Stephanie Sprenger

  • HerStories Voices: Finding Yourself Again After Kids

    The early years of parenthood are grueling for many of us and the more children you have, the harder it can be. Today’s author, Megan Woolsey, is the mother of four, and triplets are part of the equation. It’s no surprise that she lost herself. As a fellow mother of multiples, I could relate to Megan’s struggle and cheered her on as she rediscovered the light within. This essay will resonate with moms who miss the woman they were before they had children. Enjoy! – Allie

    HerStories Voices

     

    Finding Yourself Again After Kids

    By Megan Woolsey

    When I was in sixth grade I wrote a mystery series at recess while my friends were playing dodge ball on the playground. The heroine of my stories was named Penny Powers and she was a smart, confident, feminist girl just like my mother was raising me to be. Each story was only a few handwritten pages, but captured all of the imagination my eleven-year-old mind could muster. At the end of each story, Penny Powers proved herself to be a successful heroine by facing her challenges head on and solving problems.

    Little did I know back then that I would face big life challenges and have to solve my own problems one day, just like Penny Powers.

    From a very young age all I wanted to do was write. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said I wanted to be an author of books. I still have an image in my head of being  seven years old, an age where you would draw a picture of what you were writing. So I said in big bold uppercase writing “I AM GOING TO BE A AUTHOR” and underneath I colored a picture of a woman writing a book in what appears to be a library filled with books of all different shapes and colors.

    I kept the passion for writing alive, for a while. My writing was strong through college and by twenty-five years old I was working as a freelance writer making very little money, but I had an impressive looking byline in some local print magazines.

    Then my life changed dramatically after I had my first child. My daughter was smart, funny, and spirited, and I enjoyed her every day. But I did what a lot of moms do in our current culture; I gave everything to my child and left nothing for myself. I lost my career, my writing, myself.

    Three years later, I gave birth to triplets. Those first months of raising triplets were an incredible feat. My husband and I were waking up at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. to feed our infant triplets each night. It would take us an hour and a half to feed, diaper and put them back to sleep each shift. Our middle of the night escapades were met with such exhaustion that I would feed my babies with the wrong end of the bottle, or fall asleep in the middle of my duties. My husband and I would fight and yell profanities at each other in the wee hours of the morning, only because we were too tired to be civil.

    I didn’t exercise or have any hobbies for myself. I spent all of my time around the clock caring for four small children. I began writing a blog about having triplets, but my writing back then was more like unedited journal entries composed after sleepless nights.

    I loved my children with every ounce of my being, yet I was completely disconnected from myself as an individual. I woke up one day and felt that my only value on this beautiful planet was juggling the schedules of my four children, household chores, and managing bills. My life had become a series of mundane tasks; such is life as a stay-at-home mother. Depression set in. There was no value in being me other than routine childcare duties. I didn’t feel attractive, smart, or creative. I could not feel any joy in my life.

    On a beautiful spring day, I received an interesting invitation to attend a yoga retreat in Monterey, California. My cousin was running a three-night yoga retreat and an inner calling messaged me to go. I was tired of saying no to everything. No, I can’t have people over to dinner at my house. No, I can’t go with my friends to a weekend away wine tasting. No, I can’t go exercise. No I can’t, because I have kids. So this time, I said yes. Yes, I will do something for myself. Yes, I will go to this yoga retreat. I will pitch a tent in the woods in a secluded space and have time to reflect by myself. To get ready for this yoga retreat, I began taking yoga classes every spare moment during my week. I realized I was becoming good at something that was just for me. Pitching that tent and attending the yoga retreat by myself gave me a new energy and desire to better myself in other ways.

    I made an effort to style my hair some days, and wear clothes that were a step up from sweats. I set out to make new friends, and found a soul mate. I changed the name, design, and focus of my blog to be more professional. I ate healthy food and took more walks. All of this made me feel good about myself. This made me feel like, while my kids were my world, I mattered also.

    This past year I turned forty-one years old. My children aren’t infants anymore so I’ve found a little more time for myself. I spent my thirties struggling with infertility and raising children. Many days I wondered why I chose this life and if I would ever have enough energy and inspiration to create my own passions again.

    Then I realized that if I look around with an open mind, inspiration is all around me. I began to find that the delights and challenges I found in being a woman, a mother, and a wife created a connection I could write about.

    There is so much pressure on parents today to do everything and be everything for their children. We give everything to our kids because we love them and want them to be successful. We also do it because there is a competition embroiled in our social fabric that is unhealthy and leaves mothers lost and lonely, thinking they aren’t doing enough.

    Most of us are more than good enough. We are too good at being a mom and not as good at being respectful to our own dreams and passions.

    Maybe after all of these years and four kids later, there is still that little girl inside me, the one who was always writing books at recess.

    I have a large family that includes higher order multiples, and it does suck the life out of me. Other days my family fills me with crazy passion and inspiration. Having kids doesn’t have to mean the death of myself as my own creative woman.

    After feeling depressed for years under the pressure of motherhood, I experienced a rebirth to become a new version of the old me who loved to write and followed those dreams of being an author.

    After eleven years being a mom, it is finally clear that I can still have my own life and my own dreams . . . not despite being a mom, but because I am a mom.

    I am Penny Powers.

     

    unnamed[1]Megan Woolsey is a writer, editor and publisher living in Northern California with a very supportive husband and a wild bunch of red-headed children – a set of triplets and their big sister. Megan has been published in Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, BLUNTmoms, Bonbon Break, Mamalode, In The Powder Room and is an essayist in two anthologies. She began writing professionally for her blog, The Hip Mothership, which she began while in the hospital eating copious amounts of Jell-O on bed rest pregnant with triplets. When Megan isn’t busy writing or blogging, she loves hot yoga, long walks, and dinner with friends that includes good bottles of wine.

    Co-Editor, Multiples Illuminated. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

    **Our April theme is Life Lessons. Email our assistant editor Allie your submissions at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Find out more about submission guidelines here.

     

  • Ex-Friends Reconnecting After a Loss in The Family

    HerTakenoavatar

     

    In this month’s HerTake question, the question asker wants to reconnect with an ex-friend after a loss in the ex-friend’s family. Is it a good idea to make one last effort at reconciliation all these years later, or should our question asker leave well enough alone?

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    Dear Nina,

    About fifteen years ago, my friend since kindergarten, Sarah, cut me out of her life. It was during our mid-twenties when a toxic person came between us. I knew Sarah’s close friend was toxic, but it took Sarah several more years to come to the same conclusion. The word on the street is that the two of them no longer speak.

    Sarah recently lost her father quite suddenly. I attended the funeral, and she indicated to me how much it meant to her. For years now since learning that the toxic person was out of Sarah’s life, I’ve wanted to reconnect with her. I know that an apology will not come, and at this point, it no longer matters to me what happened in the past. What does matter is that I try in some way to rejuvenate the friendship that was lost. I feel as if Sarah’s father’s death could in some way be the catalyst for us getting together. Perhaps it could be a positive outcome of an extreme negative.

    What do you advise on the best way to go about reconnecting with Sarah? Do you agree with me that all is not lost and perhaps we can find a way back on the path of friendship we shared for so many years?

    Thank you for taking the time to consider these questions.

    Signed,

    Hoping to Get Back in Touch

     

    Dear Hoping to Get Back in Touch,

    Those childhood friendships never leaves us, even the ones that end badly. If anything, the ones that end badly can take on an inflated importance as we repeatedly analyze what went wrong. I say “we” because I think many people reading this have been there, including me.

    Before delving into your specific questions, I want to commend you for attending Sarah’s father’s funeral. Perhaps that seemed like an obvious move for you, but I bet that many others in your situation would have either ignored the loss, made a donation to the family’s favorite charity in the father’s honor, or written a lovely note expressing condolences. There’s no shame in going with the donation or personal note options. My point is that making the effort to attend the funeral was the hardest choice as it required the greatest amount of vulnerability.

    So, should you get back in touch with Sarah?

    More than ever, I’m coming from a “life is short” philosophy, which can cut both ways. Life is short, so if you’re missing Sarah’s friendship, I think you should go for it. But since life is really too short to waste on people who not appreciate us, I have to caution that if Sarah seems at all reluctant (takes a long time responding, cancels more than once, does not ask you about your life, etc.), then I say you can feel satisfied about trying and leave Sarah in the past.

    Is it possible to find a way back to a friendship?

    The fact that you’re not expecting an apology is what makes me believe there is a chance for the two of you. It would be impossible for Sarah to know at this point exactly why she got so close to that toxic friend and why she felt she couldn’t have both of you in her life. Your willingness to release Sarah from an explanation from 15 years ago is your best chance.

    As for how to go about a reconciliation, I once again consulted my wise mom, Kathy, who readers enjoyed last month.

    Here’s what my mom said: “Back in Touch might consider emailing or calling to ask if Sarah wants to get together. If Sarah says yes, then Back in Touch might suggest they get out their calendars (or whatever young women do these days). If Sarah is unwilling to make a date right then—short of getting ready for a trip or a really good excuse—I would consider the friendship not worth pursuing at this point. Back in Touch can take satisfaction in having taken the high road, i.e. attended the funeral, and she then has to let the friendship go and be glad she has closure.”

    Essentially, my mom and I are saying the same thing, which makes sense since she taught me everything I know. Bottom line: Yes, you should try, but do not be the only one making an obvious effort.

    Good luck and please report back!

    Warmly,

    Nina

     

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    You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

    We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

  • HerStories Voices: Confessions of Uncharitable Thoughts Toward Others

    HerStories Voices

    I adore this week’s essay and I think it’ll resonate with many writers who struggle with the self-promotional aspect of writing. How do we get our words read? How can we achieve success, without sharing our work with as many people as we can? How can we do this without seeming arrogant? It’s been said, by some, that being a successful writer requires a big ego. To many of us, that may be distasteful. Is it a female phenomenon? Male writers don’t seem to struggle with ego. This author decided to own her ego and I can hear her superwoman roar. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. – Allie

     

    Confessions of Uncharitable Thoughts Toward Others

    When a few of my grad-school writer-teachers gathered to give advice to us aspiring writers, I dutifully wrote down what they said, one statement in particular standing out: “Writers who succeed have: 1) tremendous egos, and 2) are as stubborn as hell.”

    I knew number two posed no problem for me. A dog with a bone, my mother always said. Determined, a good streak of OCD, focused, stubborn—yes, my quirks actually good for something besides annoying my husband and three sons. But what about number one? Ego? This I perceived as the problematic area.

    Born in 1974, I am the expected womanly outcome of the heavily patriarchal, fundamentalist-Christian, blue-collar backwoods where I was raised. I was trained from a young age to be self-effacing, obedient, servile. Nice. Women like this—like me—we don’t do ego.

    We cook.

    At a very young age, I learned how to best serve my father. After work, I took off his boots and sweaty socks and served him platters of food. At eleven I was responsible for him when my mother was gone—making dinner and cleaning up, making sure he was satisfied. Then, married at eighteen, I cooked three meals a day, feeding my husband and later, three sons.

    We clean—a lot.

    We don’t flinch at nasty things—we scour. We dig in and scrub and wipe and vacuum and sweep and wash. With a houseful of four six-foot-plus-tall men/boys, I do loads and loads and loads of laundry. Mountains of laundry. Towels, sheets, jeans, sweatshirts, t-shirts. Sock mounds big enough to put a quaver in the heart of the bravest laundress.

    We manage the household.

    We stretch monies, grocery shop, pay the bills, cook, clean, and take care of the kids. I was married raising three young children while going to school and managing significant household concerns and finances before most of my current college students have learned how to heat up Ramen or effectively use an alarm clock.

    But most importantly, we are nice.

    We are kind and considerate. We put our needs second. We don’t complain—we defer and hold our tongue, carving out what space we need for ourselves without inconveniencing anyone, without interrupting dinner or laundry or homework help. We accomplish our work without removing ourselves. We are always available and supportive for the ones we love.

    These things fit the societal expectations of my upbringing, even fit my personality well enough, but they don’t fit the extremely competitive world of academia and writing well at all. They don’t fit ego.

    It’s puzzled me for years, this seeming conundrum. How can I succeed if I don’t have the ego others have? How am I supposed to compete with men who have ego oozing out of their pores, who convince themselves and everyone else of their own immense intellects and writerly skills?

    There are good reasons for my concern. Besides my societal anti-ego training, I forget names of authors and titles and don’t really pay attention to who’s-who. I can never remember things in time to bring forth pointed conversational references that make me sound smart. I misspell. I mispronounce. I bumble and blush. My memory fails me over and over again. I’m often shy and self-doubting. When it comes down to it, I’m not very “academic,” although I always loved school, did very well in classes, and now love teaching. I can clearly see the career advantages others—especially ambitious men—have over me.

    I work hard at what I do, especially writing, but unlike Emily Dickinson who kept herself tucked away, I want to be published, want to be “successful”—publicly. This I understand is an act of ego—the desire to be recognized, to be heard. But is it really tremendous ego? It doesn’t seem so to me. I don’t crave the spotlight, don’t want to be the center of attention. I’m quiet in social situations and don’t self-promote well. In fact, I’m exactly what feminists say is a woman formed by a male-dominant society; I do everything they say a woman like me does.

    But one night as I whip up a tripled-recipe pineapple up-side-down cake, I tick off the things I’ve accomplished that day in my head, a sort of mental tally-sheet I often do: Today I cleaned house, changed sheets, did seven loads of laundry, took a six-mile hike, graded twelve essays and twenty-four short assignments, went food shopping, revised chapter one of novel two, tweaked on one of the four essays I’m working on, made a nice dinner, made this pineapple up-side-down cake, had good times with my children and husband, chatted with friends and my sister. Not a bad day, I think with pride. And there it is, staring me right in the face, hiding in plain sight all these many years—there is my tremendous ego!

    When I finally recognize it, I realize it’s been there forever. Perhaps because it wasn’t a writerly ego, or an academic or career ego, I didn’t see it for what it actually is: a superwoman ego. An I-can-do-everything-and-do-it-well ego. And it’s not just proud. It’s angry. It’s arrogant and profane. It looks out at the world and says, That’s right motherfuckers, I’m fucking superwoman and don’t you fucking forget it! The nice-girl me turns hard and blasphemous: You want to know how far I surpass you? she asks. You want to know how far superior I am? She scorns your soft-sidedness, your inferiority. You want to complain? she demands, but you dare not because if you did she would wither you with stories of long-suffering hard-working far-surpassing accomplishments that you can never compete with, not unless you too are a woman like her—someone who at forty years old has been-there-done-that more than anyone but most people’s grandparents: married twenty-two years, bought three houses and countless vehicles, moved five times, earned two degrees while raising three sons, taught college full time and made over a thousand students care and like her classes, cooked and cleaned and done laundry for three decades (do you know how much that equates?), taken care of complicated finances, kept a nice house, painted and decorated inside and out, landscaped and gardened, stayed in shape, cut everyone’s hair, not nagged or bitched, carried the emotional well-being of the family in her hand, written and published essays and poems and stories and novels, been in a book club and a writer’s group, taken care of business like no one else and been a really fucking good daughter and sister and friend and mother and wife and teacher and made the best fucking pies of anyone, because—fuck this, fuck it all—she is motherfucking superwoman.

    How’s that for ego?

    The nice-girl me cringes in red-faced embarrassment and apology over the other’s egotistical tirade, her cursing fist-lifting power. But secretly even she—even the nice-girl me—cheers the other one on.

    In junior-high, the girls used to say about me: She just thinks she’s better than everyone else. I could never understand why. As a child, I was paralyzed by insecurity, afraid of doing everything wrong. In disgust at my hand-wringing ineptitude over something as simple as making toast, my older sister once declared that I would need someone to do everything for me when I grew up. But I see now that the junior-high girls were the ones who got it right after all. In balancing all that I do, I do think I’m better than everyone else. My ego is enormous. She looks around the world in glaring challenge and says: Go ahead. Try to top that, quite certain you can’t. My superwoman me. My stubborn, tremendous-ego me. I have finally found her.

     

    Annie Lapman author_photo2 (2)

    Annie Lampman is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Washington State University Honors College and fiction editor of Blood Orange Review. She has a MFA in fiction from the University of Idaho and lives with her husband, three sons, and a bevy of pets in Moscow, Idaho. Her essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Orion Magazine, High Desert Journal, and Poetry & Place along with many other journals. She has been awarded a Pushcart Prize Special Mention, first place in the Everybody-Writes contest, an Idaho Commission on the Arts writing grant, and a national wilderness artist’s residency through the Bureau of Land Management. Her first novel is under consideration in New York.

     

    **Our assistant editor, Allie, is now accepting submissions for our March column: the theme is rebirth. For more details and submission guidelines, read this.

  • When You Think Your Friend’s Engagement is a Mistake

    What do you do when you don’t approve of a friend’s engagement? This month’s HerTake question asks when it’s acceptable to give a close friend unsolicited advice about her impending marriage, especially if you think the marriage would be a huge mistake.

    don't approve of friend's engagement

    Do you have a question for Nina? Use our anonymous form. You can read Nina’s answers to past questions here.

    Dear Nina,

    A close friend of mine is getting remarried after her marriage ended last year and I think she’s making a terrible mistake.

    First, she moved on (very quickly!) to a long-distance relationship that requires her constant travel; this has been hard on her, her local family and friends, and her own minor children.

    But the bigger issue is that I don’t like her fiancé at all and none of her other local friends do, either. I’m ashamed to admit we’ve discussed this behind her back not to be cruel or gossipy, but because we don’t know how to handle this dicey situation.

    (For the record, because he lives elsewhere, she was already in love by the time we met him, and we didn’t have an opportunity to express our feelings early on.)

    My gut instinct is to say it’s none our business, but I know my friend trusts me and that she values my opinion; by saying nothing, I’ve given her the impression I not only approve of, but like her intended.

    If she follows through with her wedding plans, I’ll do my best to support her, but I’ll also be setting myself up (and my husband) for an uncomfortable future: she expects us to continue a close friendship as couples and we have no desire to socialize with him at all.

    My total honesty would force her to choose and I know she’d choose him. But it would also break her heart. I feel like I’m between a rock and a hard place.

    Signed,
    To Give My Unsolicited Opinion or Stay Quiet?

     

    Dear To Give My Unsolicited Opinion or Stay Quiet,

    Oh boy, this is a tough one. You’re clearly a loving, dedicated friend, and I’m sure it’s been extremely difficult to watch your friend decide to get married so quickly after her divorce. The constant travel and knowing it’s been hard on the kids doesn’t help either.

    Don’t Interfere: Here’s Why

    Unfortunately, my gut instinct is the same as yours that you should not interfere in a direct way. If your friend is indeed making a mistake, she will only acknowledge it as a mistake if she is forced to go through the process of seeing so for herself. I fear if you or her other friends try to stop the marriage and she ends up calling off the wedding, she will always have a “what if” scenario in her mind in regards to this man. He may take up a place in her imagination as “the one who got away,” making her forget his faults or encouraging her to idealize whatever virtues he possesses. (He must possess some.)

    I want to also mention that my mother, who I often consult for my own advice needs, has always expressed a strong opinion about minding one’s own business in matters of the heart. Before I told her about your situation, I guessed that she would advise you to stay out of it, but just in case I asked her to react to your question without knowing my opinion. I think my mom came up with a good way to potentially get your friend to discuss any doubts about the relationship, hopefully before the wedding takes place though there are no guarantees.

    Stay Silent But Listen to Doubts

    Here’s what my mom said: “In my opinion, what this woman should do is stay silent. As she correctly perceives, her friend will choose the fiancé over her. There is nothing she can do to prevent the marriage and will probably lose the friendship if she says anything. If the friend asks her opinion, she can always say it is not her decision and continue to say nothing negative. If, on the other hand, the friend expresses doubts, she can always start asking questions about what is fueling the doubts while still not expressing her own opinion. This question is a variation on the one of whether you should tell a friend if her husband is being unfaithful. I am in the camp that minding one’s own business is the best way to go.”

    She Probably Already Knows

    One last thought: I wonder if your friend already knows how you feel, that you don’t approve of her engagement. It’s a good possibility since you’re close and she can probably “read” you. She is likely determined to set her own path whether or not her friends approve. As for having to spend time with your friend and her husband-to-be as a couple, I can at least give you some proactive advice for that problem. As you find ways to not spend time together as a couple, increase the time you spend with her alone so that the message is clear you want to keep her in our life, but it’s going to be more as a twosome than a foursome. I know it’s easier said than done.

    I wish I could tell you something that would alleviate your anxiety over the situation. Ultimately, for better or worse, I do think your friend’s fate with this man is out of your hands.

    With warmth,
    Nina

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    You can follow Nina on her blog, on Facebook and on Twitter.

    We’re always looking for new reader questions for Nina! If you have a difficult friendship situation that you’d like advice on, fill out our anonymous contact form.

  • HerStories Voices: The Condom

    This week we’re featuring a very funny essay written by Paulina Combow, who’s a comedian. Paulina experienced an awkward moment with her mother—extremely awkward. I found myself squirming as I read this—despite the fact that I was laughing. We all want our parents to think the best of us, but little girls grow up and have grown-up lives. Still, some things between mothers and daughters should remain private. Right? At least Paulina has a good story to tell. Enjoy! —Allie

     

    HerStories Voices

     

    The Condom
    Paulina Combow

    “Someone’s going to pay for this,” I declared as I shook the six-foot privacy fence in my mom’s backyard, checking for an entry point where the vile vandals might have entered.

    My mom, Nancy, is a proud Southern woman in her fifties. She feels most presentable after a fresh at-home bleaching courtesy of Miss Clairol, and a crisp blousy Chico’s ensemble crowned with a statement necklace. She’s really into eyebrows right now and is concerned when mine are not on fleek. She loves things to be picture perfect, like a magazine spread in Garden and Gun. Yes, this is an actual magazine to which she subscribes, and eagerly awaits each month. If you think this publication has a limited audience, you should know she and her garden club got concealed-carry permits together, you know, in case they need to shoot away the weeds.

    She’s not only an active member of Garden club, but the Vice President and current title holder of top recruiter in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Evangelizing for Garden club is her tactful, nonracist way of beautifying her community. “Oh dear, the new neighbors have planted Nandinas in even numbers, bless their hearts.”

    Each time I visit, no matter what time of the day, it’s imperative to walk the yard and play her favorite game: “Point Out Everything That’s New or Different.” There’s no clear way to win this game.

    One day we were doing a walkthrough with my pug, Mook, at my heels while she showed me her newest greenhouse or batch of chicks, when she pointed to something across the yard.

    “Paulina!” she gasped. “What is that?”

    We hesitantly moved across the lawn, encountering a slimy used condom in the middle of her perfectly pruned grass. My mind raced to 100 sinister conclusions. This is the kind of thing I would expect to see discarded on the side of the road outside an Arby’s. But not Nancy’s garden! The place she spends six months of the year digging, planting, weeding, and replanting in preparation for the Annual Garden Club Tour, which she herself spearheads. People in our antiquated town pay money to stroll through her flowerbeds and drink sweet tea on her front porch. A porch that comfortably seats the entire Duggar family and is attached to a Victorian Home built before the Washington Monument was completed.

    The skies turned black and the birds shut their beaks, as her backyard was re-labeled the scene of a sex crime. Nancy stood speechless, a helpless victim, as I took action to locate clues and find the repulsive culprit. “Could someone have snuck back here to have sex in your yard?” I asked.

    Nancy’s eyes got wide, “No, no. That wouldn’t happen here.”

    Like any good detective, my first suspects were known enemies of the victim. I cut my eyes to the small building in the corner of the lot we called “The Bungalow,” because my sister moved in there after flunking out of college and refusing to get a job or move out. She had the essentials, but no running water. Nancy had a small deck built onto the front to make it feel homier. She planted bushes, added patio furniture and a couple wagon wheels for good measure, but inside was a derelict twenty-something’s hideout covered in fast food cups and a lingering aroma of BO and Maryjane.

    “Do you think Portia put it here?” I asked. “To get revenge for telling her the yardman can tell when she pees in the yard?”

    “No,” my mom responded. “I just told her that because she was doing it in the middle of the day. I didn’t want anyone to see her and have to add registered sex offender to her criminal record. She’s already banned from the Wal-Mart for stealing that sub sandwich.”

    Another dead end, but my mind was still racing. “Then where did it come from? What kind of monster would do this?” Ruling out my sister as a suspect, I looked over the fence to the indoor pool of the neighbor—who also happens to be my mother’s ex-boyfriend.

    “What about your ex, Randy?” I asked. “He’s still pretty sore about you asking to store a few plants in his pool for the winter, then turning it into a Rainforest Café.”

    A little too quick for my comfort, Nancy responded, “No, Randy doesn’t use condoms.”

    Dismissing the tension, my mom looked up at me and pointed to Mook, my overheated pug, who was panting next to my feet. “He did it.”

    This was too much for me to handle! My poor baby! He brought this over here? “Where do you think he got it? Do I need to get him tested for STDs? Is there Canine AIDS?”

    I still wasn’t getting it. Nancy had to spell it out for me: “He pooped it out.”

    If he pooped it out, then it probably came from the trash. My trash. My faced turned a shade of red that put my mom’s prize-winning hibiscus to shame.

    Even though I was in my late twenties and in a long-term committed relationship, my mom and I had never really had the talk. I’m sure there was a point where she accepted that I punched my V-card, but we never commemorated it. I was raised very conservatively. In 8th grade I attended Christian School and participated in a purity banquet. My mom purchased a gold ring inscribed “True Love Waits.” I remember thinking, “something’s not right about this” when she was presented with a skeleton key during the ceremony to symbolize my pre-teen abstinence. She kept it on her keychain and probably grinned like Sarah Palin on a snowmobile every time she started her car. The plan back then was to not have sex until I got married, just as the Lord arranged, but of course, in 8th grade, getting laid was not on my radar. All I wanted in life was to kiss Leonardo Dicaprio, wear jeans to school, and not have a King James Version of the Bible as my only textbook.

    Interestingly, I kept that vow all through high school. (How did that happen?) I kept the ring . . . in a jewelry box. But like the ring, I pawned my virginity in college to buy groceries. Just kidding. I lost it to a normal dude and it was fine, but yeah, I pawned the ring and hope it was promptly melted down.

    I don’t know when mom took that skeleton key off her keychain. The only significant event was when I won the “living in sin” argument and told my family if they didn’t want me to live with my boyfriend then they could pay my rent. Suddenly the Old Testament wasn’t so literal.

    Nancy and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy allowing me to be a fixture in her picture perfect world. I could have gone to my deathbed letting my mom believe my chastity was unbroken, but now that was impossible. She had to know in her heart I’ve knocked boots before, but now she had physical evidence, oozing into her lawn, baking in the sun. The jig was up!

    With the case closed, it was time to clean up the crime scene. We couldn’t leave it there and let one of her designer chickens get it tangled on their wooly talons. These hens are swanky, lay organic eggs, and have a better pedigree than the Kennedys and even better hairstyles. Eager to get the place back to normal, Nancy made the first move: “I’ll pick it up.”

    “Oh God, NO! Don’t touch it.” I ran inside to get a paper towel with the guilty pug at my heels. How could something so pure and innocent ingest something so foul? When I looked in those big black bug eyes all I would see was dirty dirty sin. We buy you name brand food, and Puperoni’s, and this is how you repay us? And you just HAD to launch it out here?

    By the time I came back outside, Nancy had gotten rid of all proof. It was as if it never happened. We didn’t speak of it again until I told her I was writing this story and telling it to an audience. She said she didn’t remember. What had been a moment in time stretched out to defy the laws of physics for me was just a repressed memory for her. Or maybe she was being polite, like when you pretend you didn’t see your friend eat the entire basket of rolls at O’Charleys. At least I know this situation can never repeat itself. We’ve graduated past condoms for birth control in my decade long courtship. As long as my pug can’t squeeze out an IUD, everything in Nancy’s life will remain worthy of a magazine spread.

     

    PC_099x (2)Paulina Combow is a writer and performer in Nashville, TN. Her comedy points out the insecurities we all share and puts them on display so we can celebrate then (or at least tolerate them). She’s performed in comedy clubs, casinos, bars and moose lodges all over the country, but mostly the southeast. Her mother refuses to see her stand-up, even when she is in the lobby of the venue. Find her on Facebook, on Twitter @paulinagc and on her website

    **We are now accepting submissions for our Voices column, and we have a special theme for our March essays: rebirth. Send your submissions to our assistant editor, Allie, at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com

     

  • HerStories Voices: A Baby Story

    I’ve never seen the show A Baby Story, but I know many people who love it. The births of my own children were unique and intimate experiences. I’m pretty sure I’d feel uncomfortable being “in the room” with someone I didn’t know who was giving birth. I may be wrong though, because when I read this week’s essay, which is a birth story, I was riveted. Emily’s essay is emotional and beautifully representative of the circle of life. By the time I was done reading, I had chills. —Allie

    HerStories Voices

    A Baby Story

    By Emily Page Hatch

     My mom loved watching “A Baby Story,” the TLC reality show that follows couples in the late stages of pregnancy and films their births in detail. She always wept at the end when the baby appeared.

    “Why does it make you cry?” I asked her.

    “They’re happy tears,” she replied.

    “It’s so graphic though,” I scoffed. “How are you not grossed out?”

    “Because it’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “I think of you and your brother.”

    Many years later, as I reclined in a hospital bed in Boston in the midst of a January snowfall, I thought about that show. I was in the thick of my own baby story, about to give birth to a son. It was not being televised. I was being induced on my twenty-fifth birthday and feeling nervous about exposing myself in the loud, messy scene that is labor.

    My husband, Tyler, and I were about to meet the boy we’d been touching and feeling and talking to for months through the itchy skin of my overstretched belly. My due date had come and gone uneventfully nine days prior. It turned out no amount of mall walking could kick this baby into gear. And as impatient as I was to meet my mystery boy, I was also secretly satisfied to have provided such a comfortable home that he never wanted to leave.

    His name would be Cody and I already adored him. He woke me up every morning with karate kicks and he danced the Macarena on my ribs. My heart raced when he rested too long and I couldn’t feel him boogying; I’d tickle my belly until he awoke, and smile with relief.

    The older I get, the more often it seems relief stands in for happiness. The two almost feel synonymous.

    I so looked forward to holding my baby, but wished I could just snap my fingers. I hated that labor could take so long and be fraught with difficulties. I also hated the prospect of shitting in the process, which everyone warned me would happen.

    My gaze drifted from the swirls of white dancing in the gray sky to the framed photo of my mother resting on the shelf across the room. It was the same photo that had been used in her obituary and funeral pamphlet, a stunning photo of her, highlighting her straw blond hair and slate blue eyes that smiled as brightly as her mouth did.

    But the picture wasn’t palpable for me, not anymore at least. I saw a distant idea of my dead mother. I didn’t sense her presence or feel more connected, like I sometimes did when I sipped iced coffee or heard that Crosby, Stills & Nash song, or saw my brother smile. But I wanted to feel her—I felt more human when I did, more like the self I used to know—so I kept this photo on my bureau at home and brought it to the hospital. I figured halfheartedly it could bring me luck.

    “Who’s that?” barked one of the nurses in a thick Boston accent, pointing to the picture.

    “That’s my mom,” I stammered. “She passed away a few years ago.”

    But it was closer to a decade ago, and I hated saying, “passed away.” It’s too nice a description for what really happened, but it makes people feel more comfortable, myself included maybe.

    My shoulders tensed, a familiar frozen stance, bracing for her reaction. People always feel sorry once they find out, but sorry can feel a lot like pity.

    The nurse’s eyes softened as she offered her condolences. Then she pushed a rattling cart of supplies up to my bedside and announced she was going to break my water.

    The next several hours felt like a few minutes. The Pitocin kicked in and my contractions raged. Without much hesitation, I accepted an Epidural that knocked me out cold. I woke up to find that I couldn’t feel my legs.

    The nurses and doctors seemed to rotate so quickly I could never remember their names. I could only recall one doctor named Emily, because she shared my name. She had been on shift when I was first admitted and in she walked twelve hours later.

    “Who’s that in the picture?” she asked.

    The epidural wore off as I dilated. It felt like one of those claw cranes that picks up stuffed animal prizes was scraping the insides of my abdomen. I don’t know how people do this naturally.

    I was given a button to press if I wanted more drugs, and believe me, I did. But I couldn’t bring myself to touch the button, convinced that I’d overdose. So I begged my husband to press it for me and begged him to stop when he did.

    At some point, an unfamiliar doctor entered. He explained that although I was not one of his patients, he wanted to meet me, because he’d heard that my mom died of pancreatic cancer—the same kind that had killed his dad.

    I was touched that he shared his experience with me. It’s remarkable how loss can connect us, as total strangers, through a deep and sensitive understanding.

    He spoke about what an awful disease it is, and I agreed, but felt my face go hot. I had witnessed my mother go through her illness, but most of the time from a distance. I saw her suffer immensely, and yet, I had been disconnected, steeped in denial.

    Did I deserve his empathy?

    When she died, I was there; and I wasn’t. Perched next to her on the bed on a dark Tuesday morning in spring, rain coming down in sheets, I watched her take a last labored breath before I covered her face in kisses. I stared in the mirror at the two of us, and we both looked like strangers, starring in an awful movie.

    I was in another movie then in a maternity ward in Boston, on a bitterly cold evening, the buildings blanketed in white, looking down at myself with my legs splayed open, feeling strangely serene.

    My sheets were soaked in sweat and fluid. I began throwing up cherry-flavored Italian ice that I, of course, believed to be blood.

    Grunting and moaning and making the grotesque facial expressions I swore I wouldn’t make, I forced my baby out of me, gradually at first, revealing a spiral of blonde hair that looked black because it was wet—or so his father told me. Next, I freed his full head of downy hair, big round head and wrinkled neck—he was an actual human, and I was floating on the ceiling, watching this woman I didn’t recognize panting from fear and exertion, exhilaration and pride.

    With sweat and tears streaming down my clammy face and unfamiliar guttural sounds emerging from my mouth, I released my boy’s sweet neck and shoulders coated in fuzzy peach hair, and time did not exist.

    At some point, I pushed one final time, shrieking as I ripped apart in every way possible, my baby sliding rapidly out into his father’s shaky arms, never to live inside of me in this literal sense again.

    Within seconds, my son—my son!—was in my lap and there was a nurse snapping our photo, and my heart had swelled to such massive proportions it was spilling out of my body, exploding into a billion tiny bits that I would never get back, because they belonged now to this boy that was laying in my lap, more real and perfect than I could believe.

    There was the photo of my mother across from us, forever young in a frame, that still made me feel nothing, because a photo is just a thing, because maybe it’s true that our souls leave our bodies as soon as we die, because as I sobbed endlessly at the sight of Cody, whom I’d only just met but had somehow always known, and I leaned down to cover his face in kisses, I felt my mother’s arms wrap around me and she was weeping, too.

    But my son, he didn’t cry. And I didn’t notice that, until he was being taken from me.

    Lifted from my arms in a sudden swoop, he was placed on the warming table, stuck with needles and tubes. Machines beeped aggressively as Doctor “Emily” took out her pager and uttered words no one wants to hear: “We need everyone in here.”

    Medical staff swarmed the room, but no one told us what was going on.

    One doctor had her hand, wrist, and then whole arm inside of me, trying to extract my placenta, which was as stubborn as Cody had been and refused to come out.

    Later I would learn how much blood was pouring out, but by that point all I knew and all I’d ever know for sure was that my son could not die.

    The room was spinning and I was positive now that I had overdosed. The most intimate moments that make and break our lives—the surreal seconds of last breaths and first breaths and gasping for breath—I never thought it could happen like this.

    My eyes darted back and forth from the doctors with my son to the doctor with her arm inside of me. Convinced that I could make a difference in whether my baby lived or died if I put up enough of a fight, I advocated for him, for the first but not the last time, though I was not in my right mind. I wanted to blame someone for what was transpiring. I swore that if he died, I would die right then, too.

    He was taken to the NICU and I pleaded with the doctor to let me go with him. But the placenta hadn’t budged and she insisted it wasn’t safe.

     What did it matter? What good was my body without my heart and my soul, which were leaving with my son?

     His dad accompanied him and I passed out from a fever that had drained the color from my face. I fell into a deep and delirious sleep that lasted until dawn, when I awoke with a start. Had it all been a dream?

    I found out later my baby had aspirated and there was fluid in his lungs. He needed help breathing, which he received from an oxygen hood placed over his head that we would later refer to endearingly as his “astronaut helmet.”

    We were told it was common. And that he would be okay. I can’t imagine my life if he hadn’t been, no more than I can imagine my life if my mom had lived.

    But if she had, I would tell her I get it. I understand now why she loved that show. I know why she used to cry. Baby stories are overwhelmingly beautiful, no matter how they end.

    I gave birth to my son on a snowy night in the city two years ago, but his story isn’t over. Neither is my mom’s. One of the only things we have left of the loved ones that we’ve lost are the stories that we tell—small, but staggering consolations.

    When my baby arrived at last at the tail end of my birthday—forevermore our birthday—something else was born, too, that had died with my mom on that rainy day in May.

     

    IMG953652 (2)Emily Page Hatch is a freelance writer, therapist, and mother. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Babble, The Huffington Post, Modern Loss, and other publications. You can connect with Emily on Twitter @EmilyPageH and at http://www.emilypagehatch.com.

     

    **We are currently accepting new submissions for our Voices column! Email our assistant editor, Allie, at herstoriesvoices @ gmail.com. Read our submission guidelines here.