Archive for the 'pregnancy' Category

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Two Poems by Stephanie Lenox: Confinement and Last Days of Nursing

Confinement: A Haiku Sequence in Ten Parts

While pregnant with my daughter, I was hospitalized for several weeks then prescribed complete bedrest at home to prevent pre-term delivery. I spent ten weeks in bed.

Fetal monitor—
Pebbles dropped down a dark well
Your slight heart’s beating

My fears feast on you
But even the leaves let go
Tiny Apple Core

All autumn confined
Don’t speak to me of seasons
This leaf pile smolders

An ant traverses
The wilderness of my bed—
Will it ever end?

Counting your hiccups
This parade of numbers
A game I must play

Frost on the window
My incompetent cervix
Between us this veil

On the ultrasound
A hill covered in fresh snow
You’ve turned your back to me

The still frozen pond
One tenacious goldfish roots
In the muddy bed

Wires segment the sky
Between them I write your name—
I’ll do anything

Heavy with questions
I roll over like the day
Somehow we go on

Last Days of Nursing

Like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, the milk came,
conjured by your hungry mouth.

My abracadabra—your mewling cries—my presto chango.
Behind the curtain I waited and waited for your call.

There were days I felt the handcuffs bite my wrists,
days I felt you determined to saw me in half.

Vanishing is only half the act. We cast our spells on each other.
You, my bright fat coin plucked from behind an ear.

O sleight-of-hand, how do we now perform
this gentle switch-a-roo? Think of the knotted handkerchiefs,

that bright cord pulled again and again from
the master’s sleeve—my dear astonished one, it never ends.

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 www.stephanielenox.com.

Read our interview with Stephanie Lenox: Limitations, Imitations and Haiku as Form of Expansion

Pregnant in a Barren Landscape: Art, Control, and Premature Ovarian Failure with Artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

headshot, with framed butterflies, of artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

Artist Elizabeth Sobkiw

In your linoleum cut monoprint, “Morning Sickness,” I was attracted to the haunting x-ray image of the pregnant skeleton. What a concept—pregnant skeleton—an intense duality (life-death) to capture; can you talk to us about how you arrived at the image? How you chose your medium?

This piece was for an assignment in my graduate printmaking class. I have always been inspired to do images that examined the body and pregnancy. When I was working on sketches, I wanted to explore some striking themes, particularly my fears and sadness surrounding pregnancy and fertility. The woman is pregnant in a barren landscape. This barren landscape swirls about the pregnant woman creating a sickness. The woman’s skeleton is revealed like an x-ray, as opposed to a sonogram. These contrasts interest me.

Your web page opens with the wonderful quote: “Art is one thing that can go on mattering once it has stopped hurting (Elizabeth Bowen).” Can you talk about the context of this quote for you? And any artwork in your life you have found to resonate with your internal themes?

Art is a therapeutic endeavor for me. Infertility has had such a complex and profound effect on my life. Each piece I create is a reflection of what I have been through as a young girl and woman living with POF. Many pieces are a release, getting my emotions, particularly pain and confusion, out. Once a work is complete, I feel I have either climbed over a mountain or a molehill, and am able to reflect back having learned something.

Elizabeth Bowen’s quote spoke so well to me because it explains why many other artists create. Art tells a story of universal themes that can always live on, even after the artist is gone.

In your cover letter, you shared with us that since the age of 16 you were diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure or Primary Ovarian Insufficiency. How has that diagnosis informed your artwork?

When I began studying to become a fine arts teacher, all of my work reflected living with POF (or POI). In fact, I decided to go to graduate school as my condition was becoming the forefront of my life again. I had begun dating someone (presently my husband), attending a support group in New York City, traveling to my first POF conference, and deciding to be a part of a study at the National Institute of Health. As a teenager and undergrad, dealing POF was an afterthought, particularly tied to denial. Starting a new chapter with graduate school and meeting my husband changed everything.

A dream of mine is to have an exhibition that showcases the work of women who have been affected by infertility. As a young woman diagnosed at the age of sixteen, I have often felt alone in my diagnosis. Infertility is something few want to talk about, certainly when it affects women at a young age. My hope with having an exhibition someday will be to shed light on infertility and women’s reproductive health. One of the worst parts of having a medical condition like POF is feeling you had no control over what happened. Creating my art allows me to take some of that control back. Someday, I hope to come together with other women who have felt a similar struggle. By showcasing each other’s art, hopefully we can all gain back a sense of control over our infertility and feel united in the search for understanding.

Both the greens and blues of “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter” present a soothing backdrop for the image of pregnant body; can you talk to us about the variations—and again, the presence of x-ray energy with the black pelvic bone, white spine highlights. Where did each variation take you? And can you talk about how you decided which image/s to add to each variation?

The process I used to create each of these pieces is called monoprinting. It allows for a lot a room to experiment with how the ink is manipulated. The purple and green colors are a personal preference, and I created the silhouette by wiping the ink away from certain areas. Every piece begins with an initial sketch, which is then transferred onto plexi-glass. These images were inspired by the sculpture “According to Light and Gravity.” I wanted to examine the “flesh and bones” of the body, and found that the pelvic bones mimicked a butterfly shape. Inspired by an older work of mine, I stitched and inked butterflies into the corner of each piece.

Your plaster work, “According to Light and Gravity,” with its rib and spine indentations, seems to echo the butterfly theme in “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter.” Can you talk about the process of making this work? What do you find satisfying about working with plaster vs. linoleum cuts vs. monotypes?

Carving plaster was an extraordinary experience for me. Most art that we create from the time we are handed a crayon is all about creating an image that is flat or two-dimensional. The first time I worked with plaster, the result was not as aesthetically pleasing to say the least. I treated the surface as though it was two-dimensional. Whereas this time, I was able to understand more about the plaster and how to work with it. Taking pieces of plaster away to reveal the smooth contours and graceful lines of “According to Light and Gravity” took me so much farther from where I had began. This piece was a catalyst for many pieces that I have made since then, including the monotypes “Water Birth” and “Feel the Flutter.”

Every piece of art that I create challenges me in a different way. As a teacher, this is important to recognize. Using new mediums, challenging myself, and seeing how my art evolves is always inspiring and exciting.

Any special projects you are working on in the art classes you teach? (Any desire to talk about your life as a teacher?)

I am currently in the process of obtaining a full time art teaching position.

What are you currently working on?

Recently, I have been working on portrait drawings. These skills are important to perfect in order to become a better artist in other areas. I love working with pencil. It is a completely honest and “no frills” approach to create art.

Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams (www.elizandra.com) is currently an art teacher in Montclair, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Matthew. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Studies in 2007, and completed her Masters degree in Art Education in 2011. She is passionate about art, travel, good food, and loves spending time with family and friends.

Light and Gravity: A Sampler of Birth Images by Elizabeth Sobkiw

linoleum cut monoprint pregnant skeleton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Blue backdrop pregnant body in white with black pelvic bone

 
 
 
 
 
 

Green backdrop pregnant body white purple butterflies and black pelvic bone

 






Detail purple butterflies and spine pregnant body on green backdrop







pregnant body, white plaster, spine and ribs like butterfly




Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams (www.elizandra.com) is currently an art teacher in Montclair, New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, Matthew. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Studies in 2007, and completed her Masters degree in Art Education in 2011. She is passionate about art, travel, good food, and loves spending time with family and friends.

Read our interview with Elizabeth Sobkiw-Williams conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz:  Pregnant in a Barren Landscape: Art, Control, and Premature Ovarian Failure.

Referential

 An essay by Mike Freeman

“It’s beautiful.”

 Four months pregnant, my partner Karen sat in the bow, the canoe gliding unfretfully as I took an occasional stroke.  She’d barely whispered, and didn’t specify her mark.  There wasn’t one outside the estuary itself.  I’d nearly forgotten that, what nature can do, take the air out of you for no other reason  beyond its own depths.  Across the marsh, the backloader’s long, hydraulic arm craned waste about the landfill, the joints squealing where they needed oil, and closer to us a cluster of Canada Geese murmured unalarmed from some vantage in the grass.  Far above, an osprey traced the swamp’s southern arm, while the post-rushhour traffic hummed along the interstate, the distant vehicles scarcely visible between a lattice of feral grape draped from a pair of hickories to our right, their half-turned leaves rotating the light of the late September sun.

It’s jumpable, Pine Creek, trickling beneath the highway, then bleeding into Long Island Sound on the Connecticut side.  Since the glaciers’ retreat, tides have routed a narrow canal around a treeless island, a half-mile square.  It’s unfloatable at low water, and Karen and I had been lucky, getting off the train from Grand Central then making the mile walk to my father’s, where we launched the canoe as the water crested, pushing it through the marsh grass and bobbing bottles and tattered Styrofoam.  After ten years in Southeast Alaska, I’d moved back a few months before, to Queens, and the canoe below and fragrant assertions of high-slack unbound skeins of fond memories, all drenched by hundreds of square miles where glacial mountains meet boreal rainforest meets littoral fecundity meets the Pacific, scarcely a trace charactered by human hands.

My father revels in Pine Creek.  Hemmed in by ocean to the south, a dump to the west, the interstate to the east, and the concentrate of beach houses to the north – including his own – the scant acreage provides his only access to the world he adores.  While out west I’d listen to his beleaguered recitations of the region’s waning life – scarcely a Baltimore oriole this season; haven’t heard a wood thrush in years; not a brown thrasher to be seen.  As a younger man these birds had been in relative abundance, but gradually fell away, he’d said, the way daylight dissipates from solstice to solstice.  These laments, though, were countered by other news, like an indigo bunting, its inky delight harrying a neighbor’s hedge, or the plaintive declination of an oven bird, put forth from the wild rose banking the creek across the way.  Coyotes, too, seemingly everywhere again, hunt the estuary for whitetail fawns and residual mayonnaise, and skunks fuss about his tiny lawn each night, sniffing recycling bins, digging for grubs.  His enthusiasm, then, while hobbled, is hardly repressible.

Karen’s back rose and fell, each salted breath feeding the newfound life burdening her womb.  I dipped the paddle for a lazy stroke, mulling the ambivalence wrought by our developing daughter.  What sort of world do we bequeath?  Doubtless a diminished one, I thought, watching Karen’s sight line trace an undulant tern, and perilous too, feeling foolish in the same breath.  These same questions vexed Adam and Eve, I imagined, or at least their secular counterparts.  Drifting amidst the clamp of macadam and diesel fume, though, air traffic and municipal waste, this tatter of swamp seemed the final thread of that prelapsarian vim.  The setting, then, deemed the inquiry pertinent.  I slipped the paddle in and drew it forward, my pregnant partner and I floating above the occluded water.

A quarter-mile off, a cloud of starlings materialized from the sedge beneath the dump berm.  They banked in concert, then again, and once more on approach before littering the grape tresses with anxious, iridescent forms.  Their manic chatter reigned down upon several mallards and a lone black duck, who fed amidst the high-bank grasses the tide afforded.  When our daughter turned our age we’d be eighty.  Forty years.  What rift, then, between our own baselines?  Birds with whom my father reared were scarcely known to me, but there was also a federal raptor bounty, and he marvels at the hawk life he now sees.  A moose was hit and killed not far from here the previous summer, and black bears, too, down from the north, have begun re-colonizing, like palmers to neglected shrines.  To Karen, Pine Creek is a refuge, where nature permeates you unencumbered.  To me, it’s an oversight, a tainted vestige.  After months within urban confines, however, that stance had weakened.  Terra firma, terra incognita – no two perspectives tread the same patch of land, even within a single mind, and how forty years’ of such revolutions would resolve remained a mystery.

While the past and future may inform the present, though, they never knock us out of it for long.  Where the marsh opens to sound, a pair of jet-skiers carved circles in the flooded delta, but Karen noticed something closer – dozens of needly fish broaching the marble of expulsed motor oils and gentle slack water.  Juvenile blue fish – or snappers – must have been frenzied below them, and I vaguely recalled their gray, brainy flesh, so different than a salmon’s.  We passed a black-crowned night heron, waiting out the tide in the island’s reeds.  Once the water had flushed away it would move to the flats, to raid the fiddler crabs come up from the mud.  Passing the last houses to our left, I looked up.

I hadn’t seen an oriole’s nest for ten years or more, but its bulbous, hang-drop form couldn’t be mistaken.  We slid beneath, and Karen asked what it was.  My naturalist’s love is governed by an amateur’s ken, and I didn’t know whether it was a Baltimore’s or orchard oriole’s, and said so.  It dangled from a cherry branch, while a moth dithered about the grassy stitchwork.  Two months’ abandoned, the delicate weave remained stout.  Not long ago birthy hatchlings peered from the hole that I now glided under, to get a glimpse of their newborn world.  I craned my neck as far as it would go, then righted myself.  Karen trailed a finger in the water, looking ahead where an amalgam of gulls lifted and lit as the backloader allowed, falling upon our remains.  The ocean, as it does, fell out of favor with the moon, and I steadied the canoe in its first subtle tug, saying, “It is beautiful.  Isn’t it?”

           

Mike Freeman lives in Newport, RI, with his wife and two daughters.  In September, 2011, the State University of New York (SUNY) Press will release his nonfiction book Drifting: Two Weeks on the Hudson, centered on a canoe trip down the Hudson River while reflecting on Recession-era America and the delicate frictions transforming its culture.

Read our interview with Mike Freeman conducted by Jessica Powers, Nature Writing, Procreation and The Human Condition: An Interview with Mike Freeman.

Fertile Variations: The Pregnant Body with Photographer Robyn Beattie

pregnant body, floral shadows
Fertile 1

pregnant body, many floral shadows

Fertile 2

 

pregnant body, octagonal tile pattern

Fertile 3

 

pregnant body, eggplant and gold hues

Fertile 4

 

 

 

 

 

In your artist’s statement (read in full here ), you state, “Most of my photographs reflect my fascination with the mysterious and with nature’s processes: the magic of seeds, birth and metamorphosis; the beauty in stain, death and decay. I am drawn to places like forgotten alleyways, dark cracks, holes in the road, and abandoned buildings. I look for shapes in the ashes of a fireplace, rusty metal, or broken glass. Many of my pieces are macro, small portions of something, rather than the whole item.” Many of your photographs focus on inanimate objects; so how do you go about photographing a pregnant woman? What is different about that process for you?

 When I photograph inanimate objects, I am often so close that I cannot see any of the surroundings or the background. With people, that is nearly impossible. I like working with fabrics as a background when photographing people, often using solid colors rather than patterns. The attributes of fabric that I like are the softness, the organic folds, the lack of straight edges.

Another factor that comes into play is the person’s face, their personality, and sometimes their modesty. So overall, I find it more challenging.

 How do you navigate the intimacy and privacy of your photo sessions with a pregnant woman?

 I think a lot of women and couples like the idea of being photographed outdoors, though it often involves less comfort, more vulnerability and lack of privacy. They often find the intimacy of their own home or yard, the comfort of a bed or couch, more relaxing. In contrast however, I once photographed a pregnant woman in a grove of bamboo, and the juxtaposition of the round belly with the upright bamboo stalks was very interesting.

 Does your interest in pregnancy photos extend beyond those couples who approach you for a session (do you foresee exploring other types of pregnancy photos—where would you see your work growing/changing in this area)?

 I am fascinated with the miracle of birth, knowing that it all starts with two tiny entities, so small they can only be seen through a microscope, finding each other, somehow, in the vastness of a womb. I have read that there is a flash of light when they meet, and bond. Fantastic, for me that is the miracle of life.

 The first and second photographs here, rich with patterns delicately shadowing the human form, are direct—only thinly veiled, so to speak. What did you discover in adapting the third and fourth photographs—the octagonal “tile” patterned version, as well as the more eggplant iridescent version?

 I have always loved the shadows that lace makes, and pairing that with the gorgeous pregnant body seems like a perfect match. The original photo that became what you so eloquently called “eggplant iridescent” is one of my favorite pregnancy photos. The simplicity of the image speaks volumes to me, and shows so unabashedly the beauty of a pregnant woman. It was fun to play in Photoshop, taking a piece that may have been too private/personal in its original form, yet wonderful in composition, and turn it into something more painterly.

 Who do you consider your photography mentors, or do you wish to discuss work you are inspired by?

 I did not have any photography mentors, but have always appreciated those whose work strove to simplify, to show the deep, core aspects of an experience. I have long been a fan of black and white photography, and am especially drawn to the work of Tina Modotti, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and Burton Pritzker, to name a few.

Robyn Beattie, Artist Statement:

I was born to bohemian parents of the San Francisco Beat era. Our family moved to the redwoods west of Healdsburg when I was five years old, and the dappled shadows of these giant trees was my home into adulthood. My father, Paul Beattie, was a recognized Abstract Expressionist. He often drew, sculpted, and painted for 16 hours a day, creating images that reflected his knowledge of astronomy and physics. His artworks continue to influence the way I see.

close up, Robyn Beattie's eye
Robyn Beattie

Other influences on my character include climbing Denali (aka Mt. McKinley), the highest mountain in North America; working as a naturalist guide in Costa Rica, where I also painted a 90-foot mural of the rain forest; and working as an archaeologist.

Most of my photographs reflect my fascination with the mysterious and with nature’s processes: the magic of seeds, birth and metamorphosis; the beauty in stain, death and decay. I am drawn to places like forgotten alleyways, dark cracks, holes in the road, and abandoned buildings. I look for shapes in the ashes of a fireplace, rusty metal, or broken glass. Many of my pieces are macro, small portions of something, rather than the whole item. Time seems to stand still when I am photographing. I often feel lost, absorbed in the moment, steeped in the awe I experience as I explore with my camera.

To view more of Robyn’s work, see her website: www.robynbeattie.com.

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The Mystery and The Mess: Motherlines and Motherless Women with Poet Andrea O’Brien

photo of poet Andrea O'Brien

Poet Andrea O'Brien

 

In “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” (published earlier on The Fertile Souce here) the speaker in the poem states: I have too much religion / and not enough God in me / to make a right decision regarding carrying a child to term and raising a child. I love how this line highlights that religion (when one is young) might fill one with a sense of  what is “right” while the possibility of bringing a child into the world (when one begins to mature and face adulthood) might call for a more visceral, internal prompting from the God of one’s body. Can you talk to us about this dilemma?

It seems to me we are taught to put the mind above the body, that logic trumps the bodily experience. In many religions, the body’s temporal existence results in it being viewed as less significant than the mind and spirit. What I seek, in this poem and in general, is wholeness—a unity of the mind-body-spirit connection. Maybe it is more particular to the female experience, but for me, the body cannot be separated from the person. We live in a physical world; why would we not expect to find the spiritual in the physical?

By day, I’m a technical writer so I often approach the world—even poems—in a logical, procedural way. But there’s another part of me—the poet self, I suppose—who resists this order and wants to live in the mystery and mess of the world, knowing there are not always answers to the questions.

There’s also a beautiful vulnerability portrayed in the relationship between mother and daughter, as that daughter turns to face motherhood herself, and finds she still needs her own mother: I am still a child / really, always fleeing, / asking, and needing: / how to clean silver, / how to check / transmission fluid…Can you talk about writing this poem and how you decided which aspects of the mother /daughter relationship to include?

I imagine all women continue to need their mothers throughout their lives to some extent, but this is especially true for women who have lost their mothers at a young age. We—and I’m taking a leap speaking for all motherless women—understand loss much earlier in life and experience successive loss, even small losses, as a form of abandonment. I wanted to convey the longing, and the intense need, through the memories of what once was, as well as through the description of what is left unfulfilled.

The motherline is strong; it’s how a woman learns about being a woman—through story, through example—and when that is cut, a woman may feel adrift. The reference point has become a memory.

Maybe that is one reason The Fertile Source is such a valuable resource. It is a place for stories—for a specific type of story—that one can use as a touch point (ah, this is how one person experienced childbirth, and this is how someone else experienced miscarriage).

There’s a difficult backdrop presented in “Child Who Haunts My Womb “as well: the speaker’s mother grappling with illness. Can you talk about the process of writing about such a poignant threshold (birth and death simultaneously) in this poem?

I love exploring the paradoxical in poems and using the structure of a poem to bring opposites into play. From my limited experiences, it seems we have become more and more isolated from death (and birth!). But in nature, we can see all the time how connected birth and death really are. One life ending becomes the fertile ground for a new one. That doesn’t make dying easier to accept. But with passing of time and practicing her craft and a little bit of luck, a writer might transform the stuff of life into art.

Any writing mentors you’d like to share with us?

Too many to name! Early on, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marilyn Taylor, who has since represented the Badger state as poet laureate, was extremely influential. She introduced me to contemporary formal poetry. Even though I write a great deal of my poems as free-verse or semi-formal, I love how writing in form is unexpectedly freeing. Leaning into the structure of a form leads to surprises in subject and language that would not evolve otherwise.

More recently, I am indebted to Leatha Kendrick, whose guidance helped my writing break open in new ways after a long stagnant period. Both Marilyn and Leatha have the unique combination of being both brilliant writers and passionate, devoted teachers.

I have moved around a bit over the years and have found a number of places that celebrate writing: The Loft in Minneapolis, The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, KY, The Lighthouse in Denver. Writing may be a solitary event, but the communal aspect can’t be ignored. Across the many states I’ve moved, I have been fortunate to have worked with many excellent poets and writers.

Can you tell us about your first poetry collection (it’s subjects and themes)?

 My first manuscript, which includes “Child Who Haunts My Womb,” shares many of the themes and images found in the poem (mother loss, family lines and legacies, religion versus spirituality). A number of the poems developed out of the story of my mother’s life with and death from cancer.

And your second, forthcoming collection?

 The second manuscript is still evolving, but it carries forward from the first collection. I would say the poems have become less narrative. Also, the writing seems lighter and more playful, especially in terms of form. Some things I am exploring include ekphrasis (writing poems in response to art work, which I’ve also extended to include ballets); writing two distinct poems driven from the same image or moment; and relaxing the boundaries of a formal poem. 

Other projects in the wings?

 Working full-time often means it is difficult to make the time or energy for writing, but I always have a list of things I’m writing or wanting to write. Foremost, I am eager to finish the second collection of poems. There’s also a little bug that gets me to try my hand writing fiction every few months, so I will continue to follow where that leads.

 As mentioned earlier, I love working from prompts or within a form, which liberates the writing process, perhaps because it takes some of the pressure off when faced with a blank page. I’m always surprised to see what surfaces when responding to a prompt or form. Certainly, the subject has been on my mind; it just develops in a different way.

Andrea O’Brien’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Hopkins Review, Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, and The New York Quarterly. In 2007, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded Andrea an Artist Enrichment grant to begin writing her second collection of poems. She lives in Denver with her husband and works as a writer and editor.

Jim Richards: Mother of Three, On Your Birthday, and Poem for a New Father

Mother of Three

And pregnant. Two pink lines
on the indicator stick you balanced
on the edge of the sink—one line

for happiness, one for hell—tip
when I touch them, and fall.
This means: you, mornings, evenings,

bent on the bathroom floor,
prayer spewing from your mouth
while three believers cry to you their god

their god: why have you forsaken us?
This means: you curled in bed, cut off
from the unlucky who have never never

never made life like you make it.
This means: I want to end it all
with an image of redemption: new heart,

new body, new face. But I know,
you know, we know just what this means:
our mouths cannot make the words.

On Your Birthday

Today is your birthday, and I’ve done nothing
In preparation to celebrate that moment
Twenty-eight years ago when you came
Through wet pain and warm darkness
Into light, into the first breath of a life
That would eventually and thankfully merge
With mine own. I’m a fool to think a few lines
Written an hour before we meet for lunch
Could make up for what I have failed to do.
Still I write, not knowing why, exactly;
Perhaps because the words I try to find
Are easier to find when I imagine your face
And bring you here beside me for a moment.
You’re sweet, and will forgive me, I know;
It is the way your birthdays have always been,
Swallowed up in the care of home and children.
I see you in a chair, your faced washed
With the sorrow of post-partum, wanting to glow
In the eyes of the newborn in your arms,
And wondering how. I see you kneeling
At the bedside in the dark hours of the morning,
Your prayers drowned out by the infant’s wail.
I see you with a needle in your leg, hours
And hours on the bed, and the burning foreshadow
Of scars growing across your body. I see you.
You are here with me now, for a moment
and I am supposed to say happy birthday.
In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.
Happy birthday, my Love, in sorrow.

Poem for a New Father

Something with the water breaks
inside a man. Did you feel it?
A fresh outpouring, a clarity
rising through bedrock, swelling
through roots and soil, spilling
into the sun. Silent and painless

at first. Then it grows. Did you feel it?
Something with muscles aches
inside a man—contractions
make marriage more animal.
Sweet beast, your life-mate
drops her young in darkness

and a predator circles as patient
as death. Not time, not hours
can tell what fear it makes
for a man to be helpless against
his foe. Two lives that he loves
sink deep into a place where he

can never go. Brother, beast,
I was with you, when your loves
went down, when you were left
alone. I know how much it takes
to hold a hand that’s letting go.
But water, blood, and spirit

come, dust makes a living soul,
and soon it is grace you’re holding
in your hands, a face you know
you’ve never known. It is then,
just then, that something wakes

inside a man, did you feel it?

Jim Richards completed a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Houston and now teaches at Brigham Young University-Idaho in the Upper-Snake River Valley. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in the Texas Review, Literature and Belief, Poet Lore, and Contemporary American Voices. An avid runner, he writes about his progress toward completing fifty marathons in fifty states at 50before50.blogspot.com.

Read our interview with Jim Richards conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz, Father Witness: Birth vs. God, an Interview with poet Jim Richards.

 

Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss, and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love”

Mira Ptacin’s essay, “A Kind of Love,” was published on The Fertile Source a couple of weeks ago. Here, editor Jessica Powers talks with Mira about her experience with losing a pregnancy and then writing about it.

Your essay delves so honestly into the conflicting, ambiguous feelings of pregnancy: fear and a new love welling up inside you. In your case, it was complicated by the unexpectedness of the pregnancy, how sick you were, and the reality that your baby was not going to make it outside of the womb. What gave you the freedom to expose all of these things we don’t like to talk about in this essay?

I have the most wonderful parents. The raised me to believe that it’s not just important, but essential to vocalize my thoughts and feelings, and often. They’ve always encouraged me to pave my own path. So to answer your question, I believe that my parents gave me the freedom, or gifted me with the freedom to make “feelings sharing” a vital part of my well-being. One way I make sense of the world around me is by putting my feelings about life into words. Losing a child was one of the most confusing, upsetting, life-altering moments I’d ever experienced, so writing was the tool that helped me make sense of it all. I needed to understand what happened, and what grief was.

I had to describe my world, because to live in an undescribed world was too lonely. By the practice of writing about my sadness, I began to understand it, and be less afraid of it. By exploring my grief I came to understand that there was no “answer” or explanation. This is what helped me begin my healing process. Self-expression is not just freedom or a gift, it’s a necessity.
You offer such an interesting juxtaposition between the doctors’ phrasing to tell you your baby was going to die–“it is sick,” they said–versus the way you explained it to your family, which is “the baby is sick.” Did you struggle with the coldness of scientific knowledge and the practice of medicine? How in the end did the medical establishment treat you? Did you continue to find it alienating or were you finally embraced, somehow, when you made the decision to terminate the pregnancy?
 
 

 

 
 
 

Mira Ptacin

I was in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence when this all happened. SLC is one of the most expensive schools in the country, and I was on student loans, so before I got pregnant (before I had even met Andrew, for that matter), I had chosen to opt out of the health insurance to save a little money. Then I met Andrew. Then we got pregnant. We hadn’t planned on it—I had been taking birth control every single day, and never had missed a pill! When we found out I was pregnant, I had to sign up for Medicaid, because we weren’t married. While we loved our doctor, we hated the clinic we went to. After we found out the baby wasn’t viable outside my womb, it was all downhill. Right after we received the horrible news in the ultrasound, we were escorted over to see a genetic counselor, who would take our family history to see what had gone wrong. Minutes after receiving the terrible news, and minutes before seeing the genetic counselor, we were told that he refused to see us, that he “wasn’t allowed” to see us, because Medicaid only allowed me one doctor visit per day.  We were shaken, tired, terribly confused. We didn’t know if we had done something wrong. We wanted help, and we wanted answers. Finally, after she spotted my husband and me crying in a waiting room, a medical intern stepped in and convinced the genetic counselor to talk to us, rather than eat his lunch. In a room that smelled like mayonnaise and lettuce from his lunch, the genetic counselor proceeded to explain what might have possibly happened that caused our baby to be so sick. (It was purely a genetic fluke; nothing we could’ve done.) During the actual procedure, there was very little privacy at the hospital. We were often uncomfortable and exposed. We shared rooms. They were running late and short-staffed. The whole experience was harsh, painful, shocking, traumatic. And very impersonal. I’m assuming this is not due to the doctors’ and nurses’ and employees’ lack of care, but because the hospital just wasn’t equipped. It didn’t have enough money and or resources. It was exhausted. Everyone was exhausted. Sadly, the majority of people in NYC, not to mention in this country, are not rich and cannot afford good medical care, so this type of treatment happens more often than not. In fact, this goes on every day. That’s pretty pathetic, considering we live in one of the wealthiest industrialized nations.

There’s a moment in your essay when you sight a hawk and it sets you off on an absurd set of speculations that become metaphorical for your predicament. Can you talk about how you crafted that scene? How do you balance what happened in real life with crafting it to mean something larger, symbolically speaking, within an essay?
Writers have to be careful with metaphor. Sometimes, it’s best just to be direct, rather than try to find too many metaphors. You want to make sure the reader gets lost in the story, not caught up in the voice of the writer. You don’t want your audience to start pondering the writer’s craft, or questioning your technique. But sometimes, in real life, when something really significant is actually happening, you can’t help but notice all the little signs and the little metaphors surrounding you. Sometimes life just speaks in metaphor, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s why it’s important to always be CONSCIOUS and honest with yourself, and trust your skills as a writer. Being fancy doesn’t always mean you’re being awesome.
 
 

 

 When this scene in Squaw Valley was actually happening in “real time”, things were extremely confusing and difficult for me. Nothing made sense, but the things I did see seemed to just be metaphors, everything seemed to be a sign or metaphor. Or maybe I was just looking for a sign or answer to where to go next and what to do. I was also at a Writer’s Retreat, which was really tricky: I was there for a nonfiction conference, but I didn’t tell anyone what was going on “underneath the surface” in my life. I was sort of being a fictional nonfiction writer. And at the time, I wasn’t writing about what was happening in my life. Looking back at it now, I think that was really crazy of me. But by having such a secret, I was lonely and was looking for signs or symbols for an answer, signs from things other than people. And I think I found many of them on that fortuitous hike.

I only confided in one professor, an extremely talented and compassionate author named Jason Roberts (http://jasonroberts.net/) who was one of my writing coaches. We were talking about a manuscript I was working on about a murder at an “Oriental massage parlor” in my hometown. After some discussion about nonfiction/memoir/narrative, I eventually told him about my current predicament, and he told me to throw away the true crime manuscript and that I should be writing about my pregnancy/loss. Maybe he said I HAD to write about it. So I did. And it became a book.

You’re currently at work on a memoir. Can you tell us about it?

First of all, I have to thank Jason Roberts for encouraging me to write about it. When writers are in the beginning stages of their career, it’s very difficult to navigate one’s way, and having gurus/advisors/mentors is more valuable than gold.

Three years ago I began writing about loss and am now in the final stages of editing my manuscript:
“Poor Your Soul” is a memoir about the thin line between decisions made out of love and choices made when influenced by guilt. It traces my mother’s coming-of-age at age twenty-eight, her immigration from Poland to Battle Creek, Michigan, the adoption of her son Julian and his tragic death, mirrored by my migration from the Midwest to Manhattan, my accidental pregnancy and decision to keep the baby, the traumatic loss of my baby, and finally, my marriage in New York City, also at age twenty-eight. Our two stories are strikingly similar, and by reflecting on my mother’s, I learn how to cope with the inevitable but unexpected losses a woman faces in her the search for identity. In other words, this book is about the Uterus and The American Dream.
My mother learned to speak English by watching soap operas, and as a result, her English is a bit butchered. “Embrace yourself” really means brace yourself. And when Mum says something is eating her “out”, it’s really eating her up. POOR YOUR SOUL is something my mom would say as a warning, like “If I catch you watching T.V. on a school night, then poor your soul. POOR YOUR SOUL!” It translates into “I sure do feel sorry for your poor soul because it’s going straight to hell.” Soap operas are hardly realistic—plotlines generally revolving around amnesiacs, the resurrected dead, and the occasional demonic possession. An episode can switch between several dramatic threads at once, linked by chance meetings and coincidences. They’re like tapestries that never end. When one story ends another thread slithers in. In a precisely similar way, I have seen my own storyline develop. Embrace yourself.
 
 

 

A Kind of Love

An essay by Mira Ptacin

I am in California and I have just ridden a gondola into the Ice Age.

I bought the expensive cable car ticket because I wanted to catch a glimpse of the million-year-old lake everyone has been talking about. The lift carried me up two thousand vertical feet, over grey-green conifers, over brush fields with crunchy, thirsty-looking plants and gravel cliffs with caramel-colored soil. Steadily, I got higher and higher until suddenly, and only for about five or six seconds, I got to see the lake.

Lake Tahoe was giant, and startling, and still. The huge blue mass came out of nowhere; it was as if the trees had fortuitously parted to reveal a secret brontosaurus stealing a nap. But the car kept moving up and on until we reached the nosebleed section of the mountain. The gondola stopped. I got out. And here I am.

Below me is the Squaw Valley USA ski resort. I didn’t come to Squaw Valley to ski. It’s August, and there’s no snow. The reason I am in here on the west coast, in the opposite end of the country from my home, and high up in the Sierras is because I am participating in a summer writer’s conference. Seven days ago, I left Manhattan and Andrew and Maybe for a literary retreat and I have three days left before I am to leave and resume my life at back on 32nd and Third Avenue. But for the remainder of today, I will be hiking around Squaw Valley’s High Camp. In doing this I plan on appreciating nature. And by appreciating nature, I hope to make my mind clear and stable, make sense out of things, and reach some sort of conclusion, or final decision. They gave us the whole afternoon off.

Squaw Valley’s red, white and blue-colored pamphlet tells me that Lake Tahoe is subterranean; it’s almost five hundred meters deep. Her waters are so still and unmoving that people flock from all over the planet just to bear witness to her clarity. The lake’s creation was incidental and completely natural: millions of years ago, melting snow filled the southern and lowest part of the basin. Rain and runoff added additional water. Eruptions from an extinct volcano called Mount Pluto formed a dam on the north side, and, during the Ice Age, scouring glaciers helped shape the rest of the lake.

As I skim through the glossy brochure’s scientific explanations, I can’t help but recognize the words on the page as metaphors for my current situation: formed by a series of large faults; capable of large magnitude earthquakes; located within Desolation Wilderness; the youngest Deformation Belt. I smack the pamphlet with the backside of my hand, folding it up three times before tossing it into a nearby garbage can. “Shut up,” I tell it. Just shut up.

I am in California and I am the only thing keeping this baby alive. Without me, she is powerless.

Once, I called the baby a parasite. “This thing is a fucking parasite,” I said. I was so sick. I was so angry. I had spent the entire afternoon sprawled out on the tiled bathroom floor of our apartment like a piece of road kill, stationed alongside the toilet. The moisture from its cool porcelain base had apprehended tiny pubic hairs and lavender-colored lint. The floor stunk like ten-day old urine. And the fact that the urine probably wasn’t even mine made me feel even worse, and irrelevant. Besides the point. A means to an end.

For hours my brain and stomach churned like I had just stepped off a Tilt-a-Whirl. I couldn’t get a grip. I couldn’t control my vomiting. All I could get myself to do was moan.  I was all alone in the apartment, all by myself but I could hear the sounds of thousands of lives right next to me, lives right on the edge of my periphery, not even fifteen feet away, kept separate only by a piece of drywall, or a glass window. Traces of people were everywhere— voices of strangers reverberating in the hallway, children shrieking on the playground’s monkey bars, UPS trucks, honks and sirens, food delivery to the next-door neighbor. Eventually, I fell asleep and awoke to the sound of Maybe barking as Andrew arrived home, turned his key and walked into the apartment.

When he called out for me, I pressed my shoulder blades against the bathtub and my pushed my swollen feet against the bathroom door. “Go away!” I answered. From behind the hollow door, Andrew laughed, told me I was adorable, but I refused to let him in.

“Can I come hang out with you in there, Medium Boo, please?” His words sounded muffled, like his lips were pressing upon the tiny gap where the stile met the frame.

“I just want to be alone,” I told him, and pulled my knees into to my chest as much as I could, dropped my heavy head into the space between them, and that’s right around the time when I called the baby a parasite.

“You’re so mad. Why are you always so mad?” Andrew heaved a sigh. “That baby loves you,” he said. “And I love you.”

“It’s just sucking the life right out of me,” I said, and I wasn’t sure if I was kidding or not.

I had been trying very hard to make sense of the new kind of love Andrew was talking about. It was difficult for me to understand it because I had never experienced anything quite like it. The new love completely unfamiliar, almost foreign, but at the same time it felt proverbial and natural. Also, it was fucking frightening. It was frightening because it was the kind of love that required a colossal amount of responsibility and tenderness, buoyancy and endurance, bravery and confidence—things I wasn’t sure I embodied, or would ever embody. It was frightening because from what I understood, in order for it all to be successful, I had to be strong, but I was having difficulty being strong because the new love that was growing inside of me was, at the very same time, draining every bit of love juice that I had right out of me. I had control over nothing.

I picked up my head and grimaced at the bathroom door. “The baby is making me feel like shit,” I scoured. My brown hair was pinned underneath a red bandanna, and the top button and zipper of my pants were undone. I wasn’t even wearing deodorant, not because I was careless but because I was worried that the gel’s chemicals would get into my bloodstream, and that I would pump the chemicals into the baby. I suspected that deodorant was toxic.

“I didn’t ask for this, you know,” I said. I wanted to say something that would make Andrew feel the way I did—afraid and embarrassed and irritated and sad, but there was nothing. It was a greedy notion but I couldn’t dismantle it. I knew Andrew hadn’t planned for this to happen, either. Neither one of us had asked for it, but Andrew was trying his best to make this work. He was really happy. And even though I was as unpleasant as a bee sting, it was apparent that he was still very excited about me, his new love. He was excited about the baby and the new reality of the three of us becoming one family. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t flying through the air or singing with joy. I loved Andrew. I liked babies. So why wasn’t I feeling optimistic? Why was it so hard for me to be happy?

Eventually, I let down my guard, said Andrew could come in if he still felt like it, and Andrew stepped in, smiling unwaveringly. He sat down next to me on the tiles, reached out his hand, and told me everything was going to be okay. I remember how hesitant I was in accepting it.

Now, in California, and still, my breath and my blood and my body’s nutrients are sustaining the life inside me. Without me, this baby is helpless. Without me, she will die.

 

I am her lifeline. I am her barrier from mortality. Once this baby leaves my body, the pregnancy will end. The baby will disappear. Or as the doctors told us in the ultrasound, it will die. The medical specialists rapidly fired all of this information and more upon me, like a squad of bazookas, immediately after the ultrasound and right before I left Manhattan and flew to California. Their facts were incessant. Words I couldn’t pronounce. Holoprosencephaly. Images I cannot forget. Clubbed feet. Deformed spine. Collapsed skull. Broken heart.

“It is sick,” the doctors told us. Sick was the adjective we used to deliver the prognosis to everyone else. “It is sick and cannot survive outside the womb,” said, and that’s how we explained it to our families. But we called the baby “baby,” not an “it.”

The specialists poured on layers of genetic details, too, but it’s been impossible for me to retain any of the scientific data and medical minutiae, so Andrew to act as our secretary, our project manager. My fiancé is our ambassador. He’s taken the wheel. While I am away in California gathering my composure, Andrew is at home in the eye of the hurricane, collecting the explanations and updates then relaying his data to me, to my parents, to his parents. He is doing more for me than a man I haven’t even known for eight months should ever be expected to do. Over the phone, Andrew updates me with more validating points (amniocentesis test results are showing more neural tube defects), he tells me about more of the things he’s taken care of that I won’t have to worry about when I arrive home (the rent is paid, the apartment is clean and our roommate will go back to Long Island to spare us a few days of privacy), he shares with me more facts he’s researched on chromosomal flukes and genetic inheritances, (Coincidence. It’s nobody’s fault) and I accept all his words like a soldier, even though no matter how many sentences come out of the telephone’s receiver, I hear only one single, solitary truth to this warped, colossal calamity: that our baby just ain’t going to be. That this sweet and scary, gigantic tiny new kind of love growing inside me won’t be developing much more. That the end of the road is right up ahead of us, or so it seems.

 

 

I am standing on a plateau. The air is thin and difficult to breathe. The trees stretch to infinity and the gravel path is as grey as amnesia. I imagine the environment up here probably doesn’t change too much. Pebbles, moss, pines, sky. Timeless and homeless; I could be anywhere right now. Any country, any state. Stable. Set. Fixed. Secure.

Ahead of me, an upward-climbing path splits in two different directions—take a left and you’ll go through a parched meadow spotted with delicate violets and tiny yellow flowers, and white people walking through them, white people clad in expensive outdoor performance gear. Take a right and who knows? A fat jack pine blocks my view to the remainder of the trail. So I go right. And as I turn the bend, a pair of familiar faces emerges, arriving in long upward lunges.

“Howdy,” the gentleman says, panting. The two hikers lean on luxurious chrome walking sticks and carry Camelback water packs with clear straws that rest on their shoulders. If they are to get thirsty, all they have to do is turn their heads to the right, wrap their lips around a plastic nipple and suck.

I say “hello” back as his counterpart, a woman, begins unzipping the knees of her pants, turning them into shorts. We both watch.

 “I’ll bet your baby is going to be a forest ranger,” the man says.

Ugh. Here we go. I rub the torso of my cotton t-shirt in a circular motion, forcing my lips into a discomfited grin.

“Or a mountaineer!” the woman adds.

I recognize these two faces from the dining hall. The woman is a playwright. The man is a fiction writer. Both of them don’t know that what they’re saying couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Perhaps. We’ll see. Thanks,” I tell them.

“You go girl!” perks the writer.

Ugh. “Okay. Thanks,” I say and continue on.

The road in front of me morphs into a dried up channel coated in pebbles and pinecones that may make it tricky for me keep my balance on the way down, but I see there is a reward at the bottom of the descent: nothing. At the bottom there is a big, open, natural plaza of tall grass and glittering soil, and nothingness. Absolute nothingness. Your baby is going to be a mountaineer! Once I get down there, I can finally be alone. I’ve got to get down there.

Because there is never any escape. In Manhattan, there are nearly 1.7 million people living in a little island less of less 23 square miles, which means there are nearly 72,000 residents per square mile, which means there is never any respite. In New York City, you get no rest, no sympathy, or relief. Thousands of bodies constantly envelope you, making you feel like a minnow in a school of fish, but you’re always alone in your commiseration. In New York, you gotta keep up. If you fall, you’ll get left behind. You slow down, you’ll get run over, most likely by a yellow cab.

Here in sunny California, though, it appears to be just the opposite. Here in the yawning, open state of California, life seems to move at a much slower pace. People in California have the luxury of space and sun. In California, you can see the sky and you realize what the weather is. And in California, people ask and people listen. In California, you get asked your story and people are interested in it. This does make sense, I suppose. After all, we are at a writer’s colony.

Even though the fact that New Yorkers look right through one another frustrates me, I don’t want to tell these Californian strangers my particular story. Before I arrived to Squaw, I chose not to tell anyone at Squaw Valley the truth to what’s really going on inside of me, underneath the surface of things. Why should I volunteer that information? I can just imagine the exchange:

 

Stranger asks: How many months along?

Mira responds, candidly: Five months. But perhaps only six more days left.

 

I will not tell any of my fellow writers my predicted misfortune. This week is my time, my own personal era to be frozen in the present moment. My very own ice age. My chance to disappear from the congested rat race of New York and the unsympathetic commotion that is always muffling any subtle thought I get. Here, on this mountain, I will sit in quiet. I’m not going to think about the doctors, the parents, the others, or him, or her, or them, or you, or anyone. Yes. Here on this mountain, I will listen to my thoughts. I will sit and wait and listen for an answer to what the right thing is to do.

I manage to make it to the clearing at the bottom of the trail without falling on the loose grave. Down here, the moss is as soft and silky and green as algae. I slump down next to a scratchy rock covered in bird droppings. I am so out of breath. I am so tired, and I realize that there is no way I will make it back up the trail without keeling over and falling deep into slumber.

I roll onto my back, spread out in the snow-angel position with my legs in front of me and my arms out to my sides. I squint at the blue sky above. The sun is fierce. An ash-colored hawk swoops overhead, scouting for prey and covering the sun’s glare for a fraction of a second before it blinds me again.

I try to imagine what it would look like if the hawk swooped down and carried me off into the sky. Off the hawk would carry me, my legs dangling in midair. The hikers would look up, be flabbergasted and no one would ever believe their tale. It would be perfect, a perfect, odd picture, this escape of mine. But fat fucking chance. Not at this weight. Perhaps a more realistic reverie would be of the hawk plucking Maybe off the ground. A similar incident happened last year in Central Park: a bird-of-prey dive-bombed some Manhattanite’s Yorkshire terrier last year. My friend witnessed the spectacle, said the hawk dove down and snatched the little Yorkie right off the footpath, leash and all. Evidently the owner went bananas; I’m sure she won’t step foot in the park again. Maybe she even left the city itself. But with our dog, the hawk would really have to labor to get her off the ground. The bitch would really put up a fight. Plus, she’s chubby. The Central Park hawk would be dipping and dipping down until he finally gave up on Maybe as a meal, then he’d fly off for some smaller bites. Like a teacup dog. Tapas. Like a Yorkie. Yorkies—they’re not even real dogs. Essentially, they’re toys. Completely senseless. Senseless dogs for senseless New Yorkers, I think, then correct myself: Stop it, you cynic. Now is the time for you to detach from your anger, I think. Now is the time to think, I think, but it’s nearly impossible for me to focus. I am in California and I am anesthetized.

You need to focus! I close my eyes. You are on a mountain in sunny California. You need to focus because I believe you hold a baby’s fate in your hands.

 

A high-profile prostitute. An Olympic skier. An anorexic. She left her husband, grabbed the kids, bought a boat and sailed the world. She was abused by a priest. All my classmates are writing about their sorry lives. Everyone has had something terrible to share about something terrible that has happened to them, and all this talk of feelings makes me a bit bitter and edgy. I’m wondering, Why is everyone volunteering such deeply personal stories? Why is everyone at this conference writing about their horrible nightmares? What is the point? Writing is not for therapy, people. And how am I supposed to critique a diary entry? We are here to make art. We are here in California to turn real life into art and I refuse to write about my sorry case, because there is nothing new under the sun. Who cares about my sad story? I brought a different story with me to work on. I am going to write about other people. Immigrants. Yes. A murder. Sex. Drugs. Violence. I hear those kinds of books sell. 

Anyways, I think, withholding the information doesn’t make it a lie, or unreal. Preservation just keeps things from getting more convoluted and loud. What’s the point in sharing my story with people I don’t even know? If I told them what is supposed to happen next, what the truth is, what my story is, everything would change. And then I would be even more confused. I might even blow up.

I never knew about it when it happened. It was a little while after Jules died, after I left Battle Creek. After Jules died, I didn’t want to look back at my hometown so I never did. I never stayed in the loop, never read the Enquirer newspaper. And then last year Mom told me about what happened: Illegal Korean immigrants murdered at the Happy Spa massage parlor. Mom had been following the story for years. She was fascinated and devastated by the immigrant tale, a story similar to her own about women leaving their corrupt country for the Midwest in hopes of finding a better life. But these women were sex slaves. Their situation got bad, then worse, then worse. And then, murder! Angry, blue-collar men on drugs. The newspaper said it was an attempted robbery gone awry. It was titillating. A Truman Capote-kind of story. Thrilling. Not a diary entry, not a memoir. Sex sells, and we need the money to raise the baby. At least that’s what I thought up until the day we went to get the ultrasound. Ultrasound. . .

In the ultrasound, the doctors told me I have three choices:

  1. 1.      Terminate the pregnancy next week.
  2. 2.      Do nothing at all.
  3. 3.      Induce and deliver next week.

I am aware that once I arrive home from California, Andrew, my parents, and the doctors will expect me to have picked one of the three numbers and made a decision. I have promised myself that today, before I come down from this mountain, I will have brought down the gavel. Focus.

The deliberation in my head starts back up: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Once the baby leaves my body, she will be gone forever. So how long do I want to keep her inside of me? Who has the right to her life? And what is respectful to mine? She will die either way, so does this mean I have more of a right to choose when she will die? We all die. No of us make it out of here alive. We will all die eventually, so what justifies my decision to choose when this baby will die? I am her life support system. Is it similar to pulling the plug on a comatose patient who will never wake up? What if she dies inside of me before I go home?

I clutch my abdomen. For over five months, the baby and I have spent every second together, but I still haven’t really felt her. There have been many times where I’ve held perfectly still at night, anticipating some kick or flutter, but she’s never once kicked or fluttered. I’ve waited for her to give me a sign, for her to make this all seem real and recognizable, but I never felt what I thought I should: a spark, another presence. There is my large belly, there is my nausea, but I don’t feel her. I feel completely alone. Is it because I don’t realize her? Or is it because she’s not really there? I’ve felt a million different things, but I can’t tell which one is her.

I thought the ultrasound would make the baby feel real, feel alive and with me. I thought that once I saw the baby on the screen, the magic would come pouring in. I would feel like the mother, not the child. The guilt of the premarital pregnancy of a Catholic-raised girl would evaporate. I thought that once I saw the baby, not an invisible ball of emotions but an actual baby, I would feel relief and love would take over, and I wouldn’t care anymore about what anyone else thought, or said or did. But the ultrasound did not do what I had anticipated, and the baby continues to remain a phantom. A figment of my imagination. And I have a feeling I’ll never reach what I’ve been told is the exuberant stage of the pregnancy. First there was shock. Then anticipation. Then confusion. Then shame. Then uncertainty. Then enthusiasm. Then fear. Then anticipation. Then chaos. Now disorder. Now anger. Now Goddamn zal.

Ever since the ultrasound, the doctors have been explaining everything like there isn’t really a baby inside me, like there never was. Once Andrew and I left the ultrasound, everything got all  . . . procedural. Technical and cold, like metal. Like the thing inside me is nothing more than a conked out bundle tissue and blood and flesh. Flawed. So, what?

Are they right? The baby has no brain. It cannot breathe, they said. She cannot think. It cannot feel. These are the things I know because these things because the doctors told me, the facts the doctors in New York seared into the great open dome of my heart. She is alive and she is not alive. She is not quite a stillborn, but there is a strong possibility she may die in my womb. Any day. It could happen any day. And if she doesn’t die inside of me today, or tomorrow, or in ten or twelve days, and if I wait and I do deliver, she will die immediately after. Or during.

My pocket vibrates. I open my eyes, puzzled and squinting, reach down for my phone and read the caller identification. It’s Andrew.

He asks me how I am holding up, tells me he’s okay, the dog is doing okay. He asks me how classes are, am I sleeping all right, eating okay, making friends; I lie and say that all is well.

 “That’s good,” he says. “What else?”

 “My new friends are telling me I look great for a pregnant lady,” I tell him.

“That’s nice,” Andrew says. “Anything else?”

“They asked me if it’s a boy or a girl. I told them hows we’ve named her Lilly.” I try to keep the dialogue moving quickly but our exchange becomes choppy and the space between us grows larger. The conversation hesitates, then halts, then Andrew brings up what I’ve been circumventing.

“Boo, did you decide?”

 “Decide on what?” Denial is not a river in Egypt.

“Mira, come on. Your decision. About the pregnancy?” he asks and abrasively, I say nothing back. “Look, I just got off the phone with your dad,” he says.

My parents have been suggesting I choose door #3: Induce and deliver. When I called her right after the ultrasound, Mom said that if choose to let the doctors induce the delivery, I could be conscious, I could push out my baby, I could have the chance to see the baby, to hold it and say goodbye. Mom said this might give me closure, and that closure is a very important element in the process of healing. But when I thought about option # 3, I pictured myself draped in baby blue paper gown, feet propped, slippers, hairnet, pushing, sweating, bleeding, delivering a lifeless, barely recognizable red hot creature, or grey blue mass of tissue and it terrified me. No one mentioned what I would be giving birth to. Would she be alive? Would she make sounds? Coos? Cry? Will she move? Will she be alive? Would she be dead? And then after I give birth, what will they do with her? How long would I hold her? Do I want to? I am afraid of what I might see. I am afraid of what I will feel. I am afraid of being haunted. I cringe and start to feel sick. I gag.

“Mira?” Andrew asks. “What’s going on over there?”

“Nothing,” I tell him.

“I talked to your parents and Dr. Stein,” he says.

My parents. What my parents or the doctors didn’t understand was that option #3 sounded like the worse choice in the world. What Mom or the doctors didn’t mention was what I would exactly be delivering, or what I would see. Or whether or not at five months a delivery would be painful. Or how much I might rip or tear. Option #3 horrified me. If I delivered, would I still adhere to my mantra of “natural” and drug-free childbirth? Would it be safe for me? What about me?

The word “violent” had been fluttering in and out of the conversations between Andrew, my parents and me for the last three days since the options were presented. Dad told us that from what he understood, if I terminate the pregnancy, the procedure is a “violent” one. A late-term abortion means a violent surgery. (What did this mean, “violent”?) While it sounded the least natural, it was what I was leaning towards, but with such a word being used to describe the preference of my pregnancy’s fate, I started to look at myself as a savage. I thought my parents would also start looking at me as a selfish brute and this made me defensive. Their opinion mattered too much.

“But the baby is not going to live, Andrew!” I cry into the phone. I’m feeling guilty again and start to unravel. “Doesn’t anyone realize that the baby isn’t going to live? It’s all over.”

“Let’s just talk, Boo,” he says.

 “I want to do the best thing, I really do, but I can’t see what is right or wrong. I don’t know the difference between moral or immoral right now.”

“There, there,” Andrew says. “Who does?”

“Men! Men in government. Men in business suits. It’s the freaking men. What do men know about babies and vaginas? Men can not give birth!”

“I know men can’t give birth, Medium Boo.”

“God does not have white skin and a white beard! God is not Caucasian!”

“I know God isn’t Caucasian, Boo.”

“And if I’m the only thing keeping the baby alive, then I’m the life support system. And it’s not illegal to pull the plug on a comatose patient, is it? Is this a sin?”

“Shhhh,” Andrew says. “It’s okay. You’re okay. It’s okay.”

Frustrated and afraid, I start to cry again, and the noise of my crying sounds ugly to me and makes me cry harder.

“Shhh, shhh, Boo, calm down,” Andrew says. “Look–”

I’m sobbing, taking long heaves of breath between my words. “Everyone must think I don’t care about the baby. They think since I’m not excited that I don’t care,” I say. “You think I want to kill a baby, don’t you?” My mind is spinning like a car on ice.

“Stop.”

“Jesus! This is my entire fault. I don’t want to hurt the baby! I didn’t want this to happen. This is all my fault!”

“Mira, STOP!” Andrew shouts, and shatters my desolation. “I just got off the phone with your dad,” he says, “Your parents changed their minds. They think you should terminate.”

“What?”

“Your mom and dad want you to have the procedure. The surgery,” he says. “Dr. Stein explained the whole case to him and your dad thinks it’s the best and healthiest option for you,” he says.

I manage to steady my breath. “What?”

“He said it’s not what he thought it was, or something like that. And he said there is seaweed involved or something but look—we are on your side, okay?” Andrew says. “Just don’t worry about anything. You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re all right, okay? You’re all right.”

“How?” I ask.

For a few minutes, Andrew tries to explain the details of the decision I had already made but couldn’t admit. He tells me it has a name: DNC – dilatation and curettage. “It ain’t pretty,” he says, “and it involves seaweed apparently.” He reminds me that nothing about what has already happened is going to be easy, and that there’s nothing wrong with taking care of myself. That after this is all over, everything is going to be okay. “What you are going through will make you stronger,” he says, which reminds me of a Polish proverb my mother gave me once before. Nie ma tego z?ego co by na dobre nie wyszlo. Bad things usually turn out to be good for you. I always believed those words to be a load of hogwash up until this year, up until this particular moment when Andrew convinced me to open myself up to a new interpretation and forgiveness of myself.

I lean back into a bed of twigs. There is nothing left in my mind. Beneath my eyelids, I see blue-black, and I can’t think of a single thing. I will sit in this nothingness for as long as I can, and when the sun sets, I will make my way back to camp.

Under my eyes, I feel airy and weightless. I drift, doze. I fall into a trance and suddenly, a blast of air and the firm pressure of plumes presses onto my face and my chest. The sense of a presence or the feeling that someone is watching me flashes me back into lucidity, and when I shoot up to see who is there, I’m still alone. There is nothing, other than the setting sun and a navy sky.

By the time I return to base camp after having just barely caught the last gondola down the slope, the dining hall is empty at the writer’s colony is cleared out. Only a handful of summer kitchen staff members remain, mopping the cafeteria floors and stacking chairs and making it apparent that while I had been off on the mountain, the rest of the world had been going on just as well without me.

 

Mira Ptacin  is a Brooklyn-based creative nonfiction and children’s book writer, as well as the founder and host of Freerangea successful nonfiction reading series located in the heart of New York City that brings together up-and-coming and established writers on one small stage to share their work with the rest of the world. She has her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was editor-at-large of their literary magazine, LUMINA. Mira’s writing has appeared in numerous print and online publications, such as The Morning News, Anderbo, Cerise Press, LUMINA, Epiphany, SMITH Magazine, Nerve.com, the Citron Review, CommonDreams.org, Truthout.org and more. She’s a contributing writer to the forthcoming book, The Moment (2011 Harper Perennial) and she recently ghostwrote a children’s book, which will be published in 2011. This year, she was nominated for the 2011 Best American Essays as well as the 2011 Pushcart Prize. She’s currently at work on a memoir, from which this piece was excerpted.

Read our interview with Mira Ptacin conducted by Jessica Powers: Fear, Love, Pregnancy, Loss and Memoir: Mira Ptacin on writing “A Kind of Love.”

Child Who Haunts My Womb

A Poem by Andrea O’Brien

I.
Stay unformed,
not yet human in the hot
depth of me like the dove-
birds of unbroken
sand dollars. The feel
of their gritty out-
sides comes back to me
this November night.
An amnesiac,
I am remembering
how to uncork wine,
plant daylilies,
dream each month
of latent
daughters and sons.

II.
We took Interstate 75
south to Sanibel,
to beaches made of all
shells, the discarded
hard bodies of animals.
I hated not going barefoot.
But without sandals
the musical edges of shells,
sharp as the pains
you give, knocking
against my organs, tore
the flesh of my feet,
so unlike my mother’s
calloused ones.

III.
Did she want me torn
from her belly because she foresaw
the hardships of raising
a fifth child
as she was dying?
Or did she simply accept me
as she accepted
the lunar tides, the morning
paper, a new president
every four or eight years,
arias rising
from her children’s lungs,
radiation, chemotherapy,
colored scarves, and wigs?
Did she accept me
as she accepted the air,
heavy with the lives around
her, the Jesus-like
pain in her palms
after her mother’s death,
her scarred rosary
like a crown of dried
roses in her fist?

IV.
I am still a child
really, always fleeing,
asking, and needing:
how to clean silver,
how to check
transmission fluid,
what the right word is
for this situation,
this poem, this feeling
which I know but cannot shake
out into language. Vowels
and the rest of the alphabet
are never enough.
I know others well,
their bodies, even flashes
of their souls which click by,
luminescent and fleeting
as lightening bugs, the seasons
in which we love ourselves best.
But to know myself
I look along fault lines,
the caves of Kentucky,
our moon’s temporary face.

V.
If I swallow enough
bourbon, rum, and schnapps,
if I take enough
antibiotics, enough anti-
depressants will you
come plunging out?

VI.
I have too much religion
and not enough God in me
to make a right decision.

VII.
In kindergarten,
I was the bareback rider
with my red-leotard-body
between two sides
of my wild cardboard horse,
lively and painted.
But when my sister took me riding
on a real farm, I gripped
my black horse, tried to wrap
my legs around his thick middle.
This is not the mother
I want to be.

VIII.
I want to teach you to ride
bareback, to be unafraid
of the dark and spiders
and the moment after
death. I want you to fill up
and spill over with words
and your God and the smells
of burnt coffee and pollen.
I want you to gorge yourself
on Lithuanian tortes and symphonies,
snowflakes as they fall, stories
from my father and his mother
so you can find your way back
to the cliffs of Ireland.
I want you fat with the blessings
of marble and sponge cakes
on birthdays, piles of books
spreading wildly away from shelves,
reams of Black-Eyed Susans and blankets
(quilted, army, and down) to wrap
and unwrap yourself in
when the world is too harsh
for both of us.
Mostly, I want you
to wait, to coil yourself
in the dark of my body.
Keep haunting
me even. But wait
to hurl yourself
into this world.

Andrea O’Brien’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including The Hopkins Review, Connecticut Review, Nimrod International Journal, and The New York Quarterly. In 2007, the Kentucky Foundation for Women awarded Andrea an Artist Enrichment grant to begin writing her second collection of poems. She lives in Denver with her husband and works as a writer and editor.

Read our interview with Andrea O’Brien conducted by Tania Pryputniewicz: The Mystery and the Mess: Motherlines and Motherless Women with Poet Andrea O’Brien




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