Getting Real: Precious, Gritty Motherhood

Do you dream of someday sharing stories of yesteryear with your kids?  Read on to learn how one mom, Kate Hopper, found solace, strength, and deep satisfaction through the written word.

Writing Our Truths: Precious, Gritty Motherhood

~By Kate Hopper, author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers (forthcoming May 2012, Viva Editions)

Motherhood has been the subject of my writing for eight years now.  In September of 2003, my daughter, Stella, was born two months early and spent a month in the hospital and the winter months that followed at home with me.  At the time, I was in my third year of the MFA program at the University of Minnesota, and I had to withdraw from school in order to stay home and care for my fragile and extremely fussy baby.  Needless to say, it was a long and lonely winter.

During that time, I craved stories that revealed something other than the rosy versions of motherhood so often perpetuated in our society.  I wanted to know that the exhaustion and despair I felt some days did not make me a bad mother.  But I didn’t find much out there.  So when Stella was five months old, I went to the coffee shop near our house and pulled out paper and a pen.  The images of her writhing on white blankets and beamed from the NICU into the television set in my hospital room came spilling out, and after an hour, words covered the page. For the first time since she was born, I felt grounded and the world felt a little bigger.

That is when I began writing my memoir about Stella’s premature birth.

The further I got into the memoir, the more I realized that some people weren’t taking me seriously just because I was writing about motherhood.  I encountered raised eyebrows and glazed eyes.  Someone even said, “Oh, you’re writing about your baby.  How, um, sweet.”

But motherhood literature is much more than flowery poems about cherubic babies.  The motherhood literature that I’ve read and reviewed grapples with issues of identity, loss and longing, neurosis and fear, ambivalence and joy — all universals.

When women write the truth of their mothering experiences, it can be life changing, not only for themselves, but for their readers.  When we read the struggles that other mothers have had, we know we’re not alone in our own struggles, and we can begin to chip away at the myths that surround motherhood.  These are exactly the stories that need to be written so that other mothers know it’s OK if they experience something similar.  These stories effectively say, You aren’t crazy!  You aren’t a bad mother!

But it can be scary to write about our difficult moments as mothers — moments we’ve maybe contemplated running out the front door to escape.  You may worry about what your children will say if they someday read what you’ve written about them.  Will they be thrilled that they’re famous or feel betrayed that you’ve opened up their private lives for public viewing?

Frankly, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we need to write the stories we’re drawn to write.  My advice is always to pretend that no one will ever see your writing.  If you worry about who will someday read your words, you’ll self-censor and perhaps never get to the heart of what you really need to say.  After you have written and revised and written some more, then you can decide whether you want to make your words public and, if so, how to protect those you love.

One thing that helps your children and family understand why you do what you do is to talk openly about your writing and why it’s important to you.  Make it clear how critical it is for you to be able to express yourself through words.  I hope that my daughters understand how important writing is in my life — and grow to someday respect my work as a writer.

I love what the novelist Julie Schumacher said when I interviewed her a couple of years ago.  She said, “I think my kids understand what are for me the two enormous truths of this parenting/writing experience: 1) I love my children wildly, unreservedly and 2) I can’t live my life without writing things down.”

I couldn’t agree more.

More About Kate Hopper

Want an in-person tutorial on putting the crayons to the side and your own pen to paper?  You’re in luck!  Kate will be teaching a single-session motherhood memoir class at StoryStudio North Shore on May 10.  You can also catch her May 11 at 7:30 pm at Women and Children First in Andersonville.  In the meantime, you can read more of Kate’s work at motherhoodandwords.com and katehopper.com.


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