1st August 2015
Is ‘blogging’ a form of artistic expression?
Does having a Masters degree in Creative Writing qualify one as an artist?
Is one an artist only if one is creating something from the imagination e.g., a novel?
I turn to the dictionary and find that as a novelist I qualify as an artist; as a blogger, no. And yet, for me, the process feels the same in that I’m creating something that didn’t exist before. But where blogging and writing a novel differ is in the ingredients: a novel is made up of fictitious characters and places…even if somewhat based in autobiography…whereas personal essays for the blog are made up of autobiographical facts. Then again, it must be argued that autobiography is laced with half-truths, because, lord, one must make truth acceptable not only for oneself but for one’s readers. What if the truth is boring? Or offensive? Or painful? I am no different than most; when it comes right down to it I play it safe out of fear that to tell the whole truth will result in rejection.
I have an essay that’s been sitting on my desktop which I wrote for the blog 2 years ago but then decided not to publish as I was afraid it would be too grueling to read. But I feel, now, that to really be an artist is to dare to paint or dance or write the stuff that is distasteful, disappointing, maybe even disturbing to others. If it turns many away, yet reaches one person who needs to see or read such expression in order to feel whole, then surely it is worth the risk. So I take my courage now and go forth.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the birthday of my stillborn daughter, Amy, who would have been 43 on July 18th. As in most years, I expected and embraced the sadness that accompanies that date as well as choosing to believe that while she never took a breath, her spirit is an exhalation, a gently sigh that has accompanied me all these years. But this year I was unable to shake the sadness and over the ensuing two weeks the sadness entwined with the desolation I have felt at being unable to find anyone who would help me get an agent, never mind a publisher.
Then, this past Tuesday, I logged onto the NY Times and found, in the Health section, a piece about stillbirth. The article was comprised of perhaps 50 stories from mothers whose babies had been born still. I started reading these stories. All of them gave the date of the babies births, many of them were accompanied by photographs of the mother, and sometime the father, holding their swaddled babies, looking down at them with the fullness of love. Some of them wrote about bathing their babies, sleeping with them, holding them, christening them, photographing them, burying them. All of them said that if this should happen to you, you will be forever changed.
But none of them said what it would be like if you never saw your baby. If, after hours of labor, already knowing your baby was dead if, when she slipped out of your body and you sat up and reached for her to hold her, to kiss her, to gaze upon her that the doctor would put a gas mask on your face and all would go dark; that when you came to in the recovery room, someone would be holding a clipboard over you asking you to sign something. That you wouldn’t know it was an autopsy form. That when you next came-to you would hear a baby cry down the hall and realize it wasn’t yours.
As I scrolled through the stories, the majority of them from the last 15 years, I started looking for dates in the early 70’s, or earlier, expecting to read a story like mine. But even in the one dated 1950 it wasn’t to be found; in that story, when the nurse started to take the baby out of the room the mother called out to hold it and the nurse turned and placed it in her arms. I was looking for my story and I couldn’t find it. But surely, I thought, surely other women suffered the same experience as me? I couldn’t be the only one this happened to. And so I scrolled down to the end of the article thinking I’d be able to add my story there and in so doing help mothers like me feel less alone. But there was nowhere to put it. Closed for publication it said. And I felt an enormous horror; I called out to Joel, “I can’t even get my dead baby’s story published.”
Over the next few days I experienced a hopelessness and emptiness like never before; so vast and all encompassing it was beyond my comprehension. I really couldn’t believe it; that after all these years and all that work I could still end up in this place; a place where I veered between total absence from self to feeling filled with lead. It took me 5 days to understand that I chose to feel empty because I was terrified of feeling bitter.
It took me until today to realize that what I was unable to put into words before, is that I have lived for 43 years keeping at bay what I thought would be too nightmarish to feel, never mind say: that both my baby and I suffered rejection at birth; a sort of howling kinship from which neither of us can comfort the other.
As many of you know, I am on my way to self-publishing my latest novel (today I got the ISBN #) And now, it would seem, I have another story to publish. This one. Today. Here. The story of Amy Katherine:
She lived in me for 9 months. She had a room and a crib and clothes and toys waiting for her. She had my arms waiting for her. My breasts made milk for her for 3 weeks after she died. She had a father and grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. She had 2 Labrador retrievers and a cat. She suffered at the end of her life; the placenta not functioning properly for the last month did not feed her adequately. She was fully formed but underweight and so did not have the strength to free herself from the cord which strangled her 2 days before she was born. Except for the doctor and delivery room staff, she was unseen. Color of hair: unknown. Color of eyes: unknown. Length of her fingers and toes: unknown. Was her nose like mine or her dad’s?
Her spirit, too gentle for this world is palpable nonetheless. She, like all stillborns, was an individual, unique human being who left us before she arrived. She, along with all the lost souls, deserves recognition.
I ask those of you who can, to please help me honor her life. Light a candle. Pick a flower. Sing a lullaby. Say her name.
Died 16 July 1971
Born 18 July 1971