This story is part of a series on Writing and Memories that was commissioned by Cori Howard, the instructor of the SheWrites online class, Writing for Moms. Each story in this series is written by one of the students in these classes. The next session starts in January. Click here for more registration and more details. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
By Patricia Anne Savage
I am 58 years old and until the summer of this year, I had never considered writing about my first experience of motherhood. This is unusual, because I write all the time. But it wasn’t until I took an online class called Writing for Moms that I thought about writing about conceiving, carrying, birthing and caring for my oldest daughter who entered my life when I was 16 years old.
All through the brief courtship with my daughter's father, who I met when I was 15, I wrote the usual teenage odes to love and betrayal, rife with hope, good intention and fear. And when I read them now, I am shocked to see that there is no connection with what should be the obvious gravity of my situation. I was 16. I had had sex twice and I was pregnant.
So now, all these years later, I ask: is memory reliable? What was that moment really like? When I think about my adolescence now, I infuse the reflection with experience, education and expectations based on social norms. I "think" that it must have been an untenable experience for an adolescent to be in. It must have been.
But how can I transcend my perspective today and allow myself to become immersed in that time in order to write about it? Is there value in trying to tear down the defenses that graced me with the strength to live through this? And if so, what part of the "memory" would be "true"?
This is a common dilemma in memoir writing. But this is also the underlying complexity of shared memory. I am often flabbergasted to hear my daughters' recollections of our shared experiences because they can differ so much from my own version. On the other hand, our personal interpretation of memory can be the sustaining underwriters in situations of loss, grief, rescue and choice.
Because of this, I am giving myself license to peel into the multi-layered onion of my life in my writing. I want to look at my memories of early motherhood and sift through the experience to find the essence that vibrates something inside me, because that resonance is vital and seeks to be heard.
My unplanned, teenage pregnancy was shrouded in secrecy, suppressed by feelings of shame. I discounted myself as so many people discounted me for making such bad choices, for playing Russian Roulette with a child’s life, for throwing away all the potential I had to make something of myself.
So when I remember things and give voice to what I lived, I am re-living the experience for the second time. This, like breathing, is essential.
What do you think about writing stories that reflect painful memories? Does it hurt more to re- remeber? Does it help heal the wounds?
Shame is a hefty emotional experience and often wants to be forgotten, not a given voice. How can it be managed in writing?