18 months, anger, artist, babies, baby, black mother, black women, body, bold, boychild, breath, dream, good mother, grief, grow, home, loss, miscarriage, mommies, mommy writes, mothering, mothering bodied, mothering body, mothers, movement facilitator, new mommy, new mommy writes, one, one year, open mic, performance, performance art, poet, poetry, power, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, rage, saltwater, sing, soil, sorrow, spiritual, surrender, tears, toddler, visionary, wednesday's bloom, whole mother, wilderness, women, work sample, writing
79 weeks | The wilderness can be a home | no. 0073
I’m working on a series of poems about my mothering journey for an upcoming feature I have at an open mic night. It will be my first performance in 3 years. I don’t think I’m nervous, but there’s an awkwardness coating my fingers as I write draft after draft of all new material. Am I even a poet? I’ve grown unfamiliar with the public-presenter part of my craft. I can still work a crowd, I’m sure, but I’m rusty. My stories have been told in more intimate spaces for a while now. I am having to go into the basement of myself, dig through all that has accumulated in these early years of birthing. It’s not at all a linear discovery. The search forces me to start and pause, and start again.
The last time I was in front of a room full of people performing my work, I was pregnant and didn’t know it. The piece I was doing was a combination of movement and storytelling. I even sang at the opening, which is not something I feel I’m particularly amazing at. But the people were really moved by my set, and I had so much fun putting it together and delivering it. I had some engaging conversations with folks in the audience afterwards. It was a good and beautiful night for artmaking and creative growth.
A few weeks after that performance, I was losing a baby. It was International Women’s Day and I had a lunch meeting with a team of teaching artists I was going to be working with at a local hospital. We each had a different creative specialty; I had to share my outline for the movement workshop. The program coordinator was treating everyone to lunch at a really nice restaurant. I had started spotting the night before, but I wasn’t ready to quit believing that maybe, possibly, miraculously, all would be well. I couldn’t cancel; I couldn’t come up with anymore lies about what I knew was happening. I wore a pantyliner, too defiant to put on a pad, even though there were several tucked in my bag. Just in case. Just in case I began cramping heavily at the table while passing the butter for the rolls, or spreading chipotle mayonnaise on my grilled mahi sandwich. I could excuse myself to the ladies room, double over in agony in the stall at the site of all that blood falling into the toilet. Beat back the swelling river of tears. Not now, I would say, I’m in a meeting.
The train ride home was a blur. I stopped trying to resist the truth. I accepted that this weeks-old life was indeed passing through me. I counted the stops, blew my nose repeatedly into a wad of crumpled tissues recovered from the bottom of my purse, soaked my fingers in teardrops as I wiped them away. They seemed to know no end.
I proceeded to not give a damn about what all my fellow passengers might be thinking was wrong with me. I knew that at least I could count on the fact that we live in a world where people do not reach out to strangers. I wasn’t bleeding in any way that could be seen. Miscarriage is such an invisible tragedy. I kept my face partially shielded by one hand, the other one held my bag tightly to my chest. The sorrow-breaths and falling saltwater commingled freely in my mouth. Good thing I brought those pads.
I had wanted to make it to the privacy of my own pillow for this spiritual reckoning. That moment when you surrender the mantra of positivity, and concede, that yes, another one of your babies has died without ever being born. I craved that safe space where I could writhe and howl and be angry at the failings of my body to sustain whoever that would have been.
I had my moment later that afternoon. It was brief though, and when I was through it, I didn’t cry again about it. I found The Long Walk Home on netflix and got lost in an old Alabama starring Whoopi Goldberg. My family, having seen me grieve many times from a miscarriage, wondered if I was really processing my loss this time. I ate warm food, drank dong quai, and immersed myself in movies and whole runs of tv shows I’d never thought I’d need for several weeks. I didn’t have language for all I was feeling, but something was different this time. I wasn’t stewing in rage anymore. The madness of the loss had come and gone in a few haunting, screaming hours. But the physical death lived on though the cramping and bleeding. Womb was busy with its intelligent work of recovery, and made me bear witness every minute that there was no longer a beating heart growing within its walls. It’s just me again.
When I have to submit a work sample for this open mic opportunity, that’s when I find myself doing the math. So much growth has happened since the last show, but what do I have to show for it? Breastfeeding scars, maybe that’s artistic. I am embarrassed that I have nothing more recent to represent my art but that piece from three winters ago. And then I instantly feel bad for indulging so quickly in shame thoughts about not doing “enough,” when the reason I’ve not been on stage is because I’ve been acclimating to life as a new mommy. My work sample is a munchkin. Once again I was confronted with that old, mental tug-of-war: finding value in the countless, intangible hours of mothering work AND missing that season of life when I could spend luxurious–even if at times turbulent– expanses of time just doing my art.
I get an email that I’ve been confirmed for the feature. I open to a blank page in my large creation book. I pour out a disjointed story about the nature of these “birthing years.” I try not to edit, and just write. This is hard. The words fumble on the page. It’s like I’m trying to till a rocky soil. I push onwards, though, because the munchkin is sleeping and this is supposed to be my golden hour to create something wonderful.
I am not in the flow, though. You can’t just command the creative spirit to appear in sync with naptime. I realize these poems aren’t going to come in one quiet sitting when I don’t have to share the page with a scribble-happy toddler. I’ll have to be listening for an opening through all the regular moments of the day. Stirring pots of oatmeal in the pre-dawn hours, wiping all traces of poop from the munchkin’s bottom, folding and refolding the clothes because my son likes to “help” me and throw the clean piles on the floor, teaching my child about shapes and colors while building imaginary worlds out of bright, primary-hued, connecting blocks, mashing and cooling sweet potatoes so they don’t burn his tongue.
Somewhere in these actions, a spark, a phrase, a visual will come to mind and start me on my way. I’ll need to keep loose blank paper, pens and pencils stashed all over the place. A mother must always be ready. I’ll never know when it is coming. I can’t count on time to walk me graciously into the muse. This is a wilderness now. My creativity has taken root inside its unpredictable forms. I am learning to make a home within its many hidden holes, its oddly fertile stumbles, its dense and thorny paths.
The munchkin, my first born, was born on a Wednesday. Wednesday’s Bloom: Textual Portraits of a New Mommy is an ongoing multi-media documentary project about my process as a mother. Today’s story is a part of Volume 1, 73 consecutive weeks of posts, spanning about the first year and a half of the munchkin’s life. Each episode explores my weekly discoveries, challenges, questions, and hopes as a mother. I also facilitate the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop for all mothers and women active in their mothering work who are excited about cultivating their own writing practices.