Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
What We Carry From Our Mothers

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You lay sprawled across the grey rug
and asked me to bring you a Pepsi, the kind
in the long cold bottle, and I brought it
from the icebox, trailing brown bubbles
behind as I walked. You screamed, Look
what you've done. I thought it was closed
I said. I didn't know it was open.

I was always making that mistake,
thinking something was closed, a door,
a heart, your arms, a question.
And for the error the world would spill
around me, brown Pepsi, red ketchup,
blue hair dye, my blood.

I no longer spill, no longer wonder
if what is open is really closed.
I know that hands and lives
and storms and mountains must
be open, even as they appear shut.
This is what safety means.

And I hold, not my mother,
but my child within myself,
careful not to spill us out for nine
whole months. Everything is open:
this is what I've learned
since childhood, and this is why
it's so important to be careful
with what you carry in this life.

When we decide to become mothers, we can open ourselves to a flood of memories and emotions from our own childhoods. Pregnancy can be a time for learning to face these feelings, sorting through them to heal what remains unhealed, and envisioning what we might want to do differently in our own lives as mothers.

During the months leading up to the arrival of the baby, we plan and prepare and envision so much: the baby's room, our new schedule, the growing family, and our place within the world. As much as we know what we want, we also know we must be open to reconciling our visions with the reality around us.

I had wanted to be a mother from the time I was a little girl. When I visited the pediatrician's office, I stole the mothering magazines from the waiting room to take home with me. I read them, in secret, in my room at night. I couldn't wait for the soft touch of a baby's skin, the smell of baby powder, the freedom and power that would come from Being a Mother.

I am struck by how sad it is now, to think of the little girl I was, trying to make up for what I wasn't getting by retreating into the fantasy of mothering.

I remember reading that women often prefer the smells of members of their own family during pregnancy. It felt oddly animalistic to me at the time, a reminder of how our bodies have preferences and aversions that are not always within our control.

Pregnancy, too, was about letting go of control. I remember marveling at all my body was accomplishing, building this new life, without my consciousness or will.

It doesn't end, this relinquishing of power.

As so often happens, my daughter carries many of the same traits as my mother. She and my mother are loud and impulsive and quick to anger; I prefer quiet, peaceful days planned well in advance. I have pondered this tendency for personalities to skip a generation: is it nature's way of allowing us a second chance?

Whether we like it or not -- whether we are conscious of it or not -- we are always growing. Motherhood takes our growth and allows us to focus it on the little ones in our lives, but in truth we are growing as much as they are.

Motherhood teaches us that we are not destined to stay who we were when we were children. Our children will bring back the memories of our childhoods to us, but we have the chance to paint those canvases once again with colors of our own choosing.

Last month, we explored the decision to become a mother. This month, we will delve deeper into the relationship between our own childhoods and our lives as mothers. In doing so, we can begin to notice how we are simultaneously in the past and the future and become conscious of ways in which we might decide to change and grow instead of repeating past patterns.

To get started, you might want to take some time to reflect and journal in response to these questions:

1. Mother Image: Describe an image you have of your mother from your childhood. Where is she? What is she doing? What does she say to you?

2. Daughter Image: Do you remember wanting to be a mother when you were a girl? Did you have dolls? Did you play house, or school, or airplane? Looking back on your childhood fantasies, what do you see now?

3. Body Image: What was most surprising to you about pregnancy? How did pregnancy change how you see yourself, or how you see your body?

4. Self Image: Describe a scene from your own daily mothering practice. Where are you? What are you doing? How do you see yourself in relation to your child/ren? How might your child/ren see you?

After journaling in response to these questions, I invite you to explore this month's theme by writing a poem that weaves together memories from your own childhood with scenes from your daily mothering now.

What do you still carry from your mother?

What are you passing on as a mother that your child/ren will have to carry?

Please email your poem to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by October 25th. Be sure to put "Birthing the Mother Writer: 2" in the subject line, and place the poem in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your poem, if chosen for publication, may receive public suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.

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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