Peeling Back the Layers of Memory
Written by
Patricia Savage
November 2011
Written by
Patricia Savage
November 2011

 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 [email protected]

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.

To sign up for the next session of Writing for Moms, an online SheWrites class, please click here or email: [email protected]

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?

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  • Carole Spearin McCauley

    Thanks for your honesty, Patricia.  I grew up among French-Canadian hypochondriacs obsessed with sin in Western Massachusetts.  I didn't get pregnant but did experience sexual abuse from a Irish-Catholic church usher and much bullying from teenage boys on my street.  I heard so much about "godless atheistic Communism" that Russia was the first country I wanted to visit when I reached Europe.  I also heard so much crap about sex and sin.  I wish adults and parents had CARED  more for their own children instead of seeing them as more mouths to feed who were likely to go wrong in some way.  Good wishes from Carole Spearin McCauley

  • Deborah Batterman

    Memory is tricky, indeed. I think the very process of sitting with a memory, trying to give it shape via your words, allows its core to emerge.  Maybe the point is not so much its 'truth' as its hold on us. It takes a certain bravery to 'peel into that multi-layered onion,' and I'm always reminded of Lillian Hellman's 'Pentimento' metaphor when she addressed the unreliability of memory.  Will be on the lookout for your progress. 

  • Carolyn Barbre

    So you were born in the mid 1950s, turned 16 in 1970 when all our social mores were turned on their head with free love, (great for the guys, iffy for the gals). “Make love, not war” was the slogan on the lips of young people against the war, (very bad for the guys getting drafted, iffy for the gals). Although only sixteen, you were being impacted by the new feminists and the surge of women’s liberation (not as great for the gals as preached and threatening to most guys). We first internalize (I must be a bad person). But when you see and tell your story in the context of those changing social pressures you will discover you are the hero, truly.

  • Rebecca Craigie

    Great piece Patricia! So neat to see you published here!

  • Gloria Getman Writing

    I've got about another 25 years on you. Think what I have to remember. When my children were little I remember thinking that I ought to write about all that went on during the day. I once figured out that at any given moment there could be 56 possible interactions, if you didn't count the dog. I'm glad I kept a journal, even if it wasn't every day.

  • Ramona King

    This is so interesting.  I have vague recollections of my own childhood.  My children triggered memories as they grew.  There are so many present experiences that infuse itself in those early years of motherhood.  I do depend on my young adults to share with me their version.  I do think memory is often times a collective effort and our own interpretation of life.  Thank you so much for sharing

  • Kandace Chapple

    I write a column every other month about my kids for the magazine I publish. I realize now what a treasure it is and I wish I had more of them!!!

  • Tannis Ross

    Patricia this is a wonderful story! I enjoyed reading it so much, and feel like I know you a little bit better! It is well written and has such feeling! Congratulations!

  • LuAnn Braley

    You are here, you are adding your voice to women's collective experience and identity.  I call that an excellent fruition of your potential.  Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Carolyn Niethammer

    I'm hooked.  I want to know more. What was the father's reaction? What about the birth?  How did you make the decision to keep the baby. What was your first year together like? Was there more to this story somewhere? Seems like it stopped when it had just gotten interesting.