are supposed to help you deal with new life. We stared at the spines of What to Expect the First Year, Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and Maternal Desire.

David’s father burst into tears. "She was so excited about the baby," he said. It’s true. She was. And somehow -- impossibly but also certainly, of course -- through all the grief and the worry and the anger, we still are. Of course we are. But I know better now, I think, this time, than to believe that the worst is over, that things will get easier. The worst isn’t necessarily over, things won’t necessarily get easier, and all those books full of all those words won’t necessarily help. They won’t necessarily help – but, for me at least, they are necessary.

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Hi Stephany, Best of luck with your delivery. My wife and I are also expecting our first child around the same time (5/5/05). So sorry to hear about the sudden death of your mother-in-law. But reading your post made me want to share a similar experience. My father died not long after we found out we were pregnant. It wasn't sudden or unexpected (he'd been battling cancer and had two strokes in the past few years), though of course death is always sudden, no matter how much you think you're ready for it. As we get closer to the big day, the sadness of his death seems to be getting more acute. At first I comforted myself by thinking things like "At least he died knowing that a grandchild was on the way." Now it's the sad part -- the loss -- that's mostly dominating. To lose a parent and then to become a parent within such a short span of time: it's a head-spinning, heart-wrenching experience. Your place in the universe gets realigned -- once, then twice. Like another poster, I came here via Maud's site, and recognized your name from stuff that you've published on McSweeney's. Good luck with new blog...
people who go to books first will always be the ones i understand the best.
I'm a notorious lurker on blogs, but I wanted to de-lurk to tell you how pleased I am to see you've started "Literary Mama." I was a great admirer of your posts on Maud Newton's blog, and I've missed you on Fridays. I wanted to tell you that your frankness in sharing your experience of miscarriage (an experience I've shared, a few times, and still haven't gotten past) really touched me and helped set me on an important journey. In the future, I hope I'll have even more cause to rely on your postings at "Literary Mama." Also, I live in a nearby province and love to hear voices of writers from this part of the world. Good luck. (And back to lurking for me.)
Beautiful, Stephany.
Sean’s right. And to the point. I wrote you a long, rambling message and hit Post without filling in the name and email boxes so god only knows where it went. Probably just as well, since Sean said it better anyway. Take care of your family. And make sure David and his dad tell Luke all about his grandmother.
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