Processing Motherhood with Poetry
So we moved this summer. In the process of unpacking, I found a composition book with notes, freewriting, story ideas, and poetry from the Creative Writing class I took at BYU during the last semester of my senior year. I was newly pregnant with my first child at the time and thus processing a lot of my mother issues. As usual, one of the ways I chose to do this was through words. The following are two poems I wrote in the early months of 2003 and another written more recently.
This first poem is about my stepmother. She came into my life when I was about three or four years old. My dad met her while attending graduate school at BYU after his marriage with my mother ended. Unfortunately, he was no longer allowed to teach seminary as a divorced man. So he went back to school full time and worked to support our family as a single dad of six. I was the youngest, and desperately in need of maternal love and affection. My dad’s new girlfriend, a former elementary school teacher obtaining her doctorate in neuropsychology, could work magic with small children, and I was smitten from the start. She introduced us to literature, art, history, theater, cultural diversity, music, and lots of new foods. Who I am today I owe in large part to her influence.
A pair of small blue eyes
Soaked in all the love that she emanated
From her tall, beautiful figure.
A little hand,
Fingernails stubby from nibbling,
Her warm, slender fingers,
A child’s ears
Swallowed her voice–
Drank in deeply the tales
Of Arabian Nights and
Trees that gave and gave.
The growing heart
Embraced the seeds she offered–
Words, knowledge, safety,
And the seeds still grow.
The next poem describes many women who have mothered me over the years: my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my stepmother, my aunt, and others. As I pondered my pregnancy and the path of motherhood, I thought a lot about these women and having had a rather non-traditional upbringing wondered whether I would be a “successful” mother.
I’ve been saved so many times
By gentle hands and soothing words.
She, with the instincts of life and nature,
Drew me to her.
In nights when only light and noise were solace,
She rescued me.
When the darkness and the silence were unbearable,
Or when I wept, incapable of expressing my fear,
Surrounded by familiar prisons, she pulled me out.
She had so many faces, so many names,
But her heart is called Mother.
And now my own heart strains
As the title bursts upon it.
It hurts, but the pain is also joy.
I fear the title.
Can I be Mother?
Will nature teach me how to be a
Now, 12+ years later, I am Mother to four (and a half) children. I wonder all the time if I am really capable of taking on any more, but the truth is I have wondered this every time I have been pregnant. Somehow my children have turned out remarkably well, whether because of or in spite of my efforts. I try to remind myself that, even when I’m not nurturing them as well as I think I should be, they have a life full of love, consistency, and security that I could only have dreamed of as a child.
This last poem I wrote just two years ago. It has been on my mind a lot the past few days. Last week I discovered that I am presently pregnant with another girl. This was a bit (a lot) shocking as I had been anticipating the arrival boy-child who has been visiting me for the past four years. But one of the things that has enabled me to open my heart to this daughter is remembering the millions of girl babies who have been eliminated in areas of the world with boy-baby preference. Girl babies in these areas are far too often aborted (sometimes by force), killed at birth, abandoned, or channeled into the horrific sex-slave trade. There are 163 million females who would have populated Asia but are “missing” because of gendercide. That is more than the entire female population of the United States.
Two years ago, on June 2, 2013, I organized a day of fasting and prayer to raise awareness about this heart-breaking problem. Early that morning, I was awakened by the words of a poem forming in my head, demanding to be written. And when I re-read it now, carrying a daughter in my womb, my heart cries, “I hear you! I want you! I will be your mother!”
When I hear
A baby cry,
An invisible vibration of longing
Penetrates my mortal shell,
Gliding through flesh and bone
Like a delicate silver thread.
It throbs with urgency
As it wraps around
A hundred million
Bursting with a deafening silence,
Pull me from my sleep
Like newborns in the night,
Their silent voices throb,
“Cry for us,
Scream for us,
A slideshow I made for the June 2 day of prayer… Some of the girls in the video were the daughters of people who participated in the event…