Mother Writer! Essay Contest Entry
Written by
Susan Bearman
July 2010
Written by
Susan Bearman
July 2010
We have been requested to post our entries to the Mother Writer! Essay Contest, that was held in in honor of SheWrites one year anniversary. Here's my entry: ------- Mother Writer? Writer Mother? For me, it’s a chicken or the egg question. When you become a mother, you figure out pretty quickly how to write good nonfiction: medical histories; notes to counselors and teachers outlining everything they need to know about your child; letters to kids at camp; notes in lunch boxes; so many permission slips and forms that your fingers start to bleed. Writing — whether you like it or not — is part of motherhood. I was a writer before I became a mother, but motherhood changed my writing along with everything else in my life. When my twins were born 16 weeks prematurely, I couldn’t be much of a mother to them. At 1.5 pounds each, they were cloistered away in isolettes and attended by teams of caregivers who were far more important to their survival than I was. The parent support group at the hospital issued us keepsake journals, so I wrote. Initially, it was my way of tracking the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, life-and-death roller coaster that was their experience for five months on the neonatal intensive care unit. I recorded minuscule weight gains measured in grams; I noted each medication and procedure; I tracked which nurses and doctors were on duty; and I wrote down my questions — hundreds of questions. As the days and weeks wore on, I found myself chronicling more than just their medical progress. Those journals were the place where I transformed myself from terrified bystander into the mother of these remarkable beings. I wrote how shocked my husband and I were that no one congratulated us on their birth: “Whether they live for 90 days or 90 years, these are their lives and we intend to celebrate.” I wrote about my worst nightmare: “What if we keep them on life support and they live only a few days or weeks knowing nothing but pain?” I wrote about my helplessness: “I sit at this wicked electric breast pump for hours every day, sucking out a few ounces of milk that we have to freeze because their digestive systems are so immature that they can’t even get mother’s milk yet.” I wrote about how one triumph always seemed to lead to the next crisis: “Today they turned down Molly’s oxygen levels and talked for the first time about her going home, but then they told me that she has retinopathy of prematurity and will probably be blind.” I wrote about their incredible will to live: “Isaac has turned the corner from his devastating infection. He’s become a local hero and staff from all over the hospital have visited him to say ‘Way to go, Ike!’” I stopped writing when we took them home from the hospital. I had no time to write. I was busy being their mother. Today they are 18 years old and healthy — ready to write their own stories. But this is the story I was meant to write. I think it’s time to get out those journals and get busy.

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  • Susan Bearman

    Thanks for your kinds words everyone. Must get this story written fully before the memoir trend has completely died.

  • Ashlei Austgen

    How wonderful that the support group gave you those journals. The healing power of just getting it out of your head should never be underestimated. Love this entry. And love that they're making stories of their own. Great job, on both accounts.

  • Debby Carroll

    Wow, that's quite an essay. I had to read it twice to get all of the intensity you put into words so eloquently. I guess your kids are a force that was meant to be. They've overcome an incredible hurdle to get where they are and I suspect they inherited that drive from someone. (There's a 50-50 chance it's you, right?) Yes, you are right. This story is meant to be written.

  • I'm so very glad you posted this Susan!!! Reading it again, again I'm weepy. WAY TO GO, IKE. And way to go Ike's mom. You inspire me, truly. And RATS that I'm going to miss you in Evanston next week. Next time, for sure! (I will plan much more ahead.)

  • Susan Bearman

    Thank you, Meryl.

  • Meryl Jaffe

    Beautiful and moving - especially when people weren't congratulating you. Thank you for sharing.

  • Susan Bearman

    Lanita — Thanks for your kind words. I think the emotions surrounding having a very premature child continue to swing back and forth. Now that they have graduated from high school and are heading to college, I find myself right back on the NICU. The memories are incredibly vivid and emotional. While there were times I felt as you do now, most of the time, once they were physically healthy, I just realized that being preemies was part of who they were. We dealt with the aftermath (and in some ways still do) for many, many years, but we got to the point where we did not allow that to be a negative. Congratulations on you and your daughter surviving preemie-hood.

  • Lanita Andrews

    Wow! De ja vu. I'm a mother of a preemie as well (11 or 12 weeks early, they were never quite sure of the due date/ 2pounds 6 ounces). Your essay takes me back to a rough time. I remember journaling as well. When I really started to feel like writing was something I needed, though, was after she came home. On the forums for preemie parents (the only thing that got me through those difficult first few months) I found my responses getting longer and longer until they were turning into full blown essays. I keep saying I'm going to write an actual essay (or 2 or 3) about the experience, but I find it much more difficult to discuss now, then when we were actually going through it all (she's 4 now). I think when I was in the midst of it I didn't have room to allow for all the emotions that accompany it, everything was focused on her. It's only now that I allow myseelf to grieve over what was lost, inspite of what was gained. Anyway, I love your essay, and as a preemie-mother and a writer, I don't think it could have been said any better. Now excuse me while I go find some kleenex!