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Baby Fever

fictional excerpt by John Rachel

 

It was the first time in their marriage that they had been apart.  Natalie had gone with her best friend from high school days and beyond, to Ibiza Spain.

When Natalie came back, she looked great.  Really great.  She had a fantastic tan.

But no tan lines.

“Don’t even think about it, Billy.  There were no men there.  We found this really private beach and went for it.”

“Does Pam have tan lines?”

“I can have her come over and you can look for yourself.”

“Let me think about that.”

“Better yet, check this out.”

She went over to her computer, plugged her camera in, and pulled up some photos of a magnificent shore, lapped by foamy whitecaps emerging gracefully from a turquoise sea.  Sure enough, there were no men.  There was one amazing shot of Natalie and Pam laying side by side on a beach blanket wearing only sunglasses and tanning lotion.  His imagination had fallen far short of how beautiful Pam’s body was. 

Natalie caught him staring, mouth agape, eyebrows arched in wonder.

“The sand is so white.”

“Right.  Like you were looking at the sand.  Hey!  I just got an excellent idea.”

She stood him up, got around behind him and playfully pushed him into the bedroom, not that he offered much resistance.

She proved for the next several days to be insatiable. 

“Good grief, Natalie.  What did they feed you there on Ibiza?”

“Dreams, Billy.  Dreams.”

Of course, they both had their work schedules.  But it seemed at least for those first few days after her return, Natalie managed to avoid any professional commitments in the evening and was there for him, ready and able to make love as often as was physically possible.

She had to catch up at work Saturday during the day but they had a phenomenal evening.  Sunday they actually had slept in a bit, the consequence of being up half of the previous night pursuing carnal bliss. 

Natalie woke first and looked at him.  Eventually his eyes opened and she cuddled up to him, placing her lips teasingly against his ear and whispered.

“Happy Valentines Day.”

“Hmm.  That’s right.  I forgot.  You got back on Valentines Day.”

“There’s something else, Billy.”

“What’s that?”

“I want a baby.”

“I think the stores are open today.  We can go after breakfast.”

“I’m not kidding.”

She wasn’t. 

They talked about it over brunch at Anna’s, as they then walked through town afterwards, during the drive through along the Hudson River and Hudson Highlands State Park, and finally that evening at home over dinner.  Billy did the cooking and proudly served a blackened dish he claimed was genuine Livorno-style lasagna, and a circular cardboard-like object which was supposed to be Sicilian pizza.

There was no doubt that they both wanted to have children.  The whole question was timing.  That they didn’t seem to agree on.

“I’m too young to be a father, Natalie.”

“No you’re not.”

“I’m only twenty two.”

“A perfect age.  You’re young, energetic, yet mature, established.”

“Like I’m going to be some burnt out shell of a human being at 25 or 28, a moneyless bum sleeping in a dumpster behind Home Depot.”

“If it’s a boy, you can name him.  If it’s a girl, I want to call her Lilith.”

That had a familiar ring.  Wasn’t Lilith some Amazon queen his mom was telling him about?  Or was she a biblical terrorist that had all of the kings in a tizzy?

“Lilith.  Lovely name.  If it’s a boy, I want to call him Chairman Mao.”

Natalie laughed and jumped on top of him and proceeded to nearly cause heart failure by tickling him so relentlessly.  It was obvious she was not going to stop without a commitment.

“So are we on, papa Billy?  Are we going to make a baby?  Are we?  Are we?”

“Ha ha ha ha . . . if you don’t stop tickling me . . . ha ha ha . . . I’ll be dead . . . ha ha ha . . . and that’ll be . . . ha ha ha ha . . . please . . . ha ha ha . . . I’ll do anything . . . ha ha ha . . . just stop . . . ha ha ha . . .”

“So that’s a yes?”

“Yes . . . ha ha ha . . . yes, Natalie.”

And they went to work.

At making a baby from scratch, that is.

Should have been simple.  But it eventually turned out to be hard work.   Very hard work.

It has confounded some of the best medical minds of the 21st Century, why fertility rates have been gradually declining over the past fifty years.  Those from three generations back claim ___ obviously exaggerating, of course ___ that back in those days, post-World War II, and on into the featureless 50s, getting pregnant was supposedly easier than catching a head cold.  Teens seemed especially at risk.  Schoolgirls were cautioned about sitting too close to boys for fear that sperm would somehow leap forth, magically pass through clothing and skin, and home in on the cowering uterus like some precision-guided weapon, resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

Then came the 60s.  A measurable decrease in fertility rates among both males and females started around the same time that the Beatles and the British invasion of pop musicians took over the radio airwaves, and has continued to this day.  Egg production in women is still off, miscarriages continue to increase, sperm counts are down.

No connection could be established between the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits and the other British bands, and the inability of couples to make babies back then or now.

So what precipitated the subtle but steady decline in fertility rates?  Was it the cancelation of the Ed Sullivan Show?  The unrequited romancing of the apparently still virginal Annette Funicello by any number of viable suitors on the Mickey Mouse Club?  Chubby Checker and the twist?  Lingering physiological effects from the hoola-hoop craze of the 50s?  Radiation from the spaceships landing in Nebraska and Indiana abducting illiterate corn farmers and road-weary truck drivers?

The plausible connection turned out to be the enormous numbers of chemicals, artificial substances, plastics, and man-made pollutants which were slowly introduced starting in the 50s but were dramatically increased in both quantity and variety during the 60s, and are being increasingly used today.  These include food additives and preservatives, pesticides and herbicides, fertilizers, cosmetic chemicals, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, household cleaners, detergents and dry cleaning fluids, auto exhaust and industry pollution, industrial solvents such as acetone and trichlorethylene, the new generation of paints and varnishes, carpet and furniture fire and stain retardants, synthetic fabrics and clothing treatments, dioxyn, PVCs, plastic food and beverage containers, even monosodium glutamate, on and on the list goes. 

This man-made inhibition of the natural reproductive process has spawned a fertility industry ___ both specialists within the ranks of the conventional AMA-approved health service providers and those working in naturopathic and other alternative treatment environments ___ raking in far in excess of a billion dollars a year.

Of course, Billy and Natalie weren’t aware of any of this when the decided they would try to get her pregnant.  They just did what they normally did, with a little more focused effort the five or six days that were midway between her periods.

Away they went doing what came naturally for three months or so.  Understandably they were both rather surprised when their energetic efforts produced no results in the embryo manufacturing department.

At first, their lack of success was taken with a lightheartedness, both of them assuming it was an anomaly which would soon pass.

“Maybe you’re firing blanks, Billy.”

“I’m definitely firing something.”

“You are definitely hitting the target.”

“Practice makes perfect.”

As the weeks and months passed, however, the whole subject became charged, more and more the trigger for arguments or tears. 

“You don’t want a baby.  That’s it, isn’t it Billy?”

“Natalie.  Of course I do.  I said I did.  But whether I do or not, it’s not like I’m holding back.  You can see for yourself that I’m doing my job.”

“Then how come I’m not pregnant?”

“How should I know?  Maybe you fried your uterus in Ibiza.  Maybe you got sand in the works.  Don’t point the finger at me.”

“Billy.  Please stop bringing up my trip like it was some negative thing.  It wasn’t.  It was a very good thing.  It got me to a good place.  It got me to where I am now.”

“Frustrated.  Angry with me.  Yeh, that’s just great.”

Natalie’s eyes turned red and started to pool, as her lower lip quivered slightly.

“Billy.  I’m sorry.  I’m not mad at you.  I know it’s not your fault.”

Actually, it didn’t appear to be either of their faults.  The doctors couldn’t find anything awry.  None of the five fertility specialists they had consulted, stretching from the Hudson Valley to New York City. 

Billy’s sperm count appeared normal, in fact, better than normal.  The quality of the sperm appeared fine.  No two-headed mutants, none with tails missing, none suffering from lethargy or lack of swimming skills, no union organizers urging a sperm walkout or sitdown strike. 

Likewise, Natalie checked out.  She was ovulating like clockwork, producing the approved and recommended number of eggs, there were no blocked Fallopian tubes, no cross winds, no feminist demonstrations or marches going on in there.

The experts were stumped.

Of course, they had a solution.  A very expensive solution.  With no guarantees.

This was a multi-phased program of hormone doping, fertility drugs, taking his sperm and concentrating it to increase its statistical effectiveness, and further closing the statistical hit-miss gap by either inserting the sperm into her fallopian tubes or removing one of her eggs and performing in vitro insemination then replanting the fertilized egg in her uterus.

It was all so scientific and calculating but unscientifically unpredictable.  They could end up with twins, octuplets, or a swaddling bundle of air.  Who was to say.  The doctors couldn’t.

Billy and Natalie could see the five-figure bill for services coming from miles away.

Monetary issues aside, they couldn’t imagine turning over what should be the natural unfolding of the miracle of life, to a bunch of lab coats surrounded by stainless steel tables, test tubes, oscilliscopes, pipettes, ultrasound scans, Petri dishes, electronic imaging equipment, electrophoresis separators, and whatever else the medicine men would drag out of their expensive bag of tricks.  It was about as romantic as changing the motherboard or putting more RAM in a computer.

 

They decided at least for now, to continue their reproductive Olympiad, which despite the growing anxiety and tension introduced by their absorption and obsession with getting her pregnant, they both still thoroughly enjoyed.  At the same time, they would try to increase the prospects of babymaking in their lovemaking by introducing some less-expensive, hopefully effective alternative assistance.

Their bedroom stand now included a vaginal thermometer, homeopathic medicine, and a small glass dish of opaque pink fertility stones.  Both Billy and Natalie were taking specially formulated vitamin/mineral/herb supplements, respectively designed to fortify the male and female reproductive systems ___ his was called Inseminator Rejuvenator and hers Motherhood In A Bottle.   

One day Billy pulled up on their computer a page from a website which was trumpeting the efficacy of various crystals, and showed it to Natalie.

The Shiva Lingham Stone is from the sacred Narmada River in Onkar Mandhata, one of India’s seven holy sites. Villagers gather this unique Crypto-crystalline quartz from shallow river beds.  In Tantra, the shape embodies masculine energy, dynamic expression and knowledge. The markings named Yoni (sacred sanskrit word for vulva), depicts the feminine energy, wisdom and intuition. Together, the female energy arouses the masculine urge to create. As such, the Tantric Lingham unifies the dualistic (male female) world into harmonious balance.  Place a Shiva Lingham in the Relationships/Marriage area of your home to increase fertility and to bring you closer to your partner.

 

“Well, there’s the solution to our problem if I ever saw it.”

Though they laughed about it, the true extent of their desperation was evident when they immediately ordered one.  When it arrived Air Express, it was given a guest-of-honor place in the center of the headboard shelf of their bed, next to a faux-ancient scroll containing a Sanscrit fertility mantra they obtained from a local store, with a name printed in gold leaf on the front window, which only a few months ago they used to make fun of . . .

Things New Age:  Your One-Stop Enlightenment Shop

They also went out of their way to eat healthy.  More salads.  Less fat.  More fish.  Less meat.  They eliminated wine with their meals and never ordered cocktails when they went out with their friends.  Five times a day, Natalie was drinking an unpleasant-tasting herbal tea consisting of Chasteberry, Red Raspberry Leaf, and Nettle.  Billy had virtually eliminated coffee from his diet since he read that there were studies suggesting that coffee had deleterious effects on sperm production.  He switched to vitamin C-enhanced peppermint tea.

Unfortunately, none of this seemed to work.  The only ones who seemed to benefit were the manufacturers and outlets who pocketed seemingly exorbitant profits for a lot of worthless crap, which they used to generate and hawk new, promising, pricier, but at the end of the day, equally worthless crap.

By August, they were exhausted.  It wasn’t the sex but rather the anticipation, disappointment, the regiment and monotony of the “fertility rites” they had created, the evident futility, and last but not least, the heat.  Whether it was global warming or just a anomalous seasonal shift, the end of the summer was turning out to be a scorcher.

They lay in bed, sweating and sweltering, panting like dogs in the desert, after a pleasurable but nonetheless draining session of lovemaking, during which they often thought more about whether his sperm and her egg were going to end their Cold War standoff and finally get together, than to abandoning themselves to the carnal ecstasy of their union.

When the end of Natalie’s most recent menstrual cycle again declared that she was not pregnant, an announcement signed in blood, Billy tried to make light of it.

“Maybe we should just get a dog.”

“I’m not having sex with a dog.”

“I meant for me.”

“You want to have sex with a dog?  I feel a little threatened.”

“Dogs are man’s best friend.  No one ever said that about babies.”

“Wait!  We’ll get two dogs.  A male and a female.  And watch them.  Maybe we’re doing something wrong.”

“I don’t think my ego could handle it.  What if they got it right the first time?”

“Ohmigod!  You’re right.  I’d have to kill the bitch.”

“I’d have the vet remove his balls.  That’d show him!”

They laughed but their laughter was hollow.  Hollow to the point of melancholy.

And though neither of them said anything, each invisibly was waving the tearful white flag of resignation.  An impregnable sense of hopelessness had slowly but surely sunk in.  This was the first failure of their relationship, the first tangible setback of any importance.

They never officially gave up.  Thus, they never discussed a next step, either adoption or designing their lives together around childlessness.  They never acknowledged they might be entering a next phase.  A phase without a baby of their own making.

They clung to some thin, frail thread of optimism.  After all, there were countless stories of couples trying and trying again over years, even decades, then finally producing the long-desired child.  Billy and Natalie had many years ahead of them.  The waiting and trying and trying again theoretically could define them as a couple, as it had many other couples.

But they both somehow knew this wasn’t going to happen.

Something had changed.  They both sensed it.

The baby thing was over and done.

And what about them?

Was it over?

No.

Practice makes perfect.

In all things.

“Baby Fever”, an excerpt from the full length novel The Man Who Loved Too Much, originally appeared in the American online and print magazine Down In The Dirt in July 2010.
 
John Rachel has a B. A. in Philosophy, has traveled extensively, is a songwriter and music producer, and a left-of-left liberal.  Prompted by the trauma of graduating high school and having to leave his beloved city of Detroit to attend university, the development his social skills and world view were arrested at about age 18.  This affliction figures prominently in all of his creative work.  He is author of four full-length novels, From Thailand With Love, The Man Who Loved Too Much, 11-11-11 and recently 12-12-12.  He considers his home to be Japan but has been traveling in Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan as he completed his latest novel, 12-12-12.  He is now working on a non-fiction book about his travels over the past six years called Leaving On A Jet Plane.

 

Corbin Lewars on rape, miscarriage, sex, marriage, divorce, and writing what you really feel

Two weeks ago, The Fertile Source published an excerpt, “Losing Sweet Pea,” from Corbin Lewars’s memoir, Creating a Life, now available as an e-book.

When writing about devastating moments in our lives, like miscarriages, it’s tempting to hold back. Can you talk about the process you go through as you decide what to share and how much to share?

I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a child and use it primarily to rant and grieve when I’m struggling with an issue or person. I often warn my boyfriend and kids, “If you read my journal, know I only feel that way about you sometimes.” For me, writing about something is a way to stop holding back. Memoirs that are constrained or where the narrator is removed or stoic are painful for me to read. I continually shout at the pages, “But how did you really feel!”

Readers want to relate to the struggle and the more specific the author is, the wider range of readers she’ll draw. As Jung says, “That which is most personal is most common.” Maybe some of my readers haven’t had a miscarriage, but by describing my sense of feeling like a failure, the hopelessness that I would never have what I wanted, my fear, and frustration with the medical community, I am appealing to emotions and struggles the reader has experienced.

When going through a difficult time, such as my miscarriage or divorce, I write, talk, write again, talk more, and walk a lot while contemplating and grieving the experience. The first few rounds of writing are explosive drafts. I vent and cry on the page, with the sole purpose of getting the words out and not caring if they are eloquent or make sense. All the while, I tell myself, “No one will read this, this is just for you.” I do this to get myself to be as honest and brave as possible. It takes several drafts to get there. A great exercise I learned from Natalie Goldberg is to stop midsentence and say, “What I really meant to say was…” This helps cut through some of the fear and pretenses.

All emotional writing needs time to percolate. While writing Creating a Life, I finished a draft and paused. I told myself, “You told the story, now you need to feel the story.” I gave myself a month off from writing and instead spent the time remembering and feeling that time in my life. Then, I was able to deepen my draft with more courage and willingness to reveal my emotions.

I feel I owe it to my readers to be completely honest when sharing my thoughts and feelings about a hardship. In order to be comfortable doing so, I tell myself every step of the way, “No one will read this, it’s merely for my process.”

Do you have a personal threshold where you have decided, “Okay, I won’t go there and I won’t share that”?

If I’m going to share something, I share it all the way. Until I’m ready to do that, I keep it in the draft, walk, talk stage or merely let it percolate in my brain for a while so I can formulate how and why I want to share it. I don’t share merely to titillate or shock, I share so other people can stop feeling as if they are alone. Miscarriage, rape, sex, these are topics people shy away from. Yet feeling isolated during hard times only makes people feel worse. 

You are a woman writer who specializes in memoir. You’ve written a book about becoming a mother, and taking charge of your own life as well as the birth of your first child. You also write about motherhood, divorce, parenting, and sexuality through both your columns for two Seattle area newspapers and literary journals. Who are your readers? What do you think they’re looking for from your writing? What are they plugging into and why is it important?

I was joking with a friend that my readers must think I live a tumultuous life because so much of my writing is about my struggles. In actuality, my kids are at a great age—independent enough, but still want to be with me–my writing is flowing, my partner supports yet challenges me in ways I’ve never experienced and I love the classes I’m teaching and my coaching clients. “But no one wants to hear that,” I laughed to my friend. “That’s boring.” 

I was exaggerating, but in general, my readers gravitate towards me because of my willingness to reveal myself, my flaws, and my deepest fears and insecurities. And I do so with humor. I’ve been asked several times to write an advice column, to which I shudder. I don’t want to tell people what to do, but I do hope to inspire them to make the changes in their life that they desire, yet are frightened by.  

I appeal to men and women who are in transition and thinking about what they want out of life. Although my memoir is about pregnancy, I heard from numerous men who related to the book because it’s also about creating a life for yourself. Ten years later, I’m still writing and still creating the life I want for myself. Readers like to know that’s possible, that they’re not stuck and don’t have to settle on what society, their partner, or parents told them they should do.  

Many of our readers are also writers who might want to explore publishing short things or books for e-readers. Can you talk about what prompted you to turn Creating a Life into an e-book? What’s been the response? 

Being a Luddite, I resisted making Creating a Life an ebook for over a year. I assumed my readers were grassroots people like me who wanted to hold a book in their hand, not read it on a screen. I was wrong. By making it an ebook and selling it for $2.99, I was able to reach a larger audience than I was reaching by giving readings, speaking about the book and writing about it. With an ebook, Amazon (or wherever you choose to sell it) does the marketing for me, so I don’t have to. And since the price is significantly lower than a print book, more people are willing to purchase it and give it a try.  

The response has been tremendous. It was number one in the pregnancy and motherhood section off and on for several weeks and remains in the top 100 best selling ebooks in these categories. 

Please tell us about your memoir in progress. 

After a year and several hundreds of pages, I decided my memoir needed time to percolate. I started it with the intention of it being about my divorce, but it’s ending up being about my strained relationship with my mother; my family’s struggle with addiction and denial; and falling in love and maintaining perhaps the first adult relationship I’ve had with a man. The continual growth and learning I gain from my relationship with my partner plus my mom’s cancer knocked my second and third draft sideways, until I finally told myself “You are living this memoir, you can’t write it yet.”

While I live these experiences, I am writing a guidebook for women, particularly moms, who are going through a divorce. I offer not only my own experience of navigating an amicable yet still heart-breaking divorce without lawyers, as well as references from experts, and countless of other women’s experiences. It’s light on the advice and in tone. The main message is, “Yes, this sucks at times, but ultimately, you can grow and flourish from this experience.” My story and the other women’s stories are proof of that. A mid-size press has expressed some interest and if that falls through, I’ll probably publish it as an ebook by the end of the year.

Mother, Writer, Mentor-come write with us!

Announcing Mother, Writer, Mentor: practical tips for writing moms

The Fertile Source is kicking off 2012 by expanding its offerings with a sister site, Mother, Writer, Mentor: practical tips for writing moms.  Our focus is two-fold, to offer writing courses for mothers who write and to develop a mentoring program for writing moms. At Mother, Writer, Mentor, we hope you’ll find a place to share the layers of your experiences with one another in a safe writing community full of members aspiring to be the best mother and the best writer possible. 

Those of us who have come through those early years of sleepless nights and phantom manuscripts know that the most empowering support for maintaining a vision of wholeness and possibility when it comes to the dual role of motherhood and writing comes via the solace of the words and direct experiences of those who have gone down the path ahead of us.

 Consider this our call to you, our loyal readership, to help us tailor our Mother, Writer, Mentor website as we strive to offer resources that fit actual needs. While we can certainly guess at some of those needs based on our own trajectory to writing, editing, and publishing while mothering, we’d love to hear from you directly. Please email us your suggestions either to jess [at] catalystbookpress [dot] com or tania [at] catalystbookpress [dot] com.

While we are developing the rest of our resource offerings and the mentoring program, we will be posting regularly to the blog on the home page of Mother, Writer, Mentor (where we will shortly be putting up a call for guest posts).  In the meantime, we are offering two courses this spring, at a reduced introductory rate. Visit Mother, Writer, Mentor for full course descriptions:

February 2012

To the Cradle and Beyond: Excavating and Writing the Poetry of Motherhood with poetry editor Tania Pryputniewicz

April 2012

Sexy Mommy Stories: Writing Romance Back into Motherhood with founding editor Jessica Powers

Happy Holidays from The Fertile Source

Happy holidays from The Fertile Source! We will resume normal publication after the New Year.

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.

An Interview with Poet Brittney Corrigan: Second Hearts, Autism, & Mother Writer Retreats

Brittney Corrigan; Photo by Serena Davidson

Guilt Poem: Unplanned” opens with, “You didn’t want another child,” and continues to address the leap of faith mothers make each time they get pregnant—the attendant questions of sustainability: will I now also be able to nurture this new life, in addition to the one I am already nursing, raising. Can you talk to us about this dilemma, as well as the process of writing this poem?

When my sister had her first child, she described the experience of loving that child as “growing a second heart”. I think many mothers wonder, when they get pregnant for a subsequent time, how they will possibly be able to love the new child as much, or as well, as the first. For me, the fear was twofold, as my first child is on the autism spectrum. I was scared of the possibility of having another special needs child, when I was so overwhelmed by caring for the first. And I wondered, darkly, if I had a typical child, would I somehow love my first, challenging child less?

For me, these dark but nonetheless real emotions and fears are the basis for my series of parenting guilt poems. I wanted to address not the commonly discussed guilts of not wanting to play Legos for hours or feeling guilty about taking time for oneself, but rather the deeper issues of guilt that I think many parents have but are afraid or ashamed to voice. These poems are meant to open the discussion of these darker feelings of guilt, to work through them, and to come out hopeful on the other side. I have found that, even when I feel like I’m alone with these feelings, once each guilt poem is offered up to readers, I am suddenly surrounded by scores of parents saying, “Yes! I’ve felt that, too!”

When I read the line “this sibilant galaxy of two” (also from “Guilt Poem”) I knew we had to run your poetry—what a lovely stanza and line in particular. Can you talk about arriving at the star/constellation metaphor? Other metaphors since then you have landed on as crystallizing images regarding pregnancy and motherhood?

I tend to “gravitate” towards celestial metaphors in my work, whether the poems are about motherhood or other subject matter. I’m comfortable with the imagery of stars and constellations, and with the natural world, in general. In this particular poem, I enjoyed “breaking the rules” of not mixing metaphors by combining celestial and oceanic/tidal imagery. I feel that both metaphors capture the experience of motherhood – the regular rhythm of routines, the ebb and flow of emotions, and the concurrent fear and wonder of raising children. In my other poems about pregnancy and motherhood, I use imagery of the natural world throughout.

Here’s a question we never fail to enjoy asking at The Fertile Source: what impact has motherhood had on your writing life?

When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately decided that I would write one poem each week, from 4 to 40, exploring the experience of pregnancy. I wrote weeks 4 and 5, and then the exhaustion hit. I did very little writing for the rest of my pregnancy and in the first couple years of my son’s life. It was very difficult for me to make the space in my life – both literally and emotionally – to write.

When my son received his autism diagnosis, I began to write again about my experience as his mother. Poetry then became a way for me to work through the complicated issues involved in raising and loving a special needs child.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I was lucky enough to be awarded a week long residency at Soapstone, a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast. I attended while in my second trimester, and with that renewed energy and the time away from my then 3-year old son, I worked on the autism poems as well as returning enthusiastically to the project of the week-by-week pregnancy poems.

As my children, now nearing four and eight, have grown older, I have found more and more time to return to my writing. I now greatly value any spare moment and have learned to write on demand when I have that time and to fit short writing periods into a busy schedule, since I don’t often have extended periods of time to write.

You mentioned attending the writing retreat, Soapstone. Can you tell us a bit about that retreat (we understand it is no longer running). Any reflections on that experience and words of advice to other mother writers considering escaping to writing retreats while raising children? Any other retreat venues you know of that are “mother friendly” (or what could you see retreats offering to mother writers in the future)?

Soapstone is a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon that supports women writers. The organization is no longer offering residencies, but I can tell you that the time I had at the retreat was an absolute gift. I was only in residence for a week during each of my three stays, but to a mother of small children, that seemed like an eternity of time. Having a space to write in a gorgeous natural setting, removed from the routines of the everyday, was invaluable.

Many of the other writing retreats and residency programs that I know about unfortunately do not offer stays of less than two weeks; in fact most are between 1-3 months. As any mother of small children knows, leaving them for even a few days can be a hardship on the family, and nearly impossible for a single mother. I would like to see more residency programs become more “mother friendly” by offering one-week stays. Eventually, I would like to apply for a residency at Hedgebrook, another retreat for women writers, but that won’t be possible until my children are much older, since the minimum stay is two weeks.

I also think it would be wonderful if local writing organizations could offer space in their own offices for “day retreats” – space that could be rented or even offered for free to mothers who are writers to come and write for a day or a few days at a time. I know that for me, it would still be valuable to be able to write for eight dedicated hours and then return to my family in the evening.

Any poetry or writings you could recommend to our readers that you consider pivotal or influential along your own writing trajectory?

The poets I love best are Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds, Joy Harjo, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, and Maxine Scates. In terms of poetry on the subject of motherhood, I could recommend the writing of Sharon Olds (very raw and honest), Jill Bialosky, and Sharon Kraus.

Any desire to talk about your own editorial role at Hyperlexia? Your most challenging moments/experiences? Your most rewarding?

While knowing or loving an individual with autism is becoming more and more common, it has been my experience that it’s hard to find literary-caliber poetry on the subject. It has been wonderful to be the poetry editor for a literary magazine dedicated to showcasing the best creative writing out there on the subject of autism. I have seen some truly remarkable poetry come across my desk. If your readers are interested in excellent poems about the experience of raising a child with autism, I highly recommend the work of Barbara Crooker and Rebecca Foust, among the many other talented writers published in our journal (Hyperlexia).

What are you currently working on?

As mentioned previously, my main project these days is the series of parenting guilt poems. I am also working on a series of poems about raising a child on the autism spectrum. I have completed the series of pregnancy poems, and I would eventually like to see them published in the form of a pregnancy journal for literary-minded women. I also have a handful of completed children’s picture book manuscripts that are looking for publishers. Finally, I’m working on editing my first full-length collection of poetry, which will be released in the coming year.

Brittney Corrigan’s poems have appeared in The Texas Observer, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Borderlands, The Blue Mesa Review, Oregon Review, Manzanita Quarterly, Hip Mama, Stringtown, and Many Mountains Moving, among others. She is the poetry editor for the online literary journal Hyperlexia and lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. To read more of Brittney’s work, visit her website; links to her poetry on-line may be accessed here.

Submissions, submissions

Hi, everybody,

I had an editor’s nightmare moment here earlier today. I accidentally deleted the contents of my inbox, including over one hundred submissions to the Fertile Source. Those are gone forever. If you submitted recently and you haven’t heard from me (recently, a.k.a., “the last year and a half”), please re-send your submission. Thanks!

I also want to turn those of you who are interested onto a new project, The Birth Story Project. They are looking for submissions!

Thanks!

Jessica Powers

Mothers torn: A Book Review

A book review by Jessica Powers

 Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career & The Conflict of Modern Motherhood

Edited by Samantha Parent Walravens

Coffeetown Press, 2011, $18.95, 270 pp.

I had a baby boy, my first, seven and a half months ago. For years before he was born, I intentionally put myself on what might be called the “artist track” in regards to my career. As a writer, I felt like it was more important for me to aggressively pursue my writing than to pursue a job with promotions, advancements, salary raises, and titles. As a result, of course, I’ve never earned what I “deserve” to earn. Writers earn jack, let’s put it that way, for at least a very long time and, possibly, forever. We live for publication. This devil’s bargain has its problems: publication is never a sure bet, and just because a book gets published is no guarantee that it’ll sell well.

 Meanwhile, my friends have started professional careers or gone on to full-time motherhood. The fact that I was in a netherworld of “neither here nor there”—a professional without the salary or title to accompany it—has never bothered me; in fact, I felt rather fortunate that long before I had children, I had negotiated extremely flexible work that I could do entirely from home without ever going into the office. I teach online college writing classes as an adjunct professor, do part-time editorial and publicity work for an independent publishing company, run a small literary press of my own, and write books and articles. Yes, I’m a workaholic.  But juggling these many roles has helped pay the bills and made me feel like I was always keeping my career options open even while I jumpstarted my writing career and then tried to keep the engine going. “If something goes wrong and we need the money,” I always told myself, “I could start applying for tenure-track positions or editorial positions.”

When my husband and I decided it was time to start a family, I happily told everyone that I had the perfect setup. “I’ll still work,” I said (subtext: we need my salary), “but I won’t have to put my baby in daycare” (subtext: we can’t afford it anyway). My dean was happy to still give me classes, my writing career was on track (I signed my second book contract when I was only three months pregnant), and I had more than enough work, even if it didn’t pay very well, from clients happy to have me work at home. Everybody agreed I was lucky and nobody told me just how hard it would be, because nobody I knew had ever done what I am trying to do. The working women I know have all needed to put their children in daycare; the stay-at-home moms I know aren’t trying to earn a living. 

I am going to be honest and blunt here and say that it is definitely possible to do what I’m doing (I’m doing it, after all) but it is very hard, I am very tired, and I am assailed with guilt on all sides that I am not doing the very best job I can do in any of my roles: writer, editor, teacher, mother, and wife.

 In short, I feel torn. 

I can’t tell you how grateful I was to pick up Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood. I devoured the essays in this collection hungrily, seeking comfort from other women who all seem to feel remarkably just as I do, whether they are full-time mommies, juggling a career (part or full time) and motherhood, or (much more rarely) trying to work from home while being a full-time mother as well. I needed to know I wasn’t alone in the guilt. I needed to know that women who choose full-time motherhood or full-time careers struggle just as much as I do, that it is never an “either/or and now we’re done with it” decision. I needed to know that other women had experienced what I have: what felt like a flexible and perfect way to pay the bills while pursuing my writing career when I was childless now feels suspiciously like I’m being mommy tracked. Those career opportunities I knew were always going to be there may not be there in five or ten years if I keep doing what I’m doing. (Though, as always the dreamer, I just assume my writing career by then will be bringing in the big bucks and I won’t need those other careers that aren’t there anyway.)

But, now that I’m home with my child, I can’t imagine putting him in daycare. Recently, for example, I turned down a job interview for a full-time tenure track position as a professor of history. I told my husband I turned it down because I did the math. Once we paid for childcare, a new car, and a professional wardrobe, I’d be making less than what I currently make at home while being a full-time mother. So why be stressed with getting a child to daycare on time to get to work on time and what about when he’s sick and who takes the hit to their career to deal with sick child etc etc etc and so on and so forth? All that is true and if it hadn’t been true, I might have felt enough internal pressure to go to the interview and then, if I’d gotten the job, to take it. But the real reason I turned down the opportunity is because I looked at my little guy and realized I couldn’t do it to him. I couldn’t put him in a daycare where, as contributor Alexandra Bradner writes, the caregiver to child ratio is 1 to 6 and children “roam blankly about these toxic-foam-matted rooms, swatting at each other, consuming ‘health’ bars and juices built out of refined sugars and modified starches, looking at garish plastic toys without knowing how to play with them, and waiting for their heavy diapers to be changed. Their energy is unchanneled, their vocabularies underdeveloped, and their cognitive potential untapped. Instead of being frustrated with all the ways in which so many new constraints are chipping away at their identities, they’re prevented from forming any true identity but that of the generic company kid. And we stand back, mystified that verbal skills and creativity are on the decline while obesity and school violence are on the rise” (114).

 This is not to say I judge women who do put their children in daycare. I know that a parent’s love is the most important thing and there are some great daycares out there. I have several nieces and a nephew who have adjusted just fine and are receiving excellent care. So I could nod my head in agreement with the contributor who defensively said daycare clearly hadn’t hurt her son, he’d gone on to Princeton University after all.  And I felt sympathetic pains, along with an empathetic panic, with the contributor who now regrets her choice to stay at home with her children. Divorced now and barely employable due to her many years at home, she is kept awake at night wondering how she is going to survive financially and whether “retirement” is a word she will ever be able to contemplate. And yet, I was relieved by the contributor who quoted Gloria Steinem as saying that success is not doing it all, that in fact “this idea of doing it all is actually the ‘enemy of equality, not the path to it’” (82). I can’t do it all. But I’m still trying!

 What is a woman to do? There is no one answer to that question.

What I love most about this collection is that the editor does not try to reconcile the disparate and often conflicting emotions that the contributors express or decisions they make and, subsequently, defend. By making this editorial choice, Walravens seems to suggest that it doesn’t matter what a woman does—doubts will follow her no matter what. Although the quality of the essays was uneven, the collection contained many gems and insights. And most importantly, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Reading these essays made me feel like I was connecting with women everywhere, rejoicing in success, sadly contemplating failure, and sympathetically encountering and recounting the frustrations and joys of motherhood in the modern world. Highly recommended reading for all mothers.

Rhythms of Women and Nature: An Interview with Artist Christine DeCamp

Christine DeCamp

In your painting “Incubating”, we see a beautiful image of a half woman/half nautilus figure resting in the belly of a fish, kelp or seastrands descending from the top, and rising up from the bottom, which gives the setting of the painting a mirror world quality–an above and below depicted simultaneously. There’s a sense of internal peace and stillness, the eyes of the dreamer/figure closed (the fish/vessel seems to see and steer for both of them). Your work often features these female figures blending self or spirit with the natural world (sort of like female variations on a centaur). Can you talk about the process of painting Incubating? Why is she traveling inside the fish?

The ocean is our Mother of Mothers from whence all life began. It contains all the references to creation, femininity and the mysteries of life and birth. It is also the mirror of our psyche. The woman inside the shell, inside the womb of the fish and inside the waters of the ocean are reminiscent of the process of evolution, creation and the birth process. I can’t really say much about the process of painting it as it is an older piece–and much of my work develops intuitively, which I believe was true in this case.

In “The Birth of a  Moth” we see a brown-winged woman rising up out of an iridescent ripple in a tree stump, three comets or plumes of light emanating from her crown against the backdrop of night sky. The mystical qualities of night also seem to be characteristic of a number of your settings. Can you tell us what nightscapes offer for you? What the stump and moth figure mean for you?

The moth is a cecropia moth–a large and unusual species. I have heard that they cocoon underground, however I don’t know if that is true. They can be quite large–6 inches or so across, and their wings have the appearance of fur, while their antennae each looks like a feather. They have appeared to me several times as messengers at times of significant shifts in my life. They tend to be creatures of the night. The night is a magical time, when our reality shifts and the veils between the worlds are less dense and easier to traverse. Night belongs to the wild, as civilization tends to fear the darkness. The stump is part of a tree, which connects that which is underground through its roots to that which exists through all the layers of being, extending into the heavens. Trees are containers of life force.

Can you talk to us about your inspiration for “Oxum Queen of Waters,” and to which culture she originated? I’m thinking of Oshun (Cuban Santeria), who in one version of her life, is forced into prostitution to feed her children, and subsequently her children are stolen from her. Which part of Oxum’s story are you translating or transmitting here? Here we see her feet in water, mirror in hand, altar behind her–can you talk about the objects flanking her and what they represent?

My painting of Oxum is sort of an amalgam of water and ocean goddesses and their accoutrements. It began with an interesting book titled “Divine Inspiration”, which compared Brazilian religious practices to their African origins. Oxum is seen as a powerful deity who provides a life of wealth and pleasure. She rules over fertility and is the source of children. I have added symbols from other sources as well–such as the Haitian vevers. The rich spiritual heritage that began in Africa and was recreated in our hemisphere is a great source of inspiration and fascination to me.

In “Guardian” we behold a 4-armed figure standing behind the central figure. This painting has a past life feel to it—are those possible incarnations the central figure holds? Or future possibilities? Can you talk to us about the night blossoms, the crown, the hummingbirds, the energy emanating from the hands, what the Guardian might be passing on, what she might say should she speak?

This painting came out of a vision I saw during a guided meditation that was focused on connecting to a guardian or higher self figure. The dark skinned woman in the background is some kind of a healer, spirit or guardian, while the figure in the foreground is a self portrait. The smaller figures–each contained in a bubble like shape are also self portraits from different stages of my childhood and adolescence. The flowers are trumpet flowers, or datura, which is associated with rites of passage and initiation.

In “Lady of Shalott,” we witness a moon ride, flower blooms emanating light, smoke trails like comets, the plume of whale in background, the red slipper of a boat, dreamlike and peaceful. What were the roots of your desire to portray the Lady of Shalott (Tennyson’s poem, musical adaptions such as Loreena McKennitt’s version from The Visit, the Waterhouse image)? Any surprises in process?

“Lady of Shalott” started with the idea of the boat illuminated by the blown glass torches on the bay at night. Some glass blowers I met at a show were making and selling these torches and told me that they had sold some for use on a boat. I loved the idea of that image and the rest developed from there. As it so happened, I was listening to Loreena McKennitt’s song as I was finishing the painting & that is how it was titled. I have always loved Tennyson’s poem and the various Pre-Raphaelite painted versions of the story.

Any insights about your work’s timeline, where is has traveled, where you’d like to see it taking you, in terms of self/spiritual/subject exploration? You also work with sculpture—can you talk about how the mediums you use work together, shape or affect your work? How do you decide which images to cast on ceramics and which on canvas?

My work speaks to the connection of women and nature in the cycles of creation and birth, but with a focus on the larger picture of the earth, and our spiritual path within that world . In my process, I work intuitively and elements are not planned out as to their significance to the greater whole–it is always a mystery and an unfolding.

There is a reason we always refer to “Mother” Nature—and the earth is not Richard, James, or Zeus—but Gaia. The ocean is also referred to as feminine—and fresh water springs in olden times were revered as sacred to the Goddess. Many of those ancient springs later became the sites for cathedrals dedicated to Mary.

Women are deeply connected to earth cycles, the rhythms of nature and anything concerned with the earth, water, animals and plants. Women are part of the creation of life–whereas the male gods in ancient times stood outside of the creation of life. A woman’s ability to bring forth new life was a reason to honor and worship the connection to the greater web of life. In more recent times, it has become a reason to control and manipulate women.

The current work is both painting and pottery. They inspire one another. The work in clay is grounding and satisfying in a primitive and tactile way, whereas the painting is ethereal and mysterious. I go back and forth between the two mediums as the spirit moves me. I usually have several paintings in process at a time–sometimes both acrylic on canvas and gouache on paper. The ceramic process is complicated by clay drying to slowly or quickly and waiting for things to fire, cool etc.

I like having pieces in various stages so I always have something in process to work on. I don’t like to talk specifically about particular pieces that are in process, because I have found that it robs the piece of power. Like an embryo in an eggshell, they need the dark and quiet to develop.

Any words of advice for young artists starting out? Or even seasoned artists trying to stay true to their work?

My advice to artists finding their way would be to work on discovering and developing your authentic self and don’t get discouraged. Find a support system and keep working no matter what.

In her artist’s bio, Christine DeCamp writes:

When I came to California in 1981 I was making sculpture and furniture, primarily using papier mache and mixed media. I participated in many group shows in various venues including SOMA Arts Center, Limn Gallery, San Francisco Airport Galleries and Virginia Breier Gallery. I began painting again in the late 1980’s and joined Gallery Route One in Pt. Reyes, where I had a solo show in 1991. I moved to West Marin and continued to show with GRO, and participate in group shows with the Bolinas Museum and the San Francisco Museum Rental Gallery. I also began showing at the Celebration of Craftswomen, which I continued to do up until 2008.

In 1997, I was one of the founding members of Point Reyes Open Studios, which I participated in from 1997-1998, and then 2005 to the present time. I currently chair the Publicity Committee for PROS. In 1998, I opened a bookstore and gallery in Pt. Reyes called Manfred’s Books. I exhibited and sold my own work there as well as the work of other artists. I had the bookstore and gallery until 2007. Since 2005, I have been participating in various juried art festivals including the KPFA Crafts Fair, the Live Oak Park Fair and other shows in the Bay area.

Christine DeCamp: 5 Views of Women and Nature

Woman Incubating in Fish

Incubating

Birth of a Moth

Oxum Queen of the Waters

Guardian

Lady of Shalott in boat

Lady of Shalott

In her artist statement, Christine DeCamp writes: I am both a painter and a potter. My paintings have been described as “visionary” and “magical realism”. The images come from a feminine viewpoint and tell stories about the relationships between women and creatures in nature. These pieces are created in gouache and watercolor on paper, or they are acrylic on canvas–often with mixed media additions such as beading and collage. My current clay work is functional, handbuilt and handpainted pieces. I am using slab construction, fired to cone 5. Some pieces are painted with slips and oxides and carved–others are painted with layers of glazes and wax resists. The imagery is based on flora and fauna.

DeCamp’s full collection of artwork can be viewed on her website: Christine DeCamp Fine Art, www.christinedecamp.com. Notes on her process posted here: www.passionforpainting.blogspot.com.




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