Archive for the 'pregnancy' Category

The Architecture of Things

Fiction by Andrew McNabb 


To John Thomas’s mind, architecture didn’t relate exclusively to the form and shape of buildings, but to the form and shape of everything.  For example, he knew that it was their physical forms that had brought him and Aoife together; and he also knew that it wasn’t because either of them possessed overwhelming physical beauty, but that their respective flaws were comparable—some might say, complementary—and that none couldn’t be overlooked. 

Her form, though, often made him wonder, what made a woman with a small waistline and large breasts and full lips and a pear shaped bottom the best of what was to be desired?  And why did a dimpled behind and small flat breasts and ill-defined calves represent something less than perfect?  Whatever the detailed answer was, in short, it was human.  Human?  But what did that mean?  That it couldn’t be helped? 

Some might say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that might be true, but John Thomas would say it’s in the mind, and it’s in the fingers.  A man has needs, the saying goes, and when the mind triggers the body so that blood rushes to his penis those small flat breasts and that big dimpled behind and those ill-defined calves could actually look quite nice.  But even more than that, to the human fingers those parts were all covered by the same thing, flesh, and when your eyes were closed, flesh on one feels pretty much the same as flesh on the other.  The substance beneath that skin might be different—one posterior might consist of more of that visually-valued muscle mass, another, more fatty tissue—but it was the job of the fingers simply to feel, and in each case what they felt was exactly the same: the epidermis. 

But finally, thought John Thomas, and perhaps most importantly, when it came to physical feeling, in that ultimate act of human contact, that cavern into which the penis is inserted is essentially a piece of hardware and can, by no realistic man’s definition, be considered a thing of beauty; and in his experience, which was not record-breaking, but hardly inconsiderable, all of those he had had experience with looked and felt approximately the same. 




But to stay together, the architecture of a relationship needed to be on firm footing.  And because one measure of a relationship is the intensity of physical contact, imagine John Thomas’s surprise when Aoife said, “I’m a virgin.” 

Like him, she was thirty.  Wow.  So what were you supposed to think about when you heard news like that?  His thoughts, for a moment, went to the fact that that bit down there was still intact.  But that bit was just a line of skin, a physical representation of an idea, really.  What was more compelling was imagining all those years of her slapping hands away, of pulsating down there, being kept awake at night, of going quiet when the girls talked about their escapades. 

At first, Aoife’s ardent Catholicism was a curiosity he indulged, an eccentricity he found no different than if she had had a thick series of tattoos running up and down her arms, or a lifelong collection of Asian Barbies—amusing, peculiar, and something he didn’t want for himself.  But it ended up defining the both of them anyway.

It was confusing the way she wouldn’t let him penetrate her, but would wrap herself in all sorts of unusual positions to make him climax, each more lurid and depraved than the next; and then not more than an hour or a day later she’d have no problem going up and sticking out her tongue to receive her Christ. 

Long after the newness had worn off, and shortly after a fight about what they were doing, where they were going, and after a series of news bits from friends who were advancing in careers, getting married, having babies, a particularly heated sexual episode occurred that needed to go somewhere further.  Aoife got herself down on all fours.  When he moved right in she stopped him. 

“No, higher,” she said. 

He complied.  That was a different bit of hardware, for sure.

When they were done, she sobbed, and he said they wouldn’t do that again.  He said he loved her.  And after a half hour of lying there and feeling like he really did, he said, “Why don’t we just get married?”

And so they did.



By no means should the architecture of buildings be discounted.  Bodies needed to be protected, of course, but it wasn’t just that; being inside the proper architecture, immersed in a space and surrounded by thoughtfully designed details could provide a feeling that everything would be okay.  Except that maybe it wouldn’t; if you were Aoife, at least.  She said she tried to live her life as if material things were fleeting, and John Thomas couldn’t disagree that that was the case, but he also made the point that those things were still a component of this here life, just be sure to not let them rule you. 

And that was the reason they finally settled on Portland.  You could buy a house more cheaply there than you could in many other places.  Not that they were in a position to do so just yet.  But for the here and now at least you could walk among the turreted peaks and the orangey brick facades they’d seen nowhere else, floating on the thought that if they searched hard enough, they would find an interesting place of their own.

The first place they saw, however, was not one of them.  It was part of Aoife’s general view on life that good things should be saved for.  That’s why she was always carrying around that damn calculator.  When they found themselves standing in front of a three-decker on Montreal Street in the East End, John Thomas could see her clutching the calculator in her pocketbook, and he wasn’t surprised when she said, “I could live there.”

He didn’t respond.  And they didn’t go in.  He tried to tell her that he didn’t need to see it to know what was already there.  If the floor inside the front door was not covered by a worn red carpet and the walls by a shiny brown paint job, then peeling linoleum and fading flowery wallpaper would surely be the case.  A wasted ten-speed would be tethered to the stairs, or maybe a child’s plastic bike just left, forgotten until the next time.  Three metal mailboxes, names scratched in and out, scattered take-out menus on the floor, an empty bottle of Diet Coke in the corner.  And all of it wrapped in the smell of decades of comings and goings in a place that would never really be treated as home.  So despite the rent, no.

Moving on, all it had taken him to decide on the place they were now living was the cast iron awning out front.  It was a signal, a beacon.  This building might be boxy and not so complex, but there were details here that you wouldn’t find in any three-decker.  The weathered mahogany door in the lobby, the black and white mosaic tile floor, the simple but well-polished banisters, the flowered plaster moldings.  It even had a name, Northcourt.  And after much debate, Aoife assented.



So with all of that now taken care of, John Thomas was remarking to Aoife just the other day how there were all sorts of things that enter and leave and surround our bodies, and she remarked with a smile that that was an unusual thing to think about.  The smile was because she loved him, the way they talked about things like that a lot. 

When it got to be her turn she made the point that how, finally, when certain things were in place, basic human needs met, what greatly formed the rest of you was what you ended up doing with your time.  She, the music major, had just gotten a job as a secretary, and he took this as a nudge.  He couldn’t do the same class of job, and his new neck tattoo prevented discussion of it, but she wondered if maybe there were other opportunities that, if his creativity was competently engaged, could be worthwhile.  He’d told her he’d think about that, and he did.

And so here they were, forming a life’s rhythm together, indulging, somewhat, the conventions of what it took to exist and to be able to pay for things.  They had been in that spot a month now, and just as he had said in selling the place to Aoife when they first saw it, it was nice being able to sit at the table by the window on a weekend morning and push down on a coffee press while you looked out at the little pocket park across the street.  That was the case right now, except he was all alone. 

As always, there were complications. 

Aoife was in the bathroom peeing on a pregnancy stick.  He thought it might come to this.  He didn’t want her to be pregnant.  He thought they should wait, and when he’d said that to Aoife, she’d replied she’d done all the waiting she could handle.  Her sexual maneuverings had become more mundane, more functional, and she’d also said that they couldn’t be stopped now, and the act couldn’t be covered in a plastic sheath for his penis. 

The stream of urine coming from the bathroom was lusty, fueled by morning coffee, and perhaps by Aoife’s intense wishes; and despite the gravity of the impending outcome—he couldn’t do anything about that—John Thomas let his mind settle on that little plastic stick, how it was something that you emitted the body’s waste on and then how it would tell you if there was a tiny life growing inside you.  My God, the architecture of that little piece, and the architecture of a woman’s body, a little potential something taking root right up there in a woman’s—in Aoife’s—womb.  All of that interconnected hardware.

The seconds dripped past, and then finally, with a flush, a verdict was upon them.  The door opened and Aoife emerged.  His eyes darted to her belly.  Could something be living inside her?  His eyes went to her face.  She was smiling.  But what did that mean?  That she would soon start to grow, her belly expanding and distending, a little life inside her taking its own form and a shape? 

As Aiofe kept coming, and with the sun at her back giving the appearance of flight, John Thomas had an overwhelming desire to talk, to remark that when a life was conceived wasn’t it incredible that with each passing week body parts and organs would just appear and be added?  And how when complete the tiny being would just smooth down the uterine tract and push through that cavity that had once seemed like hardware, but that now seemed like something else entirely. 

“So?” said John Thomas.  “So?”

Aoife sat, and a conversation just emerged.


Andrew McNabb is a writer, a husband and a father of four.  For more information, please visit


Poems by Sidney Thompson


In ribbons the blinds
make of the courtyard

light, I press my lips
to your mother’s moon

belly and whisper,
“It’s me again.”

As if in answer for you,
my child, eyes-closed,

she says, “Hmmm,”
a sort of smiling om.

The catalog of my day
is my night’s prayer.

Oh, I’ve never prayed
this way, god no, but now

someone’s listening,
aren’t you? And from this

memory of comfort, you
will recognize my voice,

won’t you? You will say,
“Father,” a miracle, and I,

your child, will answer.


Your mother once snaked her legs with mine
so that, I swear, with each moon phase
they seemed multiplied, my cat-eyed snake

goddess with navel ring. Now the magic
is slighter, hidden in an egg as if in a hat,
how you pull and pull to round her belly

and back, stretch a piercing into a crater
because it’s moon’s nature to want more
moon, I understand, but to steal her legs—

uncanny. But if you could see her pull back
against you, the mounting effort to marry her body
to full-body Boppy—the squirm, the hump,

the whole canine scooch-and-scooch to land
you atop the pillowed pedestal, to reduce
your effect—you’d regret your tidal slosh,

I know, but you needn’t. And if you could
see me behind her, uncovered by the fuss,
flat as sky, a shell shard, a dragonfly ring melting

under dust by the bathroom sink—like Boppy
was once suspended in plastic and shelved
in a distant store, a fossil’s reminder that nothing

foregrounds like background and is abortable forever—
you’d remember to rest easily, too, and wait
your turn because that is what moons do.


Your mother, if she can sleep, must sleep like a door
that won’t stay open, wedged by pillows to keep her
propped on the hinge of her left side, to keep you left,
too, close to the heart, a metronome for sleep.

There’s no crowding or kinking of the old sewer line,
the Inferior Vena Cava, which recycles breathless blood
below the waist, up along the spine, past the placenta—
the scenic route— to the right atrium. The best flow

prevents hypertension, hemorrhoids, and swelling, too,
of ankles and the already spreading feet of the exterior she.
Ultrasound shows by absence you are not a boy—you are
a half-this, half-that girl in your stylish vernix, urinating

and drinking where you swim, our 26-week-old baby fish
fountain we call Emerson. Everything in the amniotic
compost tastes delectable. Sometimes I hang my arm
around you both, my hand wedged beneath her globe,

feeling for kicks and heartbeats like hooves. Is this
how gods, not goddesses, pass time, waiting for function,
a door to open—your mother to finish the bottled water
on the night stand so I can fetch another?


In our neighborhood, where Texas Instruments
put up that barbed wire to make calculators,

where rental houses have aluminum siding
in the back instead of brick, your mother’s spine

curves like a bough of ripened apples. She’ll try
anything to coax you out. At bedtime, I inserted

suppositories of evening primrose oil, retrieved
maxi-pads when she forgot. Now, it’s sex we take,

our daily dose, and I confess it’s weird
inducement—my hormones plus her orgasm.

The cervix is dilated 3 of 10 centimeters, as if
a microscopic artillery shell exploded through

the chapel ceiling—I can almost touch you.
Mornings, I teach and drive to school, but afternoons

when I return as student, your mother needs the Jeep,
so I ride the bus. It’s a double life, doctoral husband.

Wednesday night is Fiction Workshop night,
and January 18th, a Wednesday, is the semester’s first

meeting, the last day before your birth, when I get
the call that stands me up in the middle of class

to announce, It’s time, like I’m trying out the fiction
of movies. Outside, I race over shadows and lawn

and spotted light because my line has only one bus,
and missing it could mean missing everything,

but like the movies again, I find a bus parked
at the stop: not Eagle Point, not Mean Green,

but mine, Discovery Park, waiting as your mother
waits, when it’s never waited for me before.

I haven’t believed in miracles or God in ages,
not since the eighties, when I discovered in high school

the pleasure of annotating the Bible. That was before
I got old and fat, lost my hair, my dogs, and forgot

how to play the piano, the trumpet, before I knew
death and divorce were synonyms. On board,

it’s just me and the driver, just destination and delivery,
and silence, until the bus climbs.


Sidney Thompson is the author of the short story collection Sideshow. He received his MFA from the University of Arkansas and is a PhD candidate at the University of North Texas. His poetry has appeared in The Midwest Quarterly and Metrosphere, and is forthcoming in RHINO Poetry. This series of poems is dedicated to his wife, Sara, and daughter, Sydney Emerson.

Hole in the Roof

fiction by Bonnie Peters

On her first birthday, Marah couldn’t sit up, or roll over, or say “mama.” Her head wobbled like one of those dash-board dolls.

“We could suction cup her butt and stick her right over your glove box.  Kinda like that Hawaiian Hula girl Dave used to have in his old Chevy.”  Karol, Anna’s mom, laughed as she kissed Marah’s toes.

Anna had to hold her daughter’s chin while she spoon fed her a piece of the birthday cake, mashed up with the white and pink icing and a little milk.  Marah’s left eye looked at her nose whenever she tried to focus on a face.  Drool and pieces of cake pooled in the left corner of her mouth and returned there within seconds after Anna wiped it away.

 At her twelve month check-up, the pediatrician gently pushed and stretched Marah’s legs into strange frog like positions.

“Marah needs surgery to correct the scissoring.”  Dr. Allen looked at Anna and must have seen her confusion. “The tightness and crossing of Marah’s legs makes it hard to position and clean her properly. After surgery, you’ll be able to take care of her easier.” 

When Anna didn’t say anything, the doctor continued.  “We’ll wait on the surgery, but I’m writing a prescription for physical and occupational therapy that she should start right away.  Lacey, at the front desk, will give you some paperwork to fill out so you can get help with all the services Marah is going to need.”

When Anna still didn’t respond, Dr. Allen put his hand on her shoulder.  “Anna, do you realize that Marah is never going to grow up normal?  Her cerebral palsy and probable mental retardation are going to require a lot of extra support.”

Anna smiled, nodded her head, and after paying the bill and sliding the therapy prescriptions behind the last twenty in her wallet, she put Marah in her car seat and drove back home.  Words kept repeating and echoing in her head—cerebral palsy, mental retardation, surgery, therapy, not normal.

A couple of months ago, Anna had been given a pamphlet explaining the medical term cerebral palsy, but it was confusing.  So, Anna had looked up each word, first cerebral and then palsy in the library dictionary—intellectual tremors, cerebrum shakes?  Marah didn’t shake; she jabbed.  She could push out her arms and legs so hard they could pierce through you if they were swords.  Continue reading ‘Hole in the Roof’

Spring Classes: Sexy Mommy Stories and The Poetry of Fatherhood

I’m proud to say we are nearing the final week of Mother, Writer, Mentor’s first ever on-line writing workshop, To the Cradle and Beyond, Excavating the Poetry of Motherhood. We will be offering this course again throughout the year (please check the website for our latest classes). Our next two on-line writing workshops include:

Sexy Mommy Stories: Writing Romance Back Into Motherhood

Instructor: Jessica Powers

Dates: April 9-April 30

Who says romance is over just because of baby spit up, dirty diapers, sleepless nights, and breastfeeding? This workshop is for writers who want to write romance and love stories about and for mothers. We will cover the basics of fiction-plot, characters, and theme-for beginning writers and probe deeper for writers with more experience. We will consider the necessary elements for a good romance story and reclaim motherhood as an arena for romance, sex, and, yes!, eroticism. Sign up here.

Excavating and Writing The Poetry of Fatherhood

Instructor: Tania Pryputniewicz

Dates: April 30- May 25

You’ve watched the wife’s body transform before your eyes, witnessed first-hand her incremental emotional, psychological and spiritual migration to places you may or may not be able, though willing, to follow. Your own metamorphosis, while less physically apparent, is in actuality no less arduous or multi-layered. Or you and your partner have gone through longer gestations: reams of applications, false leads, interviews and further scrutiny while attempting to adopt. Or you’ve chosen not to father, but find the words of your own father coursing through your mind. Join this on-line poetry class for a chance to mine poetry of the past as well as contemporary poems (including those we’ve published at The Fertile Source) for structural and thematic inspiration towards the writing of a new crop of poems reflecting the continuum of experiences that comprise fatherhood. Sign up here.

Losing Sweet Pea

an essay by Corbin Lewars

When sex with your husband involves thermometers, charts, and sticking your legs in the air afterwards, you know it’s no longer about your burning desire for him. It’s now all about your burning desire for a baby. I have reached that point and beyond. I have needles poked in me, chart my temperature twice a day, seek advice from a variety of specialists, follow this advice even when it entails chanting to my womb, all in hopes of seeing the two pink stripes on the EPT.

After years of waiting for my husband Jason to say the magical words, “I’m ready” and months and months of cheering “swim, little guys swim,” to his sperm mid-coital, I am finally rewarded with the pink stripes. After jumping for joy and hugging Jason, I place my hand on my belly and say, “Hello there.” The chanting has paid off and by now I am quite used to talking to my womb. I name her Sweet Pea and converse privately with her throughout the day. For now, she is mine, all mine, and I do not share news of her with anyone besides Jason.

Around my tenth week of pregnancy, my back throbs intensely while I am at work. My mind flashes to Sweet Pea, but I quickly dismiss that concern. I’ve waited for her for too long to lose her now. I stretch and reposition myself, but nothing alleviates the pain. After urinating, I see bright red drops that shouldn’t be in the toilet. Panicking, I run back to my office to call my group of midwives.

“I see you’re about ten weeks along, is that correct?” the midwife asks.

“Yes,” I reply, while lying on the floor to ease the pain. She asks me to describe the feeling in my abdomen (menstrual cramps mixed with food poisoning), the amount of blood (a light period), and the lower back pain (agonizing). A long silence follows before she says the words I’m dreading hearing, “You’re miscarrying.”

“No! How can I stop it?”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do. A large percentage of women miscarry in their first trimester and there’s no way to avoid it. Sometimes, it just wasn’t meant to be. Or perhaps the baby wasn’t viable. All we can do is wait and see,” she says.

I hang up the phone and burst into tears. I was patient for so long and every month when I got my period I told myself, “That’s all right. Maybe next month it will happen.” And then it finally did and I was instantly attached. I am attached. I talk to her every day, I have clothes for her, I love her.

I decide to ignore the midwife’s words and tell myself Sweet Pea will stay with me. She wants to be with me as much as I want her. This comforts me for an hour, but then the pain in my lower back becomes too great to ignore. I give up on trying to get any work done, write “Gone home sick” on the white board outside of my office, and drive home.

Once there, I leave a message for Jason and call the midwives a few more times. One of the midwives on call is optimistic about my situation and I cling to her every word. The other midwife on call has given up on Sweet Pea and after talking to her I have to crawl into bed and curl up into a fetal position. Once I’ve shed all the tears I can shed, I turn off my brain. I’m afraid thinking about bad things will give them more power and validity, so if I don’t think about the miscarriage, maybe it will go away.

Jason comes home and finds me in bed hiding under the covers. “Is there anything I can do?” he asks while rubbing my back.


“What did the midwife say?”

“I’ve talked to a couple of them. One is really sweet and hopeful. She says I may just be spotting and that if I rest, I could stop bleeding. The other one told me to come in for a D & C.”

“What’s that?”

“They scrape my uterus.”

“Like an abortion?”

“Yeah.” I pull a blanket over myself.

“Are you going to do that?” he asks.

“No, I hung up on her.”

He asks more technical and logistical questions, but I am too tired to answer them. I know he is only trying to understand the situation, but there are no answers. All we can so is wait and see. I find waiting impossible, so I sleep and hope when I wake up I’ll realize it was all a nightmare.

A few hours later, I’m still bleeding, but not heavily. The “hopeful” midwife is pleased to hear this and says if the cramps and backache subside, it probably means I’m spotting. I am thrilled to hear this and am finally able to get out of bed. I gather two white candles and light them as a way to protect Sweet Pea. Coming from an atheist family, yet wanting to believe in something, I am forced to make up my own rituals. And candles often serve as my chalice and host.  As do the stars. I walk over to the window and say the words I’ve been chanting since I was a little girl, “Star light star bright, the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might have this wish I wish tonight.” I close my eyes and hope for Sweet Pea to stay with me.

After another day of intermittent bleeding, and many hours spent in bed sleeping, the hopeful midwife convinces me to get my blood drawn to check my hormone levels. “It will be good to know either way,” she convinces me. I write down the directions to the after hours lab and wait in various cubicles to have my blood drawn. Once the procedure is over, I ask when I will know the results.

“Monday morning,” the technician responds.

“But that’s three days away!”

“Yup, we don’t do labs over the weekend.”

It’s the worst three days of my life. I don’t want to talk to anyone, not even my husband. I’m locked in my own despair and turmoil. When I cry, I feel guilty that I’m giving up on Sweet Pea. But how can I ignore the fact that I may lose the baby I sing to every day and can picture so clearly in my brain? I can’t, so I spend the majority of the weekend lighting candles to protect Sweet Pea and sleeping.

First thing Monday morning, I call the lab. A cheery nurse says, “Oh yeah, here’s your chart. Everything looks fine.”

“Thank God!” I race upstairs to tell Jason. We hug each other and cry. Words fail us. All we can do is smile.

I tell people at work I had the flu and no one seems to question my story. I work on the newsletter that it has taken me far too long to complete until I remember that I missed my first prenatal appointment with the midwives during the turmoil. The receptionist asks me to hold for a moment when I call the offices to reschedule. The non-hopeful midwife comes on the line and says, “Corbin, are you trying to schedule a D & C?”

 “Why would I do that?”

“Didn’t the lab call you?” she asks.

“Yeah, I called them. The nurse said everything is fine.”

Long, long pause.

“I don’t know why she would say that. I have your chart right in front of me. You’re not pregnant anymore, you miscarried.”

I stagger at her words and sit down on the floor. The room is spinning and I have to shake my head to clear it.

“No, I didn’t. I hardly bled at all and the cramps went away after a few days. I’m still pregnant. I know I am, I feel it.” Instinctively, my hand rests on my belly and I start to rub it in a circular motion. I’m sure the midwife is wrong and wish she would put the receptionist back on so I can make my damn appointment.

“No dear, you’re not. Sometimes our bodies aren’t aligned with our brains. Your brain may think you’re still pregnant, but I can tell by looking at your hormone levels, that you aren’t. Now about that D & C. You really should come in and have it soon. Otherwise you may get an infection that could…”


I hang up the phone and lie on the floor again. Once again, I tell myself she is wrong and that if I hope for it hard enough, I can still have Sweet Pea. When doubt creeps in, I stagger into my friend Jennifer’s office for reassurance. “I bled, but not that much, the nurse told me I’m fine but the midwife says no, I lost the baby, but I don’t think I did. I still feel Sweet Pea, I know she’s still with me….”

Jennifer deciphers some of my babble and calls the midwives herself. Unsatisfied by the midwives response, she decides to call my general practitioner. “If your doctor is the one who first validated your pregnancy, then she is who I should call. What’s her name?” she asks.

            I cry on Jennifer’s floor while she tries to penetrate the impenetrable medical system. No one wants to answer her questions or tell her how or why I would have been told I’m still pregnant if I’m not. Everyone refers her to someone else. After the tenth phone call, I finally let the midwife’s words sink in. “Don’t call anyone else,” I tell Jennifer. “It’s over.”

I return home again and crawl into bed. I remain there for several days, only emerging to go to work, and then returning to my bed. I refuse to have the D & C, but my body continues to bleed expelling the baby it’s own way. For weeks I am a shell of myself, doing the bare minimum at work, and avoiding all of my friends and family. People try to comfort me with, “You’ll have another baby” or “Maybe it’s for the best,” but this only angers me. I don’t want another baby, I want Sweet Pea.

After weeks of grieving and raging, I decide I have to let Sweet Pea go. I can’t live my life in bed hoping when I wake up, she’ll still be with me. She’s gone. I lost her. Pretending otherwise won’t bring her back. Nor will trying to understand what caused the miscarriage. I’ll never know and all the speculating does is make me feel bad about myself and my body. I assume it’s something that I did or that my body is a failure at baby-making. All this line of thinking does is make me want to crawl back into bed.

Once again, I seek out a ritual to help me. I gather all of the remnants that remind me of Sweet Pea and place them on my bed. The cute baby outfits I bought and the pregnancy book, I put in one pile to send to my friend Jill, who is pregnant. I pause while folding an adorably, fuzzy yellow snow suit. Instead of adding it to Jill’s pile, I hold it to my face and cry. It’s too heartbreaking letting it go, so I keep it. I don’t have to give up hope entirely, I just have to let go of Sweet Pea.

I find the nub of one of the candles I lit for Sweet Pea and the cork I saved from the champagne Jason and I drank on Valentine’s Day, the day she was conceived. I buy a hosta plant in remembrance of Sweet Pea. I dig a hole in our garden and Jason and I place the candle and cork in it and the hosta on top. We hold hands in silence for several minutes and let the tears fall. At the same time, we break the silence by saying, “Good-bye, Sweet Pea. We love you.”



“Losing Sweet Pea” is an excerpt from Corbin Lewars’ memoir, Creating a Life (Catalyst Book Press, 2010) which is now available as an ebook. Corbin’s essays have been featured in Hip Mama, Midwifery Today, Mothering, and A Wild Ride and several anthologies. She is a writing coach and instructor based in Seattle, where she lives with her two young children and a thriving hosta, which she calls Sweet Pea. To learn more about Corbin and her coaching practice visit

Read the interview with Corbin Lewars conducted by Jessica Powers, Corbin Lewars on rape, miscarriage, sex, marriage, divorce, and writing what you really feel.


Bastard babies are born with broken hearts: an interview with Leslie Worthington

Interview by Jessica Powers

Last week, we published Leslie Worthington’s short story, “The Beach House,” a story about a young woman, pregnant and  unwed, and trying to deal with her emotions as the father of her baby arranges an adoption. This week, I spoke with her about the spark for her story; about the realities of young women and pregnancy both today and back in the 1960s, when the story is set; and about why writing about these issues is important.

1. What was the spark for your story?

 The spark for the story came from a single sentence: “Bastard babies are born with broken hearts.”  That popped into my head, and I liked the alliteration and the oxymoronic nature of the phrase “bastard babies.”  We don’t use the word “bastard” in its original sense much anymore, so it added a shock to the statement.  At first, I thought the sentence was a line of poetry, but it eventually became the story “The Beach House.”  I wrote the story around it.

 2. Setting (time and place) is critical for this story. Can you give us a little bit of historical background for women who found themselves in your protagonist’s situation (unwed, pregnant) in the 1960s, when this story is set? The 1960s are an interesting bridge between cultural mores since the so-called “sexual revolution” was happening yet it was before Roe v. Wade.

Women find themselves in this situation even today.  Their options may be different, but sometimes when they are young and poor as Cecelia is, things aren’t all that different.  I set the story in the 60’s partly because I wanted the reader to think about that.  At first glance, you can say “oh, thank goodness it isn’t like that anymore.”  But is that really true?  Yes, as you say the sexual revolution had begun, but yet women didn’t have access to reliable birth control, there was no planned parenthood, and the options were, keep the child or put it up for adoption.  I think most women got married whether they wanted to or not.  Those who put their babies up for adoption were often hidden away as Cecelia is.  These girls were kicked out of school and sometimes sent off to homes for unwed mothers or to live with family far away so they could come back and pretend nothing had ever happened.  No one spoke of the child, and the girl could never speak of what had happened to her.  Another option was sometimes to give the child to a family member as Cecelia’s mother had left her to be raised by her grandmother.  Most of the time, these women never had a voice or avenue for release, a way to deal with their loss and pain over the huge thing that had happened to them.  They just had to shove it down inside themselves.


Dr. Leslie Worthington

Despite easy access to birth control, despite additional options, despite the lessened stigma on pregrancy without marriage, women, not just girls, still find themselves in this situation.  As a college English professor, I meet them all the time.  They are in my classes, they miss exams to have babies, and they write essays about babies they’ve lost and given up.  And society now, in the twenty-first century, isn’t as forgiving as we might like to think; these women aren’t always as forgiving of themselves. 

For Cecelia, she isn’t going to get married.  The baby’s father doesn’t have that in mind.  Her family thinks she is, so she can’t even go home without humiliation.  Can she go home to her grandparents with a baby, as her mother did?  It’s obvious she doesn’t have the means to keep the baby and care for it by herself.  It’s also obvious that she doesn’t want to give that baby up.  She’s decided on the baby’s gender, given him a name, and a future.  She’s imagined his future without her.  She’s fallen in love with her child before he’s even born, as mothers do.  Cecelia faces a horrible dilemma.

3. I love the ending, where we don’t know if Cecilia dies or just imagines her death and, later, makes it to shore. Metaphorically, however, she felt as though her life was essentially over. Can you talk about how you crafted the ambiguity and the metaphor into that ending?

I guess I haven’t thought much about intentionally crafting the ambiguity of the ending.  I’ve displeased some readers who couldn’t believe I’d create a woman who would kill her child.  I think the ambiguity comes from the fact that even Cecelia doesn’t know what she’s going to do.  She doesn’t set out intending to commit suicide.  She doesn’t go into the water intending it.  Maybe she thinks she’s letting fate take over, and the universe will decide.  She’s been in denial, not thinking about what’s going to happen.  She’s a very adaptable person, as we can see from her memories of her life before the baby.  She’s alone, and her future is uncertain, but she’s making the best of where she’s found herself.  She’s enjoying the leisure, her reading, the beach.  Being able to adapt to change and stick it out through hard times is a desirable and even admirable quality, but sometimes it hurts us.  Sometimes we need to be able to say, “No, stop this” “or I want out of this.  I’m not going to take this anymore.”  Wes’s remark about this being over soon sets her thinking more deeply about her situation.  So when she sets out for her walk that day, reality is flooding over her.  She does not want to give up her baby, and maybe killing herself and taking the baby with her is the only control she’s ever going to have over her own life.

One thing I did want the story to have was metaphor.  I wanted the things she sees on her walk along the beach to have meaning to her, as our surroundings take on life and meaning when significant things are happening to us internally.  Yellow houses become symbols of a happy life.  Birds protecting their nests become young mothers who have to give up their babies.  The world around Cecelia becomes infused with meaning as she becomes more emotionally aware.

4.  Why do you think it’s important to probe these issues surrounding sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood in literature?

These issues are part of our common experience, and art is a cultural experience as well as an individual one.  I don’t believe literature has to be didactic, but it does need to be about something, something important.  Sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood are all important to who we are as women, and the sharing of these experiences and feelings joins us.  Sharing can sometimes lead to healing.

5.  What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished an academic book about intertextual connections between Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy entitled Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn.  It was released a couple of weeks ago.  I’m currently working with a colleague on an anthology of essays about images and definitions of home in the work of Appalachian artists.

With my own fiction, I’ve been working on a collection of short stories for some time now.  It will probably be called Odes of Solitude. Each piece has a female character who imagines, remembers, or hallucinates the story, yet she’s the only character who is actually present.  “The Beach House” is part of the collection.  And I continue to write poetry, usually about the experiences of women: career, love, children, grandchildren, and balancing all our many, many roles.

The Beach House

Fiction by Leslie Harper Worthington

Cecelia walked the beach again that morning.  A few other beach houses dotted the shore, but she didn’t give a damn.  She was barefoot and big-bellied.  It was 1962, and she wasn’t hiding any more.

She had that dream again last night, the one where she gave birth to three little black kittens, each small enough to fit in her shoe.  What would he think if that was all he got – little black kittens?  She tried to keep herself from such silly thoughts.

Seagulls were soaring overhead and diving for their breakfast.  Raw fish didn’t sound like a bad morning meal, but she had to admit she’d been eating some strange things lately and craving even stranger ones.

That Army doctor said not to gain more than twenty-five pounds.  It’d been only seven months and she was sure she’d already gained more than that.  What did he know about having babies?  He’s an Army doctor.  Still, it was nice of him to see her, considering she and Wes weren’t married.

According to that palm reader, they were never going to be.  No one can see that in your hand.  “This child will not fulfill your expectations.”  What did that even mean?  If you talk in riddles, then people can believe what they want to believe.  The girl wasn’t much older than Cecilia herself.  She had startled Cecelia when she approached her on the boardwalk and took her hand without asking, but Cecelia could see reassurance in her hazel eyes.  “It’s going to be okay, “was what Cecelia saw her eyes say.  Who knows what more she could have said if Wes hadn’t pulled them apart.  “This is nonsense,” he said as he took Cecelia by the arm and guided her toward the clown giving out candy on the other side of boardwalk.  Cecelia didn’t realize she was even showing.  Wes probably didn’t either.  It was the last time he’d taken her out anywhere.

Wes’s sergeant was kind to let her stay at his parents’ beach house.  She wondered if they even knew she’d been there the last four months.  Everyone was being so nice.  For Wes’s sake.  It wasn’t as if any of them knew Cecelia.  She had never seen any of these people before Wes brought her here, and he wouldn’t have done that if not for the baby.  He was being nice for the sake of the baby.  What was going to happen after?  She didn’t mean happen to the baby.  Wes had that all planned out.  The baby would have some where to go.  But what was going to happen to her?  Who was going to be nice to her then?

She’d like to stay right here forever.  True, there wasn’t a radio or television, but that made it peaceful.  The high ceilings of the beach house reminded her of the church she had attended as a child, the church where she’d learned to sing “I’ll Fly Away” and “In the Garden.”  That white church around the corner from her house had been the place she’d loved most.  She’d sneak in early to listen to the choir practice before service began.  She wanted to sing too.  The church was close enough that she could walk there by herself, so she never had to ask for a ride.

She didn’t have a ride anywhere now either.  If she had a car, she could leave when she wanted, but she wasn’t sure she would ever want to leave.  She found the solitude restful.  She could barely remember a time before she’d had to work day in and day out.  She’d started working weekends at the mill when she was fourteen and had quit school to work full time at sixteen.  Before the mill, she had helped Momaw watch the babies she kept during the day while their Mommas worked.  She felt like more than four months would be required to rest from the first twenty years of her life.

She didn’t want to go anywhere right now.  Wes came every Saturday, and she wasn’t half way through The Complete Works of Mark Twain she’d found on the shelves in the living room.  She couldn’t leave until she finished. Huckleberry Finn was currently keeping her company.

What if she had a boy?  Would Wes let her name him Huckleberry?  Of course not.  She wasn’t going to get to name him anything.  But Huckleberry could be his secret name, just between the two of them, while she still had him.  When she remembered his slime-slick face and first-breath screams, she could think about her Huckleberry.  When she imagined him toddling across the kitchen floor, running onto the little league field, or walking across the high school stage in cap and gown, she could call him Huck.

The Killdeers rushing away from the surf caught her attention just then.  They looked as if they were afraid their little bird feet would get wet.  Cecelia didn’t care this morning.  Her green maternity pants were soaked to the knees.  She should have worn her dress again.  It didn’t matter.  The wet felt good.  It weighed her down as she walked along the beach.  The water was her anchor.  Wes would probably yell about the mess.  He yelled so much more now.  Most of the time, she couldn’t figure out why.  He used to be all sweet talk.

If he were here he couldn’t yell now.  The day was so beautiful.  The sky was as blue as her Papaw’s Irish eyes.  She wondered if Papaw and Momaw wondered what had happened to her.  The note she left that night said she was getting married but not where she was going or when she’d be back.  They were probably happy for her.  They didn’t know Wes, but she’d told them he was an officer.  In her small mill town, that meant something.  She could hear them in her head.  “Don’t worry none.  Celie be back fore we know it,” Momaw would be sayin’ to Pap.  “Don’t yall know it.  Bet that boy’s taken her north to meet his folks,” Papaw would reply and then flash a smile at her, so she’d feel better about it all.  How could Papaw be so happy when all he did was work all day in that nasty mill and come home too tired to even pick a tune on his guitar?  That town was a dirty place.  Momaw knew it even if Papaw didn’t.

Everything was so clean here.  The sea air rushing through her nose was fresh.  She wanted to open her mouth wide and swallow it all.

She wondered if the Killdeer had a nest somewhere nearby, if their dance was meant to distract her from finding their eggs.  None feigned a broken wing the way she had seen them do, but she probably wasn’t threatening enough or maybe just not close enough to bring on the full show.

A brown pelican landed on a pole a few yards away, a sliver fish in its peak – breakfast.  Cecelia was hungry.  She’d only had coffee before she headed out for her walk.  But it didn’t really matter today.

What had Wes said the last night he was at the beach house?  He’d brought groceries and a stack of old magazines.  She made spaghetti.  “It’ll all be over soon.”  That’s what he’d said.  She didn’t need magazines.  She had Mark or Sam rather.  She’d never known Mark Twain’s name had really been Sam.  What’s in a name anyway: Mark, Sam, Huck?  She felt she’d come to know him well enough to call him Sam.

As she looked up from the Killdeer, she noticed the sea oats dancing in the morning breeze.  They were supposed to be endangered.  If no one protects them, there might not be any more.  Without sea oats, the sand would wash away – no sand then no beach.  She was amazed how everything is connected to everything else.  Today the tall shoots looked like little brown boys having a game of freeze tag: stuck in one place till the wind touches them, instant unfreeze, and they are all free to run again.

She couldn’t tell how far she’d walked, but farther than most mornings, farther than ever before she suspected.  She didn’t remember that peach house.  The houses were so cute here – pink and blue, yellow and peach, like doll houses or the houses in the picture of the Swiss village above her mother’s bed.  She couldn’t remember much else from her mother’s house, but she would lay awake nights tracing the streets of that tiny village, wondering if life was happier in yellow houses.  Momaw and Papaw’s house was just dirty white, like all the puny, row houses on their street.  She’d spent only that one summer with her mother, the summer she’d turned twelve.  Her mother had called her “a handful” and sent her back on the Greyhound bus.  “Handful, my ass.  Celie never give me a minute’s trouble.  Unlike some other little girl I could name,” Momaw said to Pap, as they road back from the bus station.

Cecelia was a long way from home today and a long way from the beach house.  She’d not seen the pretty peach one before.  She would have remembered the swing on the porch. She’d better pay attention and not get too far to walk back.  At least the beach wasn’t like the woods.  You couldn’t get lost on the beach.  All you had to do was turn around.  You could wander in the woods for days and still never find the way out.

She remembered that day at her Granny’s house.  Granny was her Momaw’s momma.  A rabbit was munching the grass under the butterfly bush beside the back porch.  Cecelia startled him, and he ran into the woods behind the house.  She was seven and she had to follow him.  She soon lost track of the rabbit and realized she’d been walking in circles.  It couldn’t have been passed noon, but she would have guessed it was passed midnight, with no more light than what trickled through the trees.  Cecilia would probably still be there in the dark if Brutus hadn’t found her.  She dropped to her knees when she saw that big, black dog standing on the ridge.  She didn’t have to be strong any more.  He’d save her.  He walked her to the road on the other side of the woods, and Mr. Burns, Granny’s cross the street neighbor, happened by in his pickup truck. He carried them back to Granny’s house.

That wasn’t the only time Brutus had saved her.  She’d love him even more for the stormy nights he jumped on her bed, circled a few times and then settled at the foot.   He’d lay his snout across her leg so even in her sleep she’d have a reminder that he was there.  Thunder frightened her more than anything else on God’s green earth, but she was determined never to let anyone know it.  Brutus always kept her secrets.

She wished Brutus was walking with her today, but he had been gone almost ten years.  Cecelia had never gotten another pet.  She wasn’t sure she ever wanted one after Brutus.  It would be like replacing a brother.

What would she do now if she got too tired to walk back?  Stop at a beach house and ask strangers to borrow their phone?  She didn’t even have a number to call.  It was okay.  She wasn’t that far or even that tired yet.

She looked out at the aquamarine waves.  From where she stood, the sea never ended.  She hadn’t been in the water for a long time.  Baby Huck was swimming in her water.  She waded out a little ways into the surf.  The water was cold, but it felt good around her knees. It would probably feel even better around her waist or where her waist used to be anyway.  She didn’t really have one anymore.

The water was deeper and calmer a few yards out.  She lay back and floated.  Making snow angels in the sea, she watched the gulls directly over head.  She wondered if the birds were taking breakfast back to their babies in the nest.  Some birds chew and swallow their food and then vomit it back into the baby bird’s mouth.  Her Momaw told her stories of women chewing beans and spitting them back out to feed their babies, in the years before manufactured baby food or at least back in the hollers where there wasn’t much store-bought food.  That was before they’d left the farms for the mills.

Birds aren’t much stranger than people, she thought.  Cuckoo birds lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, so once the baby cuckoo hatches, the foster parents feed the cuckoo before their own babies.  The cuckoos are bigger and eat all the food up from the smaller birds who eventually starve.  Are those cuckoos any happier for the switch, she wondered?  Wes said everything was going to be alright, that Huck probably wouldn’t ever even know.  But Cecelia knew from experience.  Bastard babies were born with broken hearts.

A wave splashed her face and reminded her she was floating along the shore. Is this how Huck feels?  But it’s dark where Huck is.  She’ll have to try it after the sun goes down.  She determined to float there — surrounded by fluid — till after dark.  She was floating a way.  She could be the only woman on earth.

Cecelia may have fallen asleep.  She wasn’t sure, but a seagull’s cry startled her and she realized she couldn’t touch the sandy bottom.  When she looked to the shore, the peach house was tiny.  In the opposite direction, a boat sailed in the distance.   The Bloody Mary, called the tattooed side panel.  If she started screaming who would hear, the people on the Bloody Mary or the people in the tiny peach house?  Wes off on that Army base?  Her mother over in Atlanta?  She had wanted to scream for a long time now, but still didn’t.  What would it feel like if her lungs were filled with water?  Could she scream?

Maybe she could wave, but she thought better of that too.  She was just too tired and floating felt too good to stop.  She lay back once again, not willing to resist the current, determined to drift till dark.  Where would she be by then?  She couldn’t tell.  She decided she didn’t care.  They were too happy to change course now.

Leslie Harper Worthington is chair of the Department of English at Gainesville State College where she also teaches composition, literature, and creative writing and serves as advisor for The Chestatee Review, the college’s award-winning literary magazine.  She holds a Ph.D. from Auburn University with a concentration in Southern Literature and is the recipient of a Brittain Fellowship from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Quarry Farm Fellowship from the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.  Her short stories and poetry have been read at the Southern Women Writers Conference, The Southern Literary Festival, The Mildred Haun Conference, and several Gainesville State College events.  Her poems “She’s the One” and “Home without You” appeared in the “Pectoriloquy” section of CHEST: The Journal of American College Chest Physicians in summer 2011, and her book Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn will be released by McFarland Publishers in summer 2012.  Dr. Worthington lives with her children and grandchildren in Flowery Branch, Georgia in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

Read our interview with Leslie Harper Worthington conducted by Jessica Powers, Bastard Babies are Born with Broken Hearts.

The Empty Cradle

Photo by Kathy Leonard

The Empty Cradle

Kathy  Leonard says, “When I photograph, I do not consciously search out particular types of images, but I find that there is a surprising similarity in many of my photographs.  There is dark and light, great contrast, or “chiaroscuro” as the Italians call it.  I find this juxtaposition of light and shadow very appealing in black and white photography, especially when it serves to highlight the angles or curves of some object. These are the elements that drew me to photograph the wooden cradle. The natural light from the window cast dramatic shadows on the hand-carved cradle and I knew that the resulting image would be stark, simple, and beautiful.”

Kathy Leonard is a professor at Iowa State University.  She studied photography at the University of California, Davis, and at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she received a degree in Fine Arts with specialty in photography. Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines, websites, online journals, and in textbooks and have been exhibited in various venues in California, Nevada, and Iowa.

Limitations, Imitations, and Haiku as Form of Expansion: an Interview with Poet Stephanie Lenox

Poet Stephanie Lenox, headshot

Stephanie Lenox, Photo by Sabina Samiee, Oregon Arts Commission

In “Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts,” (published earlier here at The Fertile Source) the narrator speaks to her unborn child, “My fears feast on you / But even the leaves let go.” This beautiful line in particular seems to hone in on the way a mother’s brain has to rewire itself to accept the responsibility of loving someone we can lose at any moment. The rest of the poem also documents this process (which starts in utero). Can you talk about how the images came to you? And why you chose the form of haiku? How did the conditions of bedrest figure in to the psychology of the narrator?

I was inspired to start this haiku sequence after taking a workshop with Ce Rosenow, president of the Haiku Society of America. Her workshop reminded me that a haiku is so much more than simply a 5-7-5 syllabic form. Since haiku traditionally include images from nature, I wanted to do that in my sequence, but for the most part my imagery is confined to those things I could see from my bedroom window – telephone wires, a few treetops, the sky. I invited nature into my haiku through other images, but for the most part I aimed for images that reinforced the cramped, claustrophobic feel of pregnancy, especially a pregnancy spent on complete bedrest.

I started with haiku in part because motherhood and the preceding 70 days in bed was such a monumental experience – it completely rearranged me – that I wasn’t sure where to begin. So I started with five syllables, then seven more, and I slowly built and layered one image on top of another. (It was also a writing project I could chip away at between feedings, diapers, etc.) The formal restrictions of haiku helped focus me. I also discovered in the process that haiku, while appearing small, is a form of expansion. Without punctuation, it is intended to unfold and expand in the reader’s mind. I liken it to one of those toy capsules you drop into the bathtub that transform into a sponge dinosaur.

In “Last days of nursing,”  the metaphor of the magician strikes me as a clever way to point to the intermediary nature of motherhood—part God, part magician, yet so rooted in tangible and impossible acts, like weaning a child. I believe every mother who has had to wean her child will relate to this poem! Were there other metaphors you considered along the way? Poetry by any other writers you’ve seen covering this topic you’d like to share with us?

This poem is a direct response to the poem “The End of Nursing” in a beautiful book called Out of Refusal by Carter McKenzie. Her poem begins: “Interminable nibbler, attached fish, when / does this end?” My poem, in its last line, answers hers.

I felt so empowered to write about this topic after reading her poem that I practically stole her title and started writing my own version. I’m sure I considered a lot of metaphors along the way, but I settled on the extended use of the magician because magic is messy, or at least that’s the way I envision it. From the audience’s point of view, it’s all illusion, but for the magician and the assistant it’s a rehearsed performance, one that begins with awkward practices and risky errors and that eventually works its way toward mystery.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems inspired by the birth of your daughter. Can you give us an inside peek at the range of topics you’ll cover? (And let us know when it comes out so we can alert our readers and support your work.)

I have been fortunate to receive an individual artist grant from the Oregon Arts Commission in support of new work inspired by my daughter’s birth. My first book of poetry, Congress of Strange People, will be coming out from Airlie Press next fall. I’ve always been intrigued by bizarre characters and events, and my first book explores this in large part through the use of persona poems. But in my new work, the strangeness has come home with me. I find it in the middle of the night during a feeding. I find it in the ants crawling through my kitchen cupboards and across my newborn’s tongue. I find it in my dog whose severe separation anxiety caused her to consume baby bottle nipples and parts of my breast pump.

I’m also experimenting with imitations of other poets. Theodore Roethke has said that “Imitation, conscious imitation, is one of the great methods, perhaps the method of learning how to write.” I’m a perpetual student of poetry, so imitations are my way of tracing my poetic lineage through poems that have changed the way I think about what language can do. I like to think of my poems as “offsprings” of the originals.

Any mentors you’d like to share with us?

I’m a member of a poetry response group known as The Peregrines (named so because we meet twice a month at a different member’s house). They apply the gentle pressure I need to keep writing in spite of all the competing obligations. I’ve likewise been grateful for the mentorship of the editors at Airlie Press, the nonprofit poetry publishing collective that is publishing my first book.

Has your experience of motherhood changed your relationship to your writing or your editorial work?

Motherhood has made me more honest about my time: either I do it, or I don’t, no excuses. I’ve actually been more productive since my daughter was born than I was in the years before she arrived. I work during naps and by the good graces of babysitters. My daughter has a bedtime of 6:30 pm, which used to give me a lot of time to work. However, since I’m now expecting my second child, I no longer have the creative energy to write in the evenings.

I wish I’d realized how good I had it when my daughter would sleep in my lap as I compiled an issue of Blood Orange Review or read submissions. I miss the days I could read an entire book of poetry at 3 am while rocking my daughter back to sleep. Now that I have a toddler on my hands, there’s no working while she’s in my presence. But what I’ve learned most from motherhood is to constantly adapt to today’s challenge rather than forcing yesterday’s solution. 

Any programs for writing mothers you’ve found helpful or that you’d’ like to see developed?

The grant I received from the Oregon Arts Commission has been especially helpful for me as a writing mother. It’s paying for the babysitter right now as I answer these questions. Another thing that helps is finding other writers with young children. It’s extremely useful to share one’s frustrations and accomplishments as a writer while the babies roll around on the floor together.

As for more programs for writing mothers, I’m dreaming now, but I’d love to see more daylight poetry readings, ones with a separate room with childcare provided. I think one reason you see poetry audiences aging (at least in my corner of the world) is that young families face a lot of barriers to attending evening events. This has been the part of my literary life most impacted by motherhood. If I’m going to spring for a babysitter, I want it to be for my own writing or a date night with my husband.

Stephanie Lenox lives in Salem, Oregon, with her husband and daughter. Her chapbook, The Heart That Lies Outside the Body, was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2007. The work published here was written with the support of a 2010 Oregon Art Commission artist fellowship. She teaches poetry at Willamette University and edits the literary journal Blood Orange Review. For more information, please visit her website at

Birds and Egs

Fiction by Don Kunz

Wendy awoke in the master bedroom of the restored Victorian on Prospect Street.  She lay listening to the lovebirds shredding newspaper in their cage next to the bay window and her husband making breakfast in their downstairs kitchen.  She stared at the ceiling.  The new light of an August morning had streamed through the stained glass to cover the cracked plaster with sky-blue and blood-red streaks resembling a child’s finger painting.  She thought of a shiny white egg the size of a marble.  She thought of nesting.  At almost five months she was definitely showing.  Beneath her flannel nightgown Wendy’s stomach was no longer flat and hard from years of abdominal crunches and five-mile runs along Blackstone Boulevard on the east side of Providence.  She heard Bill breaking eggs into a ceramic bowl, whisking them with a fork, pouring them spattering into the cast iron skillet.  The skillet had belonged to Wendy’s mother who had died of colon cancer on Valentine’s Day.  She remembered her mother’s distended belly rising beneath the sheet of her hospital deathbed and imagined she would look like that herself before she delivered in December.  Wendy found it disturbing that on the surface life and death should look so much alike.  She wished her mother had lived long enough to share the mysteries of pregnancy and childbirth with her, especially because this would be a Christmas baby, a miracle.  Then, Wendy smelled freshly brewed coffee and felt the familiar first wave of morning sickness.

Bill dropped four slices of whole wheat into the toaster then turned back to stir their eggs in the skillet.  He sang the chorus of a top-forty tune he remembered from his younger years, “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on.”  After a miscarriage during the second month of Wendy’s first pregnancy, this had become their theme song.  Bill could almost picture this second fetus adrift in amniotic fluid trying to find a grip on the uterine wall with its newly formed hands.  If Sloopy could just hang on, then, what?  Bill would be a father for the first time at age sixty-one.  At a time when his colleagues would be looking forward to retirement, Bill would be heating formula and planning his schedule around day care.  He was still not certain how to feel about that.  But he was trying to stay positive.  From the beginning of fertility treatments he had told himself that becoming a father would make him young again.  Bill wanted to believe that at seventy-five he would have a dark tan, ropy muscles, and lungs like a Sherpa.  He tried to imagine playing one-on-one basketball in the driveway, making a fade away jump shot against his taller teenage son while his retired colleagues across town shuffled about in walkers, dithering over long-term care policies and bingo schedules in nursing homes.  Bill turned into the hallway, carrying two full plates toward the dining room.  He paused at the foot of the stairs.  “Breakfast,” he hollered.  “Eggs and toast.  Breakfast for Wendy and Sloopy.”  No answer.  From the bathroom at the top of the stairs came the sound of his wife retching.  Bill walked slowly into the dining room and set the plates on the table.

Wendy rested her forehead on the forward edge of the white porcelain toilet bowl, reached up and flushed.  “Coming,” she hollered.  “I’m coming, for Christ’s sake!”  She heaved herself up and reached for the Aquafresh on the pedestal sink.  The bristles on her toothbrush were splayed out like the legs of an old dog trying to stay upright.  Her voice tumbled down the stairs toward Bill.  “I’m not too sure about Sloopy.  I may have barfed him up.  I couldn’t bear to look.”

Christmas baby or not she thought as she brushed her teeth, no one could call her the Virgin Wendy anymore; that’s for sure.  At work, Joe Early had christened her with that nickname when they were dating, because she was holding out on him.  She glanced into the speckled mirror over the sink.  She was foaming at the mouth.  Rabid bitch she thought.  She remembered snapping and growling at poor Joe, formerly her would-be lover, now barely a colleague.  Joe Early, one of four senior partners at Robinson, Bender, Early & Touché, Attorneys at Law had spent four months after his third divorce trying to get into her pants.  Back then she was in her fifth year at the firm and had wondered if giving into sexual intimacy would be a quid pro quo for making partner in the firm.  So Wendy, who hadn’t been a virgin since she was seventeen, decided to keep their relationship platonic as a test.  A week after the vote which made her a partner and head of the firm’s workman’s compensation division, Wendy dumped Joe when he tried to grope her in the small kitchen off the second-floor conference room at the end of the hall.  Mooning about with unrequited love was unprofessional but, nevertheless, flattering; feeling her up at work was not.

Wendy took a gulp of tap water, grimaced at the taste of chlorine, thought again about buying a filter for the tap, and rinsed her mouth but did not swallow.  She recalled she had not been able to read anything but embarrassment in Joe’s face, like when he had received a Victoria’s Secret Catalog at work.  She was hoping for disappointment.  She would have preferred epic heart break.  But Joe just blushed briefly.  Then he reached past her, poured himself a coffee (no sugar) and turned away.  She had been tempted to ask if he knew anything about sexual harassment statutes but decided not to rub it in.  Three weeks later Wendy had tried to imagine what Joe would think about her having intercourse with an economist she had met through a dating service.  At first it had amazed her, but later Wendy figured she was overdue.  At age thirty-seven having committed all her energy to marathon training and a seventy-hour workweek at the law firm, she decided it was time to stop acting like a cloistered nun.  What could she have told Joe if he had asked why him and not me, especially when Bill was almost twenty years older than either of them?  Bill just smelled right?  Wendy believed in the science of pheromones.  Now she was pregnant at forty, trying to believe in miracles.

Bill ascended the stairs wearing a red T-shirt, khaki slacks, and a denim apron that read, “If you laid all the economists end to end, they still couldn’t reach a conclusion.”  He shoved both hands into his front pockets beneath the apron and stared at Wendy in the bathroom mirror, admiring her brown eyes, perfectly oval face, and short auburn curls.  Bill watched Wendy wipe her mouth with the green guest towel.  “You were just kidding about Sloopy, right?  Because I’ve got his breakfast ready.  He needs to eat to hang on.”

Wendy brushed her fingertips across the dark circles beneath her eyes as if to erase them.  She wondered when she would see the glow that younger women seemed to get when they were pregnant.  Since marrying Bill three years earlier, she had wondered if starting a family this late was an unrealistic prospect.  Now she tried to push doubt aside.  She told herself it was like hitting the wall at mile eighteen in a marathon when the body had used up all its glycogen; if she kept pushing, she could do it.  And so could her husband she thought; he was a tough, old bird who looked and acted younger than his years.   Bill’s reflection appeared beside hers in the mirror, a square chiseled face with scar tissue around the eyes.  Wendy spoke to his image.  “I’ve got to believe this one’s got a grip.  This baby’s a keeper.”

Bill bowed his head, rested his chin lightly on Wendy’s shoulder, and wrapped his arms around her.  He wanted to hold on more tightly but feared he might break something.  “It had better be.  I don’t think there are many more where he came from.”

Wendy rotated inside the circle of Bill’s arms and gave him a peck on the cheek.  “Thanks for fixing breakfast.”  She wrinkled her nose.  “Oh, God.  I think I’m going to be sick again.”  She pushed Bill away, put both hands on her knees, and leaned over the toilet.  Her hands turned into fists as if she could fight off the nausea.  “Morning sickness is supposed to go away by the third month.  It’s too late for this.”

“It’s probably the damned eggs,” Bill said.  I should have fixed oatmeal.”

Wendy straightened up.  “Yeah, probably just the eggs.  But I ought to be able to keep something as simple as an egg down.  Eggs are supposed to be good for you.”

“Why don’t you save a step, leave the toilet seat up just in case?”

“Don’t be a damned pessimist!” she snapped.   “I refuse to be sick any more.  I’m going to take a seat at the table, and I’m going to finish everything you put on my plate.”

Wendy waited for Bill to get out of her way.  But he reached out and placed both hands on her belly.  His knuckles were heavy, thick, and scarred.  Sloopy wasn’t kicking.  Wendy reached up to brush toast crumbs from Bill’s lips.


That evening Wendy and Bill lay in bed with their heads propped up on pillows and watched a rerun of “The Best of Johnny Carson.”  Wendy was nibbling on soda crackers to settle her stomach.  Beneath the sheet Bill’s feet framed the screen on the twenty-one inch Sony at the foot of the bed.  When he forced his toes together, Johnny disappeared; when he let them flop to the side, Johnny reappeared.  Now Johnny was wearing a black velvet turban and holding an envelope to his forehead; he was playing the Great Carnac, solver of riddles.  The routine reminded Bill of “Jeopardy,” but every answer was a joke.  Johnny closed his eyes, furrowed his brow, and let the suspense build.  “Sis boom bah,” he proclaimed.  Then Johnny tore the end from the envelope and blew into it.  The envelope bellied out, Johnny extracted a piece of paper, unfolded it and read:  “What is the sound of a sheep exploding?”

Seated on the sofa to Johnny’s right, Ed McMahon burst into gales of hearty laughter.  “Yes, oh Great Carnac, The Magnificent.”

Bill brought his toes together and erased Johnny.  “Looks like we didn’t miss much the first time around.  If this is the best of Carson, I wouldn’t want to see the worst.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Wendy said, “maybe that would be more entertaining.  You know, less scripted, more spontaneous.”

Bill moved his feet apart.  Johnny popped up on the screen again.  Bill wondered if that was true about being funny.  He thought it was true about sex.  Now that sex was a regular part of his life, he was relieved and grateful.  But it seemed less exciting.  He remembered the thrill of picking up chicks in bars and bookstores down city when he was fresh out of Providence College with a graduate degree in economics.  It had helped that he looked like a body builder, that he had trained in gyms from the age of thirteen, and that at seventeen he had become New England Welter-Weight Champion in the Golden Gloves.  Whenever some flighty woman in a bar reached up to trace the scar tissue beneath his left eye or paused to focus on his twice broken nose or asked about the callous on his knuckles, Bill knew he had her.  If he wanted her.  But after hitting forty-five, suddenly all the knockout women close to his age were taken.  On weekends he saw them in minivans driving their kids to the Roger Williams’ Park Zoo or swimming lessons at the Barrington Y.  By the time he was fifty, Bill had gotten used to going a year or more without getting lucky.  Eventually, he found the women in bars divided into two types:  Young and giggly or old and desperate.  They were either caught up in trivial details of undergraduate work or seething with anger about divorces.  They all were obsessive about gaining weight.  Inviting them out to dinner was like asking them to step into the ring.

In hindsight Bill knew his sexual exploits had been a crazy game, the worst-case scenario being AIDS.  Meanwhile the sexual climate had changed.  Pretending to love and to be loved by a stranger no longer seemed possible.  When he had stopped scoring regularly, he told himself that he was being prudent.  The newspapers were filled with cautionary tales:  Sexual harassment law suits filed against CEOs; college administrations issuing strict guidelines governing relations between students and faculty; a picture in the Providence Journal of the Rhode Island Supreme Court’s Chief Justice zipping up his pants while emerging from a liaison with a prostitute at Johnston motel.  At First Federal Trust, where Bill worked, sexual harassment training became mandatory, and officiously scripted dialog replaced flirting.   Being a lapsed New England Catholic, Bill diagnosed these symptoms as resurgent Puritanism.  Once again the culture seemed determined to take the fun out of sex by handing out scarlet “A’s, but this time around it would be to men for exploiting women in a rigged economy.  So, at fifty five, William Williams, now Chief Economist at First Federal with offices throughout New England, began to talk openly of looking for a wife and perhaps starting a family.  Bill’s male colleagues, who had been entertained by his earlier sexual exploits, were amused by his transformation.  Privately they began to refer to him as Bill Squared.

Bill found a wife two years later through a dating service called ForPlay, which operated out of a former fitness club and karate studio on Broadway.  It catered to athletes, arranging dates around workouts and sports—skiing, tennis, swimming, even swing dancing. This appealed to Bill.  As a boxer, he had done a lot of roadwork and weight training.  To stay youthful looking he had continued working out long after he stopped fighting.  So, when Bill read a feature article on dating services in the Providence Sunday Journal, he canceled his health club membership at Gold’s Gym on Bald Hill Road and signed up with ForPlay.  He liked their policy of no embarrassing interviews (“Well, after graduate school at NYU…”) or videotapes (“Hi—SMILE—my name is_______”) or newspaper ads (“SDWM loves walking on the beach, candlelit dinners, and stimulating conversation”).  ForPlay was just a chance to find a healthy mate.  In that way Bill met Wendy on a fun run, scrambling along Blackstone Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon in late April, passing five younger men to catch up to her because he liked what he saw from behind.  He was pleased she was a marathoner.  He wanted a woman who could go the distance.  They began to work out together—five mile runs and resistance training.  By the following January they were married.  She was thirty-seven and wanted children before it was too late.  Bill was fifty-eight and wanted to give Wendy anything that would make her love him.  Now at sixty-one he was trying to become a father.  And now Johnny Carson was razzing Doc Severson about his sportscoat looking like something a pimp would wear to an Easter egg hunt.  Johnny was saying “Where’s the hat with the Peacock feather?  What’s up, Doc?”  Ed McMahon was hysterical.  He cackled and hooted.  His head snapped back, then slumped between his knees as he fought to control his joy.  Finally Ed straightened up, wiped tears from his eyes and cut to a commercial for Tidy Bowl.

“Uh oh,” Wendy said.  “I’m bleeding.”


Wendy closed her eyes, leaned back in the passenger seat of their Saab station wagon, and pressed a supersize maxipad between her legs.  Bill drove through rain slick streets and swiped at the foggy windshield with a white towel.  The defroster had died several Sundays ago on their way to the United Church of Christ on Angell, and, although the car was still under warranty, they hadn’t found the time to get it to the dealer’s in Pawtucket yet.  Down Prospect and up Waterman there was almost no traffic.  But as Bill passed Hope, he realized that he was going the wrong direction from habit.  Accustomed to driving Wendy to the Ob-Gyn suite in Wayland Square for fertility treatments and monthly checkups, he had driven her away from the hospital not toward it.   There was no traffic, so he ran the light at Brooke, doubling back toward Hope, then Wickendon and the Point Street Bridge.  He checked his rearview mirror and listened for sirens.  The night was very dark.  Rain sluiced in the gutters and swept twigs and scraps of newspaper into storm sewers.  A Basset Hound frowned wrinkles as it lapped water from a puddle on the broken sidewalk under a streetlight.  The headlights cast small pale yellow pools on the pavement.  They reminded Bill of broken egg yolks.  As he passed beneath the freeway and approached Dudley, he could see the sickly green mercury vapor lights that marked the entrance to Women and Infant’s Hospital.  They made Bill want to vomit.  Hang on, Sloopy, Bill thought.  Hang on. 

The car felt like a cinderblock on wheels; he wondered if he was losing the steering as well as the defroster; Bill wrestled it into the space in front of the glass double doors marked EMERGENCY ROOM.  The asphalt was crosshatched with yellow lines, and a red neon sign read AMBULANCE ONLY.  Bill put on his hazard lights and leaned on the horn until he could see a blur of white coats and stethoscopes appear through the wavy path of the windshield wipers.  The Emergency Room doors burst open, and the water cascading off the roof broke all around them as EMTs pulled Wendy from the car, put her on a gurney, and wheeled her into the hospital with a blood pressure cuff already inflating around her left arm and Wendy holding up the blood soaked pad with her right hand and an EMT pressing Wendy’s hand back down against her crotch and hollering for her to just keep the pressure right on it.

Bill lowered his head to the steering wheel.  The windshield wipers thumped, thumped, thumped like an endless succession of barred doors closing.  Even with his eyes shut the sign’s red glow colored his thoughts.  Without this baby to keep him young, how could Wendy still love him?  He thought, who am I kidding?   I must have been dreaming!  For the first time he could picture himself alone, toothless, hooked up to an IV drip, lying in a nursing home like the one where he had visited his father when the old man was dying of heart trouble.  And like a split screen in a movie, he could see Wendy, seemingly ageless, standing in a navy blue power suit offering her summation to a jury.  This image dissolved into one of their two lovebirds, Anna and Fritz, stretching their clipped wings and singing to the mirror in their cage.  Tonight he knew Anna was sitting on the small white marble that he and Wendy had substituted for the real egg, which they had destroyed after reading about the mortality rate of lovebird chicks in captivity.  Bill imagined Anna and Fritz together now wrapped in silence and darkness by the night curtain.  Then his throat tightened and his eyes watered.  Bill shifted into reverse, backed out of the restricted area, and hunted for a place where he could park the Saab.


The voice came from behind the brilliant white light above her.  “Rate your pain on a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst pain you ever had.”

Wendy lay swaddled in a gray blanket on the sterile examination table inside the emergency-room cubicle.  Her feet were in stirrups, and a doctor was probing between her legs.  “Oh.  Two.  I think.  You know.  Like cramps, maybe.”

“When did the bleeding start?

“About twenty minutes ago.  We were watching Johnny Carson.  I felt this wetness between my legs.”

“Did you do anything strenuous today?  Lift anything?”

“No, I’ve cut way back on my running.  I stretched a little.  My husband and I had sex this morning after breakfast.  You think that could trigger it?”

“Did intercourse hurt?”

“No.  To tell you the truth, it felt terrific.  Better than usual.

“Good.  Just what Mother Nature intended.  That way, you’ll probably do it again.  If sexual activity isn’t painful, and it’s not too . . .ah . . . . athletic, it can actually be beneficial up until about the eighth month.  It usually keeps the parents happy, and if they’re happy. . .”

Wendy shifted on the examination table, recoiling from the pressure of the cold instruments against her pelvis.  The sanitary paper crinkled under her.  Her voice was suddenly husky.  “I lost the first one.  I don’t want to lose this one.”  She cleared her throat.  “I gave up biking.  And I’ll give up running altogether if I have to.  Just tell me.  I mean, I’ve cut back to six miles a week anyway, you know, like three two-mile runs?  And I swim laps when I can get to the pool at the Y.”

The doctor slipped Wendy’s feet from the stirrups and set them down gently.  She pulled Wendy’s green hospital Johnny down.  “It’s better to stay active if you can.  But walk, don’t run.  Swimming’s okay.  Most women know not to overdo.  However, the bleeding is a concern.  It isn’t just spotting.  On the other hand, it’s just about stopped now.”  The doctor turned off the examination light, and pulled her mask off.  “Some bleeding during early stage pregnancy is not uncommon.  But you’re, what now?  Four months?  Five?”

Wendy tried to blink away the dark spot in her eyes left by the examination light.  She could barely read the physician’s face, just making out a woman of about fifty in green scrubs, short blond hair protruding beneath a paper cap, no makeup.  “Almost five.”

The doctor nodded.  “Yeah, okay.  So, I want an ultrasound.  It won’t hurt anything, and it might tell us something.”

Wendy turned her head to follow the doctor as she edged around the foot of the examination table and held out a hand to help her sit up.  Wendy felt lightheaded.  “I’m not sure I want to know.”

Abruptly, the doctor crossed the cubicle, picked up a second blanket, returned, and draped it around Wendy’s shoulders.  “It’s always better to know.  That’s the only way we can help you have a healthy baby.  I think you’d be surprised how much the medical profession does know.  We’ve got so many options now.”  She glanced again at Wendy’s chart.  “Anyway, I’ll make sure this episode gets into your file so you can go over it with your regular Ob-Gyn, who is Dr. . . . ah . . .oh, looks you’ve got a whole team working on this.  A year and a half of fertility treatments with Wayland Gynecological Associates.  You’re in good hands.  Those guys have childbearing down to a science.”

“We’ll I’m forty, and I guess science got me this far.  But it seems more like a miracle.”

The doctor took a pen from her breast pocket and began writing on the patient chart.  She glanced up.  “Yeah.  We see those, too.  Now let’s get that ultrasound.”


Bill punched in the security code, shutting off the alarm system in their Prospect Street home.  He glanced at the darkened stairwell leading up to the master bedroom as he helped Wendy out of her wet raincoat.  He hung it up with his own double-breasted trench coat in the hall closet and shut the door.  He threw the keys down on the dining room table, pulled out an end chair, and collapsed into it.  “I’m beat,” he sighed.  “And I wasn’t even the one doing the bleeding.”

Wendy slipped up behind Bill and placed a large envelope on the table.  Then she bent and put her arms around his neck.  She kissed him on the ear.  “Oh, I don’t know.  You looked pretty white in the face.”  She straightened up and massaged his neck with both hands, digging her fingers in deep like a boxer’s corner man loosening him up for the next round.  His muscles were rigid.  Wendy sighed.  “You know what?”

Bill tipped his head back against Wendy’s belly, hoping to feel movement.  Instead he felt the rising and falling of her breath on the top of his head.  He wondered if he was getting a little bald.  The need to feel his son had become an ache too profound to be massaged away.  It made him weak.  He thought, give me a poke, kid.  Give me a kick in the head.  Your old man is out here waiting.  Finally, Bill grunted, “No, what?”

“I’m starving.  I wish Johnny Rockets up on Thayer Street were open.  I’d get a deluxe hamburger with lots of onions, French fries, a frosty chocolate malt.”

“Yeah, but it’s closed.  It’s, what?”  Bill looked at his Swiss Army watch; there was a Red Cross embossed beneath the numbers.  “A little after midnight.  Nothing’s open.  Nothing but emergency rooms and bars.”  He turned and looked up at Wendy.  “Is this an emergency?  I could pop some corn.”

“That sounds good.  Pop the good stuff, the Orville whatshisface.  The kind where all the kernels pop.  You know, no old maids.”

Bill heaved himself up and took Wendy’s hands in his.  He pushed fatigue aside, forcing himself to speak.  “There are always going to be a few lonely old maids,” he said.  “But you’re not going to be one of them.  I won’t let that happen.”

Wendy stood on her tiptoes and pressed her forehead against Bill’s.  She thought of a lovebird staring at its own reflection in a mirror.  “I know,” she said.  “But it’s not entirely up to you.  I don’t care how tough you are.  That’s too big a responsibility for anybody.  We can’t control everything.”

“So what do we do?”

“We hope.”

“What if we lose this one, too?”

“Cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“It might be too late for me.”

“It might be too late for both of us.”

“So what do we do?”

“What we can.  Let’s look at it one more time.”

Bill let go of Wendy, then, turned toward the table, and slid the grainy black and white image from its beige envelope as if he were the one giving birth.  There it was on the table.  Together they stood, heads bowed, staring at the 8 1/2 X 11 Polaroid enlargement of the ultrasound monitor.  It seemed like a miracle, this projecting sound through flesh and blood to create a shadowy image of more flesh and blood.  There was Sloopy, one hand clutching his umbilical cord, the other raised as if waving to his parents.  Bill’s voice was a hoarse whisper.  “I don’t know if he’s waving hello or goodbye.”

Wendy ran an index finger over the image of her son’s upraised hand, then turned to Bill.  “Damnit, don’t!  Don’t you dare do that to us!”  She paused, fighting for control.  “We’ve got to believe it’s hello.  If you love me, give me that much.”

Bill placed his hand on top of hers.  “Jesus, Wendy, it’s all about probabilities!  When I look at the numbers, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.”  He squeezed his wife’s hand.  “I do love you.  I love you no matter what.”

Wendy swallowed.  Her voice was hoarse.  “This is family were talking about now, not some abstraction.  This is as personal as it can get.  Both of us have got to believe we’re going to be parents.  Both, okay?  All I’ve seen of our son is this crummy looking Polaroid, and I already love him more than I’ve ever loved anything.”

Bill raised Wendy’s fist, unclenched it, and kissed the palm.  “Me, too.  I think we have to show him.  Let’s give him a sign.”  Slowly Bill went down on one knee at Wendy’s feet, like a boxer knocked halfway to the canvas and waiting for the count.  He began to hum “Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy, Hang on,” resting his face against her belly so that their son might hear.  Wendy joined in on the second chorus, singing the lyrics softly.  Over the sound of their voices they could hear the lovebirds in the darkness hanging over them.  Anna shredding more newspaper for the nest and Fritz pecking against the bars.

Don Kunz taught literature, creative writing, and film studies at the University of Rhode Island for 36 years.  His essays, poems, and short stories have appeared in over sixty literary journals.  Don has retired to Bend, Oregon, where he writes fiction and poetry, volunteers, studies Spanish, and is learning to play the Native American Flute.

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