A Poetry Editor In Transition: Disassembling to Reassemble

By Tania Pryputniewicz

With tenderness and much regret, as my family perches to relocate from the Sonoma County redwoods to the sunny shores of San Diego, I need to write this “goodbye” post…which, due to my absolute love for this site, and our sister site, Mother Writer, Mentor, would better be titled, my “see you shortly around the bend” post. Under the strain of relocating and the need to focus on my family, I am stepping back from blogging and participating on both sites. I will still teach Poetry of Motherhood and Poetry of Fatherhood as well as Transformative Blogging for Women in 2013 and hope to work with you then. I leave our poetry selection in the beautifully capable hands of our guest poetry editor, Kate Bolton Bonnici.

When Jessica invited me to be her poetry editor exactly three years ago this December, I had a three year old son swirling around my ankles, his two siblings barely anchored in school. While I flourished privately by exchanging poetry with a steady writing confidante, I missed the outer world of the literary community. Jessica kindly brought that world back to me via The Fertile Source.

From my quiet acre of redwoods, cornbread baking in the oven, with one child napping and two others coloring, I read through poetry submissions from around the states and occasionally from overseas, thrilling in a surge of genuine connection as each contributor photo appeared in my inbox. I’m undeniably partial, but I believe our interviews with both our mother and father writers go for the jugular, rich with intimate revelations about how to stay connected to one’s children while writing. (I’ve since discovered another poet doing similar work—check her out–this week poet /novelist Jennifer Givhan interviews married team (and editors of Rattle) Tim and Megan Green on their relationship to writing and parenting.)

Jessica and I shared a good laugh over my phone call to her announcing my need to step back for now. Within moments, we found ourselves busy brainstorming the next evolution of how we could work together, discussing workshops we might lead and anthology e-books we could compile based on our work here at The Fertile Source. Jess pulled out her mentor side and did her best to get me to honor the reason I’d called her, which was to create a pocket of time and space to focus on nurturing my own family (instead of dreaming up new commitments).

The impulse to keep playing with Jessica is a testament to how much I not only love her, but the work we do. And what to do when all of the projects in your life give you joy and call and pull equally but have outnumbered your ability to feed and care properly for them?

For now, I admit temporary defeat, succumbing to the need to disassemble to reassemble. After three years of living in two cities (my husband commuting, home on weekends), I’m eager to reunite our family under one roof, to take the kind of advice I’d give to any other mother writer: to stop, breathe, and put the family first, so that out of that bedrock of peace and renewed togetherness can rise the confidence to complete the poetry and blogging projects in my heart also vying for my for time and care.

Here’s to writing and parenting and the spectrum in-between where we all triumph or flounder once in awhile, lost or trying on various hats, in the few hours of writing time alone. I’ve seen many of those selves mirrored in the words and art of Fertile Source contributors and have thus found comfort and solace. Thank you. I’ve so enjoyed this passage with all of you.

The Architecture of Things

Fiction by Andrew McNabb 

I.

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

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

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

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

 

 

II.

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

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

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

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

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

“No, higher,” she said. 

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

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

And so they did.

 

III.

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

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

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

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

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

 

IV.

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

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

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

As always, there were complications. 

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

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

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

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

“So?” said John Thomas.  “So?”

Aoife sat, and a conversation just emerged.

 

Andrew McNabb is a writer, a husband and a father of four.  For more information, please visit www.andrew-mcnabb.com.

 

Poems by Sidney Thompson

MY WORD

In ribbons the blinds
make of the courtyard

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

belly and whisper,
“It’s me again.”

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

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

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

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

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

memory of comfort, you
will recognize my voice,

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

your child, will answer.

THE SEVENTEENTH WEEK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECOSYSTEM

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

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

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

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

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

DISCOVERY PARK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

An Interview with Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores: Birth, Death and Hospice

Author Alissa Hirshfeld-FloresIn “This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge” you bring together insights gleaned from your experiences with birth, death, and hospice. I will quote here from your bio, which proves to contain a poetic introduction to the selections we ran earlier at The Fertile Source: “Her book presents her reflections on what she learned from 12 years working at hospice, which corresponded with experiencing the intersection of the death of her mother, birth of her daughter, and own near-death experience post-partum. While the book speaks candidly about death, it is ultimately a celebration of life.” How and when did it occur to you to braid these strands together? Can you talk to us about the process of writing the book?

I started to journal intensively when my mother was beginning to decline in a more serious way, and I knew she was probably nearing her final months or weeks. Writing helped to contain and make sense of all of my grief feelings. At just about this time, I had also given notice that I would be leaving my bereavement manager position at hospice, after working there for a dozen years, to transition back to full-time clinical work (in a group psychotherapy practice). My daughter at that time was 5.

My mother ended up dying about a month after I left hospice. The timing of things allowed me to have a true bereavement period, as I was slowly building up a caseload and so had a few quieter months of working less than full-time, and thus more time to write as well. As I continued to journal, I realized that I wanted to explore and integrate my experience not only of losing my mother, but of all I’d learned through my years at hospice, as well as my transition into motherhood.

Because I’d gone back to work when my daughter was just 3 months old, I didn’t have adequate time to fully contemplate my traumatic birth experience (which almost killed me) and her birth. As I grieved my mother, it seemed the perfect opportunity to deeply reflect upon the experience of being mothered and becoming a mother, as well as the ephemeral and sacred nature of life.

My writing ultimately was very therapeutic on many levels and became a bit of an obsession! It poured out of me. As I began to share some of it with friends and family, they encouraged me to turn it into a book.

Two beautiful and powerful ideas you present that support the image of the bridge in your title have to do with ways we could better stand to support women in transition: post partum doulas and mentors to help fill in some of the void following the loss of one’s mother. Do you see these types of relationships fostered in our current society? Has it changed at all since you wrote the book? Do these concepts find expression in your professional life as a spiritual counselor? Are there specific pathways or structures you envision our society constructing (maybe these already exist?)?

Unfortunately, I don’t see these relationships fostered enough in our society. I wish our health care system would cover care such as that provided by post partum doulas—whom I think provide such a wonderful service—so that they could be available to most women. The period of adjusting to a new baby in the family is such a vulnerable one for families. I do think grief counselors and women peers in support group can fill in as mentors for women bereaved of mothers—if women have an opportunity or inclination to go for grief counseling (but unfortunately many don’t).

I also think it is a shame that many women are socialized not to ask for help for themselves, and therefore don’t look for the opportunities that do exist. I do feel that I get an opportunity to fill in these voids of support for some women, in my work capacity as a counselor or spiritual director. I have to remind so many women that I see that while it is admirable that they want to protect and care for their children, husbands, parent(s), etc., they have to be sure to put on their own oxygen mask before assisting those around them.

And can you talk about your title and how you landed there?

The title evolved over time. The working title was very bland: “Reflections of a Hospice Worker: How I Learned to Embrace Life.” An author relative of mine suggested that I flip the clauses, “How I Learned to Embrace Life: Reflections of a Hospice Worker.” That was better, but still lacked something. And the fact was, I no longer worked at hospice at my final stages of writing.

I have always loved the Hebrew song based on the quote by Chasidic rabbi Nachman of Breslav: “This whole world is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to fear (but to have faith).” I was still thinking about a title, when I began to hum that Hebrew chant. I then replaced “Reflections of a Hospice Worker” with “This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge,” as in “How I Learned to Embrace Life: This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge.”

Finally, a friend who read a more final draft of the book suggested I drop “How I Learned to Embrace Life.” So you can see how many people helped birth the title! I like the final product: it is poetic and captures one of the book’s central themes, that there is a thin line between life and death and that life is tenuous and precious.

You spend some time in your book reflecting on your assumptions about your mother and how they shift not only as you prepare to become a mother, but as she nears death. What do you take forward from these shifts in perception regarding your own mother as you in turn mother your own daughter? Will you share your book with your daughter (if you haven’t already—I’m not sure how old she is)?

I think that when one becomes a mother, one naturally reflects on how one wants to parent the same as how we were mothered and how we want to do it differently. This process is heightened when one loses a mom, when one is sorting through the positive memories as well as the negative ones. I learned from my mother both how to parent and how not to parent. Both lessons ultimately are valuable.

My mother was very warm, loving and ultimately supportive, and she also had her areas of struggle. Since it is so automatic to do what was done to us, we really have to be conscious about the things we want to do differently—so that we don’t pass on any mistreatment that was done to us. My mother, for example, imposed many of her own ambitions onto me, although they weren’t necessarily a fit for me. I hope I don’t do the same to my daughter. I hope I am a better parent because of all the things I learned from my mother.

My daughter has seen the book and has scanned it to find her name (mentioned several times!) When I do readings, she wants me to read the parts about her!

Have you had any reaction from the hospice community regarding your book? (I could see it being used in the classroom, for example). Similarly, within your faith and your religious community? How did you choose the metaphors of faith you used in the book?

I am pleased to have received excellent feedback from both my colleagues in the hospice community and from my faith community–rabbis, spiritual directors, and religious educators. It was important to me to include the issue of how faith can help one through times of loss and crisis. I observe all the time how faith—no matter what “brand”—sustains my clients.

It is important that people have a way to make meaning during times of difficulty: this might be a religious, spiritual, or existential meaning. And for me personally, working close to death as well as experiencing the miracle of birth while brushing near death, all heightened my appreciation of the mystery of both life and death, intensified my sense of awe and strengthened in me a spiritual sensibility.

Any desire to share us with your work as a consultant for grief-related films (sounds fascinating)? Any specific scene you found powerful to work with or help shape?

I got to be a consultant for Pixar for the movie “Up.” It was a wonderful experience! I was very impressed by how much research went into making the grief experience of the old man in the movie so realistic. During a long afternoon interview with the makers of that film, they asked me detailed questions about how such a character would experience his grief and what might help him to resolve it. We talked both about the use of a memory book as well as how mentoring a child could help one navigate through grief and feel a renewed sense of meaning in life.

Who helped nurture your writer self? Any mentors you’d like to share with us?

I have loved writing since I was my daughter’s age, 9, and I hope she’ll get as much satisfaction from it as I have! I remember various English teachers encouraging me, particularly the editor of my high school literary magazine, for which I was an editor. More recently, two of my supervisors at Hospice in particular supported and encouraged my writing.

Can you tell us a little bit about the novel you are currently working on or any other writing projects?

I am working on a novel about a young woman, who’s just been suspended from her ivy league college, who crosses paths at a New Age intentional community with a 50-something year-old woman who’s just been diagnosed with breast cancer. So it’s about two women, each facing times of crisis and transition, discovering what gives their lives meaning. Similar themes to this book, but with more room for creativity, and character development, and humor. Now, if I could only find the time to work on it . . . .

Any advice for writing mothers?

I would say to cherish and guard those private moments for writing! As moms, we need to replenish ourselves in order to be present and loving towards our children. The creative process, however we tap into it, can certainly help with that.

Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores is a licensed marriage and family therapy, certified spiritual director, and former bereavement department manager.  She currently practices in Santa Rosa and specializes in grief and loss, life transitions, and counseling on spiritual issues.  Her book (This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge, Infinity Publishing, 2011, available at Amazon) presents her reflections on what she learned from 12 years working at hospice, which corresponded with experiencing the intersection of the death of her mother, birth of her daughter, and own near-death experience post-partum.  While the book speaks candidly about death, it is ultimately a celebration of life.  Alissa has been a Hollywood consultant for grief-related films.  In her personal time, she enjoys laughing with her husband–a stand-up comedian–and keeping their daughter entertained.  She is currently working on a novel. Alissa also appears on Writer-Speak with host Mikala Kennan (a half-hour indepth interview).

Baby Alive

an essay by Dana Verdino

I got my first baby when I was nine years old. I named her Sara. I coddled her and I slept with her until my cousin threw her down the stairs and her head popped off. I was so mortified over my baby and its dangling head; I gave up on being a mother and buried Sara, now Baby Dead, next to our brook in the woods. It wasn’t until I met my husband and got married that I started to think about babies again. Babies that are really alive.

I dream that it comes out with a full head of brown hair and my husband calls everyone to tell them the news. I dream about dirty diapers and their rancid smells, the toys strewn about the house, and us around the kitchen table, a little life in a high chair slurping spaghetti. Then I wake up and go to work as a first grade teacher. I laugh with my children. I read them stories. I hold their hands. I wipe their noses.

Four months after our honeymoon I was pregnant.  I ran around the house waving a stick with two red lines. My husband and I, oblivious to the three-month rule, started talking about baby names and over the next few weeks, purchased miscellaneous baby books and told everyone about the baby-to-be. Big mistake. When we went in for my ultrasound, the doctor discovered “it” had stopped growing. He said it happens and there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. I cried for myself and for my husband and for a tiny bean in my uterus that wasn’t entirely alive.  I cried for what we wanted “it” to become—a real, live, tangible, viable, growing, knowing baby. I cried for lost plans and lost diapers and lost spaghetti on a high chair.

Over the next two years there would be three more. Three more stories that I’d never finish; three more toilet burials. Four altogether. A total of eight months worth of thinking and planning, of imagining our next Christmas card, of browsing through the racks at maternity stores and Baby Gap. And a total of thirteen months in between, these months full of arguing, crying, seeking therapy, charting temperatures, tracking ovulation, and taking Prozac just to get through another month and another mourning.

The truth is, I was embarrassed. Every baby that was built inside me was defective. Not quite a woman, I was a baby-eating monster. Don’t touch me or you might catch it. It was humiliating. I’d lie down on the table, the nurse would slide a big xray wand into me, and we’d look up at the screen at a splattered mass of cells while the wall behind her boasted a collage of healthy looking fetuses. The nurse would say something like “I knew this woman and yadda yadda and then she was fine and now she has three children.” Then I’d go back to work, walk into my boss’s office with my eyes astray, and ask her for more time off.

Now I’m pregnant again and I can’t think straight, only in a snafu of red. Continue reading ‘Baby Alive’

Excerpts from This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge by Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores

A Longer Transition

When I awoke, in a clean quiet room in ICU several hours later, nurses and doctors were coming into the room, asking me questions, making sure I was “out of the woods.”  The doctors told me that they stitched up my uterus “like a pot-roast.”  I asked Danny what had happened.  He smiled tiredly and didn’t tell me immediately.  When he did, I didn’t believe him.  Apparently, when I was delivering the afterbirth, because of the way the placenta was attached, it ripped away a part of the wall of the uterus (placenta ecrita).  I bled profusely.  I lost 80% of my blood supply and received 8 liters of transfusions.  Danny told me how terrified he was.  “They asked if you had advanced directives.”  Despite being quite familiar with such things from my hospice work, I hadn’t realized I would need these things before giving birth.  The line between birth and death is indeed quite thin.  “You were hooked up with all sorts of tubes to a respirator.  I was coaching you to breathe,”  Danny explained.

In my woozy state, it felt like the Akeda story in reverse, the story in Genesis in which Abraham receives a command to sacrifice his son Isaac, but is then spared from committing the awful deed at the last minute by an intervening angel.  I had vowed to do whatever God wanted of me in exchange for a child.  But at the last minute, the angels took pity and spared my life.

The nurse brought Sophie in.  She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I was devastated that she’d had to spend her first hours apart from me, deprived of a proper early attachment period.  She lay in a little glass-walled basinet near my hospital bed.  I loved watching her.  I also, frankly, loved when the nurses took her to the nursery to let me rest.  What would happen when it was time to go home?  Who would take care of her?  Where in the world was her mother?  . . .  Oh, yeah.

I’ve since thought about how wonderful it would be if there were a system similar to and as widespread as hospice, a care team who would come to the home to help care for the newborn as well as giving support to the parents.  True, there are postpartum doulas, whose job it is to support new parents and help with the baby, but they are not widely used (most people have probably not heard of such people —I hadn’t).  And they are not currently reimbursable by insurance.  Surely, this vulnerable postpartum period is similar to the vulnerability prior to a death: a time when all of the emotional resources of the family are challenged.  Research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman suggests that 2/3 of marriages suffer due to the stress that accompanies a new birth.  Divorce rates skyrocket in the first year after a child is born.  What a wonderful beginning it would be for new families to receive homecare after a birth.  How much it might help to prevent postpartum depression, child abuse and domestic violence, as well as lowering divorce rates. Continue reading ‘Excerpts from This Whole Wide World is Just a Narrow Bridge by Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores’

No-Name Baby by Nancy Bo Flood

Book Review and Interview by Ann Angel

 NO-NAME BABY  (Namelos)  by Nancy Bo Flood , $16.95

Nancy Bo Flood’s No Name Baby is a multifaceted story, set in the aftermath of World War II, of a teenager’s discovery of family secrets. In this poetic and compassionate telling, readers are drawn into Sophie’s story as she learns her mother is not her birthmother and a family secret slowly unravels as she learns that her aunt Rae is the woman who gave birth to her. While this is a novel of family secrets revealed, it is also the story of Sophie’s coming of age. The novel opens with Sophie refusing to help her mother with the family’s pigs. When her mother falls and goes into premature labor, Sophie believes it is her fault.  Her new baby brother is born so early, his survival is uncertain. According to one reviewer, “Flood succeeds in creating a story that doesn’t pull any punches about life or death, but it’s far from grim – we’re left with a great appreciation for the resilience of the human spirit.”

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            As the novel unfolds, it’s easy to imagine the cost of the secrets this family has kept. Continue reading ‘No-Name Baby by Nancy Bo Flood’

An Interview with Fertile Source Guest Poetry Editor Kate Bolton Bonnici

Kate Bolton Bonnici and familyEditor’s Note:

The Fertile Source is proud to announce Kate Bolton Bonnici as our first Guest Poetry Editor for the coming year. We first met Kate in our Poetry of Motherhood class (offered last spring, through our sister site, Mother, Writer, Mentor). Both Jessica and I were moved to hear that the sort of gritty, honest, grappling poems we publish at The Fertile Source had, over time, provided solace and inspiration as Kate faced her own challenges with mothering while writing.

As a result of Kate’s vibrancy, enthusiasm, and level of engagement with poetry (both her own and that of others), we realized we wanted to keep working with her. A graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law, Kate writes poetry that speaks for itself (read five of her poems here). Starting September 1, 2012, please send poetry submissions to kate [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.

Welcome, Kate! –Tania Pryputniewicz (Managing Poetry Editor, focusing now on role as Art Editor; send art submissions to tania [@] catalystbookpress [dot] com.)

Robbery” tenderly charts a fragility between husband and wife, both partners attempting to stay connected while parenting (scrapping for time together, time apart—the need for time apart landing in this poem more squarely with the wife). Can you talk to us about the emotional landscape of the poem and the process of writing it?

“Robbery” was my attempt to explore the complex space between parents after the birth of their children, the ways their relationship to each other has changed, their understanding of self has changed. They are new people now — overwhelmed, physically and emotionally exhausted, in love with their children, tired of their children, frantic for time together and time apart. I think of it as treading water in an impossibly beautiful sea.

Parenting the children you love creates a remarkable place, but you still must keep your head afloat; it’s hard to reach out for your adult partner when you’re so busy flapping and kicking and taking big gulps of air. Sometimes you remember to lie back, float, look up at the turtle-shaped bits of clouds, and it’s a nice time to reach over, hold hands. Of course, that’s usually when the other one is stuck in his own treading-water thing, and he can’t hear you pointing out that your funny turtle-cloud just morphed into a pink dinosaur.

Our children have deepened my relationship to my own husband; we are fused together now in a profound way. That said, it is so easy to miss each other in the clamoring chaos of daily demands — including the demand for separate space and time for the self.

A quiet grace emanates from your poem, “Morning, Los Angeles,” from the opening admission, “Two now reach for me, want to hold / more than I can give,” which sets the stage—adds a simple poignancy to a line halfway through that reads, “My mother went for a run / and didn’t return.” Where in the drafts of writing the poem did the mother of the narrator enter the poem?

The narrator’s mother entered this poem in the first draft, but I’m not entirely sure where she originated from — one of the mysteries of the imagination or the unconscious, I guess. I set out to write about obsession and, as the mother of two young children (the younger being very young at the time this poem was written), what emerged was not autobiographical or historical truth, but two things, really — an emotional truth (the utterly consuming feeling of having “two now reach for me”) and a need to stretch this feeling to its most painful outcome, abandonment. In the poem, the narrator walks through her own mothering experience under the weight of this loss. It lurks, this pain, this temptation.

“Blood lines” picks up the narrative thread of mother haunting, examining in part how in becoming a mother oneself, memories of one’s own mother resurrect, reappear on a cellular level, here along the axis of “torn perineum.” How did you arrive at that amazing final image of that narrator’s mother’s birth-ravaged body, “holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end- / over-end down the street”?

The narrator’s mother in “Blood Lines” did not appear until significantly far into the revision process. Earlier versions of the poem were purely a communion between mother and child, but somewhere along the way, I knew I needed to get more precise about the pleasure-pain tension one feels after birth, even a peaceful one, but especially if you have experienced tearing or an episiotomy. (I remember first hearing about episiotomies from my mother and being horrified at the notion. How barbaric! Then, contrary to my wishes, I had one with my first birth. During the birth of my second child, I had some tearing, but the dear midwife who sewed me up was so gentle, just as she was throughout the birth. Her soothing voice set me on a different course of healing.)

When I wrote this poem, I had in my mind the image of a quilt, of the literal lines woven by perineal stitches, the way my birth marked my mother’s body in this specific, physical way, the way the birth of my daughters did the same for me. This was the image I kept coming back to, and it led to the memory of new mothers taking their first steps after birth, the timid, ginger putting of one foot in front of the other, after your body has gone through the all-consuming process of birthing a separate being.

More, that fuzzy period just after birth felt like the first time I’d really understood my own mother, an honest glimpse into her experience. She was also there with me during the delivery of my first child, rubbing my calf, and would have been there for the second, except I needed her to do the important work of watching my firstborn.

In “My Former Object of Everything,” you take the risk to bare the push and pull all mothers (who have more than one child) learn to withstand: dual love for the firstborn and intense frustration aimed at that firstborn when the second child comes along and that firstborn does what he/she does best: clamor for attention, etc. How did you arrive at your final draft? Are there other tensions (for mothers or fathers) you have yet to see explored in poetry that either you wish to explore or you’d like to see others exploring in poetry?

In my line of work (work away from writing, that is), I see tremendous pain in family relationships, families that are deeply splintered and broken, often wounded beyond repair. I think this experience underlies some of my writing about family. It sneaks up and darkens the world of the poem I’m creating.

That said, I was blindsided by the difficulty of caring for two children. I was blindsided by how draining the first child’s great need would be and how the strength of my connection with the baby would create unexpected tension. As with the other pieces in this group, I wanted to take my emotional experience and run with it into a poem, moving away from the literal and autobiographical into a new poetic space, one that would, I hoped, illuminate what hides at the fringes of the self.

Of all the poems in this submission, this poem most grew and shrunk over the course of the writing-revising process. With each draft, it expanded and compressed, expanded and compressed, until finding its current state.

I am fascinated by (and a little afraid of) missed connections between people, and the anger and frustration generated when we cannot connect. The theme of missed connections threads through all of these poems, I think, as I struggle to understand the realities of family life. With each poem, I try to write what is hard, what gives me pause, what makes me worry. When I feel myself retreating, questioning, looking over my shoulder, I think, there, there it is, write that! Some days I am brave — I write. Other days, I put down my pen. Fix another cup of coffee. Put away toys or turn up the radio. I don’t listen. When I write, I’m trying to listen, to be willing to explore the fullness of a moment, in all its mystery, glory, fear, dullness, uncertainty. I’m trying to push this further, to be braver, to write it all.

Can you talk to us about your relationship to writing, before and after the birth of your children?

Midway along my pregnancy with my second child, I felt a strong need to start writing poetry, after spending my entire writing life focused on fiction and creative nonfiction. It was quite a shift, but a necessary one for me. I’ve written poetry almost exclusively for the past year and a half. There are days when I write less because of my children. Then, there are days when I connect more intensely than ever to my writing and feel ravenous for it — in part because of my children. Plus, they give me tons of material. Joy and suffering and the gritty beauty of the everyday — it’s all there in the relationship with and experience of children.

How does poetry figure, if it does, in your professional life as a lawyer?

I’ve struggled with answering this question, and I think the answer is that there is a complex relationship between my lawyering and my creative writing. Stripped to their most fundamental cores, words and narrative are central to both fields. I am more precise in my legal writing because of my work as a poet. I edit my legal work on a micro level; words matter desperately in law as in poetry. And good, honest storytelling is just as necessary. Each side in a lawsuit must tell their story their way; the lawyer is there to help facilitate that process.

The tougher, but equally necessary, answer to this question is to consider the way my career as a lawyer influences my poetry. I practice primarily in the areas of criminal defense and family law, two deeply rewarding, deeply important (in the sense of fundamental rights and basic justice and all that good stuff), but deeply difficult fields. Frankly, no one seeks out my help unless their life is falling apart. The substance can get morbidly dark indeed, and I am witness to tremendous sadness and personal anguish as a matter of course. I think the experience of standing near the unfolding of intense, traumatic episodes in the lives of others has challenged and changed my writing.

How do you find time to work, to write, to parent, to tend to a marriage?

Ah, this is the question, isn’t it? In fits and spurts, frantically, often poorly and with bursts of goodness and delirious devotion. Seriously, as we all experience, every day is a struggle. Every day something gets shut out or forgotten or plainly rejected. (Today that thing was a balanced meal. Sometimes cereal will have to do.) I try to write daily or at least most days, and I consider time spent revising to be time spent writing. I often write late at night snuggled up next to a sleeping baby. I also run, reaching a nice, meditative place where I can work on ongoing poems or construct new ones.

I am thankful for my mother, my role model, and I am grateful to my husband, for truly getting it. Some days when my older daughter pretends she’s a grown up, she says she’s a mother and a lawyer and, oh, she must go write a poem! On those days I think I’m doing okay.

Any special poems or writing mentors you wish to share with our readers?

My aunt, Patricia Foster, has been my lifelong writing mentor — patiently reading my stories and poems (going all the way back to elementary school rhyme schemes and princess illustrations), feeding me a steady stream of new books for as long as I can remember, providing a template for the writers’ life, and crafting so many lovely sentences for me to soak in and learn from. Her novel, Girl from Soldier Creek, is forthcoming in October.

There are so many poets whose work I admire deeply — Beth Ann Fennelly, Natasha Trethewey, Mary Oliver, Laura Kasischke, James Galvin, just to name a few.

I just finished reading Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. Exquisite, haunting, and yet breathing with little gusts of joy.

Five Poems by Kate Bolton Bonnici

ROBBERY

The children sleep, closed
faces warm and lush,
round fruits. I leave them
curled in blankets to curl
around my computer
or The New Yorker.

My husband asks me to sit with him
on the sofa. I see too late

he meant to be kind.

His voice held something
warm and timid, an offering
gone now. He licks
his hurt by saying
I’ve abandoned us.

I didn’t mean to bruise the pear.
My thumb pressed
heavy

into milky green flesh.
We flush with misread wants.

I race to catch the only scrap
of self I can still see.
It shudders away, thin
paper napkin tossed
along the freeway. I run,
breathing too fast to tell him

I’m lost.

MORNING, LOS ANGELES

Two now reach for me, want to hold
more than I can give. We stroll into clusters
of flies. Their hard, green bodies pop
against my face. My older daughter shouts,
“Shoo, fly!” I wave a pocket
of purring wings. The baby in my arms
nudges my chest, wanting. A white truck drives
past, radio loud enough to vibrate
my shoulders. I taste it in my throat,
chew on the squall of voices
and potholes. My mother went for a run
and didn’t return. She wrote a letter
from Phoenix of birds rising black
in the desert. Above us, a gold-throated
hummingbird shivers, suspended
like the dime-store Christmas ornament
on my father’s tree, glitter-sweet angel
spinning.

BLOOD LINES

Daughter, we are floating.

Your fingers whisper. Somewhere my mother jerks awake. On the yellow couch. Beside the kitchen counter. She remembers her name. You sleep with one new hand on my chest, asking for my breath. We have only just met, but you curl into me. Your lips flutter and click, nursing through our sleep.

Beneath us, Los Angeles. Lights shudder like the trilling mouths of birds. In the old place, robins swarmed South, draping an orange net over the yard and yanking berries from the hedge. Our front walk graffitied with their purple-berry shit.

I bled when you were born. Your sweet, bulging body pressed through me with all I’d rejected. An emptying. The sound of my groaning brought you caked-white, mouth searching, blue cord heaving between us: I offered up everything. When it was time for me to stand, I couldn’t, and we waited a little longer in the space of your first being.

Morning emerges now, dust fizzing on the plastic, half-closed blinds. You wake with startled arms, a beetle on her back, belly warm. You need to press your cheek to my cheek, mouth open to my neck. Breath smudged with milk.

I lie with you on the crackling chuck pad, aching where your body opened up mine to be born, sacred space stitched pink. I once wove these lines upon my mother. For days after she shuffled close-legged, torn perineum, holding her re-written body like a shaky glass egg that could lope away end-

over-end down the street.

MY FORMER OBJECT OF EVERYTHING

You tore me as you emerged a formed
person, saying masquerades, gorgeous birds
dissolve, we have strings for our antiquities
.

I forget that you are so young, that you were only
just born, in the scheme of things. I can’t stop saying
what you will remember years later to your daughter,
words frothing like yellow-jackets in the black oak,
their flashing bodies hard pebbles, stinging,
stinging into death.

You are three: Don’t hit me.
I could. I almost do. You know this before me.
Between us, the baby you once were nurses,
her mouth noisy and pleased.

You hold one hand on your hip, a painted tambourine
in the other, purple plastic heels rattling too big on your feet.
My name is Linda, smiling a thin-mouthed secret:
I am a mother too.

The baby mumbles. You play the bright tambourine.
See, I’m laughing! Don’t you see?
The tambourine chatters and skates like branches scraping
the tin roof of the barn where I hid, a sound

large enough to blanket the missing earth beneath us,
loud enough to soften
our fall.

I CAN’T REMEMBER SLEEPING ALONE

From the time you slid out with all that blood and feces,
you began to leave me. I began to leave you.

You clutch my necklace, my thumb, my nipple. A strand
of my hair loops around your ear. Outside, a green truck

heaves past. Our walls shiver. I lay you in the little-used
brown bassinet. Your cry leaps out, a coiled and trembling

deer. I wait too long to answer, air clotted like my grandmother’s
gelatin salads, tender boiled bones, my arms lost, sockets

aching, unable to reach for you again. Under the weight
of your sound I am quiet; I don’t tell everything. Dark words

skulk, broken-eyed, waiting. Some days omission
is the best love I can give.

Kate Bolton Bonnici is a writer, mother, and lawyer living with her family in Los Angeles. Kate is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University School of Law. She is originally from rural Alabama.

On Healing, God, Creativity, and Parenting a Child with Disabilities: An interview with Bonnie Peters

We published Bonnie Peters’s short story, “A Hole in the Roof,” several weeks ago. Here, she speaks with us about writing and raising a daughter with disabilities.

Bonnie PetersWhat was your inspiration for your short story “A Hole in the Roof”?

Years ago, I taught a Sunday school class my daughter Sara attended.  Mark 2:1-12 was to be the story for the week and as I read and reread the scripture to prepare, the words bothered me.  I knew the story held an important truth, but I was afraid the students and most importantly Sara would only see the literal message – that Sara or her family had sinned and the punishment resulted in Sara’s physical disabilities.

 I solved my problem the coward’s way by skimming over Jesus’ words to the paralytic and emphasizing the message of how far we might go to help our friends.   The story tells about faithful friends lifting up a full grown man to the roof of a house, and then tearing a hole through this roof to lower him to a place of healing next to Jesus.  The tale inspired me.  The words sin and forgiveness frightened me.

Not long after the Sunday school incident, Sara and I were shopping.  As I pushed my daughter’s wheelchair between racks of clothes in a department store, an employee walked up to us.  Without even a greeting first, the man offered what he must have felt was life changing advice.  “If you had more faith, she could walk.”  He no doubt meant well, but my anger at the man’s insensitivity kept me awake for many nights.

I held these two events inside until I worked them out in a story.  As always, the characters took off in their own direction.  I never resolved any major spiritual questions, but the scripture is no longer scratching at my heart.

 

I love the way you link a mother’s desperation for her daughter to be well, whole, healed with the biblical story of the friends who lowered a crippled man through the roof so that Jesus could heal them. The ending of your story has so much pathos, with your main character Anna realizing that she, too, would do whatever it took—anything—if she just knew where to look to find healing for her daughter. Can you talk a little bit about your artistic impulse in leaving this aspect of the story open to so many different possible interpretations?

 When we first adopted Sara, I had the arrogance to question how any mother could give up their child.  Because I couldn’t understand it, I wrote about it, trying to experience life from the eyes of a mother in a different place than the one I have enjoyed.  I wanted to know her emotions, her questions.  That is why I read stories.  That is why I write stories—not to tell my story, but to feel their story.  I didn’t want to tell the reader what decision Anna made; I wanted the reader to feel the pain of having to make such a choice and ask herself what decision she might have made under similar circumstances. 

 I grew up in a Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Cosby Show type family.  It is easy for me to love God as my Father because I have a fabulous human father that I honor.  It was easy for me to adopt and care for a child with severe disabilities because I grew up with a mother that nurtured and loved me.  As an adult, I also had support all around me, the support necessary to cope with the not so normal aspects of parenting a child with disabilities.  My husband and I had everything we needed to walk, climb, and lift another person to some level of healing and comfort, and that is what Jesus expects us to do.

 

As a teacher of teenagers with disabilities, and as a mother to a child with similar disabilities as Marah’s, can you talk about the unique challenges  a single mother of a child with cerebral palsy and possible mental retardation faces? Are there resources out there to help her?

As a teacher of children with mental and physical disabilities, I knew how difficult parenting a child with many needs would be.   And I was quite certain that I would never be up to such a task. 

My husband and I gave birth to an adorable little boy and when he was five, decided to adopt a little girl from Korea.  God had other plans and led us to Sara.  In spite of my reservations, it was love at first sight.

Sara became our daughter when she was three years old and lived with us until she was twenty-four. She has spastic cerebral palsy that involves all four limbs and is also mildly mentally challenged.   At first, Sara only had a vocabulary of ten words.  But competition with her new brother caused rapid growth in her expressive language abilities.  She learned to speak so she could tell her brother what to do or not to do and then tell on him when he wouldn’t comply with her wishes.  As with all children, you laugh, you cry, you are amazed, you are sometimes even horrified by the things they do and say.  I think these moments are intensified with children who have disabling conditions.  Sara has inspired me, energized me, frustrated me, and exhausted me. 

With her big hazel eyes, thick brown hair, and a beautiful smile, Sara could and still can charm the most hardened personality.  When tickled by something, she laughs from her belly.  When Sara is angry, she can scream with a pitch just shy of breaking glass.  She is a master manipulator, very observant of details, and has bionic hearing when it comes to things you don’t want her to hear.  She loves to know what is going on in everyone’s lives and then tell everyone else.  I learned to not skinny dip in my backyard pool ever again if I don’t want Sara’s entire elementary school to hear about it.

 I didn’t find the challenges of parenting a special needs child too daunting early on.  For one thing, I knew our daughter had cerebral palsy before she was our child, so there weren’t any expectations shattered.  I also didn’t carry the guilt many mothers mistakenly feel after giving birth to a child with disabilities.  Because Sara was a special needs adoption, financial support had been set up for us even before the adoption took place.  If Sara had been born to me, I would have had to seek out and maybe even fight for the financial help.

I don’t want to sound like it was an easy twenty- one years while Sara lived with us.  It wasn’t.  The stress of constant care-giving built over time.  Sara was tiny for her age, yet the necessary tasks of diapering, dressing, bathing, and lifting her from one position to another quickly became exhausting even with the help of her father.  At ages three, four, five, even six – it wasn’t much of an issue.  By the time Sara was a teenager, I was building up some muscles and tired of wiping her butt.

When I worked, I had a part-time helper assist me in the afternoons.  Still, I had to take time off to drive Sara to appointments at orthopedic clinics, neurology clinics, and wheelchair clinics. Sara had physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.  So far she has needed six major surgeries with week -long hospital stays and two or three outpatient surgeries.  The home care after the surgeries was often brutal.  I found myself sobbing uncontrollably after spending too many nights of getting up every two hours to change her position and/or to clean diarrhea out of the half-body cast the doctors had bound her in. 

 Sara became the major focus of our lives.  She had to be.  We made time for our son, but probably not as much time as we would have had his sister been more physically able to do things.  Family vacations had to be limited to ones that didn’t include hiking, biking, kayaking, or going anyplace lacking in wheelchair accessibility.  Otherwise, one of us needed to be left behind, making the vacation a little less family oriented. 

Wherever we went, Sara was given plenty of positive attention.  A cute little girl in a pink wheelchair is not a threat or scary to even young children.  People were very accepting, accommodating, and helpful the majority of places we went.  They often went out of their way to speak to her, tell her how cute she looked.  

I still remember the time we attended a county fair.  Alden wanted to win one of the huge stuffed animals and tried many times at various booths—penny toss, shooting range, balloon busting, etc.—but only managed to win a tiny plastic toy.  My husband and I gave him the “you can’t win them all”, “the fun is in the playing, not the winning” talk and he was buying it until one of the carnies took pity on Sara.  She had also been playing the games with a lot of help from her dad, but still hadn’t come close to winning even the smallest of prizes.  The man at the penny tossing booth gave Sara one of the coveted bears, a brown teddy as big as she was.   Alden smiled, but I could see how invisible he felt. 

Life is much easier now.  Sara moved to a group home four years ago at the age of 24.  Her home is next to the school where I teach and we see each other a couple of times a week.  She manages to text or call me a couple of times a day, and attends all family and holiday gatherings.  

We—myself, Sara’s father, step father, brother, step siblings, and the extended family- are all so thankful to have Sara woven tightly within our lives. The difficulties have only made the fabric of our existence richer, rarer, and more luxurious.  But I am well aware of how much easier our journey with Sara has been because of the support system we have been graced with. 

 Do I understand how Sara’s mom could make the decision to give her up?  Yes, I believe I do.   My heart breaks for all the Annas out there living in circumstances that require them to even consider giving up their child.  I applaud their bravery and their sacrifice for making a selfless choice, either direction they take.

Did you worry about how Alden might have responded to your choice to adopt a child with disabilities, given how that rearranged the focus of your family?

I worried about Alden feeling slighted until he showed me a paper he had written his senior year in high school.  Alden was asked to write about the most important year of his life.  He wrote about the year we adopted Sara, 1987.

In his paper, Alden told about some of the frustrating times.  “If I felt like jumping right into something and Sara was with me, I couldn’t because of her needs.”   He mentioned the disappointing times.  “They (friends and their siblings) could play on the swings or go swimming in the pool and play basketball outside, but I wasn’t able to enjoy those things with my sister.”  But he concluded on a positive note.   “Even though there have been tough times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Sara has made me a better person, and I thank her for the things she has taught me. ”

Do you have any regrets about how your family responded to the challenges of raising a child with disabilities and a child with no disabilities?

Giving birth to my son and adopting Sara are two of my greatest blessings.   I didn’t and don’t always appreciate those blessings.   When Alden became a teen, I had regrets about giving birth to such a mean, disrespectful, ungrateful human being.   I questioned the sanity of anyone who even thought about having a child.  Why give birth to someone who hates you?  Sara to this day can become so frustrated and angry that she takes it out on anyone close enough to scratch or be deafened by her piercing screams.  Those are times I daydream about life without a disabled child.   But my moments of regret are fleeting.  I thank God for both of them, 99% of the time. 

What stories are you working on now?

Two months ago, my husband (Sara’s step father) and I were given the opportunity to share our home with a young man who didn’t have one.  It has already been an emotional ride, full of ups and downs and swift turns.  John and I are old enough for AARP cards and having a teenager living with us brings back feelings and fears we had long forgotten.

Our new charge has seen plenty of difficulties in his seventeen years, and his life story has motivated me to write.  I don’t know where his character will lead me.  I’m not sure if we will stick close to the truth or if a new story will appear in the writing.

I am also revising and updating a couple of young adult books I wrote years ago. 




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