Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Reader Response to Notes from the Mother Journey

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This month we let readers into the process of "Birthing the Mother Writer" by allowing an inside look at what happens when a mother writer submits and is asked to revise her writing.

Last month's writing prompt was to turn journal entries into a creative nonfiction piece about the decision to become a mother. This takes an unusual spin by reflecting on the decision to have a third child.

~

A Third?

by Cheryl Morgen

2000. My husband and I have been married for a year. We began to talk about having children. He definitely wants children. I am not so sure. I realize that I really want grandchildren. I can't imagine a life without grandchildren. I am hesitant about children, probably because I cannot envision how children will fit into my current life as a chemistry professor commuting into a big city.

2005. We have two young daughters. I am no longer a chemistry professor other than teaching a class every once in a while. Occasionally my husband brings up the idea that we could have a third child. I don't say no. I say, "I don't want to talk about it for two years." My youngest nurses every 2 hours until she is 20 months old and I cut her off. I feel like I need a year to recover from that. I bring up having a third child. My husband isn't sure. The idea of having a newborn around periodically scares or delights one of us and we never seem to be in sync.

Sometime in 2007. I am at church. I notice a family with two older teens. My first thought is, "What a small family. That's a little sad." Then I realize that my family is also that small, consisting of only the four of us.

Spring 2008. I am eleven weeks pregnant and I am bleeding. We go in for an ultrasound. My husband and our two daughters ages 4 and 6 are with us. The technician says, "We need to take a closer look by doing a vaginal ultrasound." A what? How come I've never heard of this before? And, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. There is nothing in my uterus.

Oct. 2008. I am at a birthday party with my two daughters. We are all standing around a table helping our kids with crafts. The kids are making spiders out of paper plates and construction paper. A neighbor of mine is also there and mentions her kids at home. I think to myself, "Yes, I have one more at home." And, then quickly realize that I don't.

July 7-8, 2008. My third child breaks me. I have given birth to two children without ever asking for pain medication. From 1 a.m. until 7 a.m. I stay at 5 cm. Our nurse-midwife begins telling me I can't possibly deliver a baby with contractions 6 minutes apart. If I was in my right mind I would tell her, of course I can, as that is how my first child came into the world. She starts pushing pitocin. I say that if the contractions are going to get any harder I want an epidural. I insist on an epidural now. The nurses are changing shift and delaying. Then I have to have an IV before I can get an epidural. Next I'm told the anesthesiologist is with a c-section patient and won't be here for 45 minutes. "On TV women get an epidural the instant they want it!" I complain to my husband. He doesn't know what to think. He's never seen me ask for pain medication before. He wants to consider all our options. He is having a hard time arguing with my shouting. Why didn't anyone recognize I was in transition? Our third baby girl is born at 8:18 a.m., well before the anesthesiologist gets anywhere near our room.

Aug. 2008. We have three children. I turn 40 on Friday. I feel like our family is complete.

~

In accepting the piece, I asked for the following revisions:

This is an interesting take on something we don't hear much about; usually mother writers focus on the decision to have the first baby, not the third. And yet many women struggle with the question of how many kids to have.

The overall structure of the piece is strong, but my main suggestion is to add more "scenes" to make some sections to help them come alive. Try adding:

- a place description
- dialogue
- a turning/changing moment
- a detail that says something about who you are

Feel free to expand some of the sections into more than one paragraph. Think of them as "short shorts." That is, they should read as little mini short stories.

~

During the revision process, Cheryl wrote to me with this question:

I've been working on revising my submission and I have a question. I have received comments similar to adding "a detail that says something about who you are" about a piece before. It always seems to me that I am telling a lot about myself in the piece and I don't really understand what is missing. Is this comment more to do with the tone or emotion of the piece or does it mean a more physical description?

And here is my answer:

I appreciate your question; I think it's one that many "Birthing the Mother" readers also have about their own writing, and I really want this column to open up the mystery of the submission and revision process to them.

Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to make your writing more detailed, more colored by your specific personality.

1. In writing as in mothering, we let others know who we are by our actions. One mother might make her coffee before waking the kids. Another might go straight to the kids' rooms to help them get dressed. In our writing, we must remember to include these details to let readers get to know us.

2. Readers, like children, want to know the specifics. What color was the house where you got locked out after school and had to break a window to get in? What was the name of the street? They want to picture it so they can be there completely for us, with us. When they know these details, they carry a part of us in themselves.

3. Honest writing, like honest mothering, includes the muck and dirt and emotion and struggles of everyday life. This cannot be wiped away; to do so takes the soul out of it. As May Sarton wrote in A Self-Portrait, "You finally do have to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough."

As Cheryl wrote to me during the revision process, "I was completely surprised to have my writing picked to be revised. Having that initial feedback and just the idea that someone (even just one person!) thought my writing was worth reading was motivating. It also gave me the opportunity to go back and look up some events and remember that I had written down some comments by my kids at the time. Without that feedback I'm sure my response to the prompt would have become just another file in my "practice" folder. I find the revision process, in general, to be a lot of effort. It would be great to have comments like Cassie's on every work -- maybe I need to look for a writing group."

Whether it's a writer's group or an editor or just a trusted friend, we encourage you to "believe that what you have to say is important enough." And here, dear mother writers, is the final essay:

~

A Third?

by Cheryl Morgen

2000

My husband and I have been married for a year. We begin to talk about having children, and our discussion is, without question, about children, in the plural.

He definitely wants children. I am not so sure.

I realize that I really want grandchildren. I can't imagine a life without grandchildren. I am hesitant about children, probably because I cannot envision how children will fit into our current life.

We have specifically moved to a suburb of Philadelphia for our jobs. We each commute an hour in opposite directions. As a new chemistry professor, I spend many hours a day on teaching preparation and have yet to really start my research. It seems insane to add a baby to this mix, but if not now then when?

2005

We have two young daughters and now live in a small town in the middle of Oregon. I am no longer a chemistry professor other than teaching a class at the local community college every once in a while. And, surprisingly to me, I am fine with this.

Occasionally my husband brings up the idea that we could have a third child. I don't say no. I say, "I don't want to talk about it for two years."

My youngest nurses every 2 hours until she is 20 months old and I have recently cut her off. I feel like I need a year to recover from that.

I bring up having a third child. My husband isn't sure. The idea of having a newborn around periodically scares or delights one of us and we never seem to be in sync.

Summer 2007

Among the many changes in our life, we are now going to church. One Sunday I notice a family with two older teens, a boy and a girl very close in age. My first thought is, "What a small family. That's kind of sad."

Then I realize that my family is also that small, consisting of only the four of us.

Jan. 2008

I am ten weeks pregnant and I am bleeding. We just told the girls I was pregnant the week before. I sit them down to talk.

"Bleeding is not a good sign for the baby," I say.

My six-year-old, who really wants us to have a baby, says, "Maybe the baby is okay and it just bit you. That's where the blood is from."

We go in for an ultrasound. The technician says, "We need to take a closer look by doing a vaginal ultrasound." A what? How come I've never heard of this before? And, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. I look at my husband. We didn't anticipate good news, but we also didn't expect this. We've brought our two children along on the appointment. However, the technicians are discreet and I don't think the kids even know what is going on. There is nothing in my uterus.

Spring 2008

I have another miscarriage. I tell my husband I want to take a break from trying to get pregnant. I spend the summer running slowly and swimming and having fun with my family. I think to myself, "Maybe one more time. We're done if I have a third miscarriage in a row."

Oct. 2008

I am at a birthday party with my two daughters. We are all standing around a table helping our kids with crafts. The kids are making spiders out of paper plates and construction paper.

A neighbor of mine is also there and mentions her kids at home. I think to myself, "Yes, I have one more at home."

And, then quickly realize that I don't. And, that's when I know we should try again or I may always be haunted by this phantom third child.

July 7-8, 2008

My third child breaks me. I have given birth to two children without ever asking for pain medication, but this time we go in to the hospital too early and our nurse-midwife is concerned when I stay five centimeters dilated for six hours.

She begins telling me I can't possibly deliver a baby with contractions 6 minutes apart, and that labor is going to take another five hours.

If I were in my right mind I would tell her, "Of course I can! That's how my first child came into the world!" But I say nothing; it is too much effort to engage in conversation.

She starts pushing pitocin. I say that if the contractions are going to get any harder I want an epidural. The nurses are changing shift and delaying.

I insist on an epidural, but I am told I have to have an IV before I can get an epidural.

Next I'm told the anesthesiologist is with a c-section patient and won't be here for 45 minutes. "On TV women get an epidural the instant they want it!" I complain to my husband. He doesn't know what to think. He's never seen me ask for pain medication before. He wants us to consider all our options. He is having a hard time arguing with my shouting.

Why didn't anyone recognize I was in transition?

Our third baby girl is born at 8:18 in the morning, well before the anesthesiologist gets anywhere near our room.

Aug. 2009

We have three children. I turn 40 on Friday. I feel like our family is complete.

Cheryl Morgen, a former chemistry professor, enjoys writing articles where science and parenting intersect as well as occasional personal essays. Otherwise, she spends most of her time with her husband and three daughters and comments on books at Escape to Books.


Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D. is the author of 13 books, most recently Earth Joy Writing. The book includes writing prompts for every month of the year, plus audio meditations and video workshops. She teaches an innovative online course combining mindfulness and feminist theory for women academics called The Feminar. Cassie is currently working on a memoir about how coming out returned her to her mother and her faith.


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