I’ve been really moved by poet Staceyann Chin’s recent articles in the Huffington Post. If you haven’t seen them, check out her conception story here, and her open letter to her unborn child here. Her heartfelt words are touching enough to make anyone cheer for her on her journey into motherhood.
Or so I thought. But amidst the love and support, Staceyann is facing a bit of a backlash. Turns out, not everyone is as excited as I am about the idea of a single black lesbian becoming a loving mother.
What does this have to do with me, as a writer? Well, first of all, there are the limits that some want to impose on queer women of color. Limits on our bodies, on the stories we can write. And everyone faces such limits – the boxes we’re meant to fit into so that we help maintain the order of things. Where, in the stereotypical images of motherhood, do we find a woman like Staceyann? A woman like me?
This past Mother’s Day, after calling my mother, I headed out for work. The first person to speak to me was a man standing on the street, holding out a cup for change and greeting everyone who passed.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” he said to me. “Even though I know you’re not a mother. I can tell!”
I wondered, how could he tell I wasn’t a mother? Did I look, to him, too young to have a child? Too well-rested, perhaps, to know a mother’s worry? A little too unhappy, maybe, to know the love of a child?
What he didn’t know is that a little over four years ago, I was ready to be a mother. Ready is a funny word for a newly single, pregnant twenty year old with no clue as to how I was going to support the unexpected new life, but ready I was. Sure the power of love and sheer will would give me the tools I needed. Though I’m not one to believe in destiny, I felt that while this surprising turn was certainly a challenge, it was meant to be. There was a lot of pain in my life at the time, and in a way, the new life felt like the door at the end of my suffering.
My entire life had already shifted to focus on my child, but then the new life left the world just as unexpectedly as he or she had come. I had a miscarriage, and fell back into a suffering deeper than I’d ever known before.
It’s a funny thing about pain. I don’t often talk about this time of my life, but it certainly appears in my writing, and often in ways I don’t expect. If it’s meant for others to read, I often wrap pieces of it into fiction or poetry so far from my own story that I don’t bother trying to claim it as truth.
But what of my story of motherhood? Is there room for voices like mine among narratives of mothers?
At the end of Staceyann Chin’s letter to her unborn child, she writes, “Child of mine, these promises are only what I intend. And when I come up short on those grand intentions, I give you permission to whip out this letter and remind me of what I had put in writing long before you were born.”
I, too, wrote letters, made pacts with my child, promises to be loving, forgiving and honest with each other. The child I lost left these promises in my hands. And there’s no reason I shouldn’t still keep the ones I can. To remember what it’s like when my body is a vessel for another life, and caring for myself is the first step in caring for another. My eyes were opened to a gentleness about the world that I still cannot unsee.
Yes, it’s a funny thing about writing about pain. Much of what I’ve been through makes it difficult to get close to people, hard to open up unless it’s in writing. But when I declare that this is my story, not meant for anyone else, what’s meant to keep me at a distance often connects me to others who have, to my surprise, walked in my shoes.
I appreciate someone like Staceyann Chin adding a new perspective to those voices of mothers we hear in the media. When we hear unexpected voices, it’s an opportunity to learn, and expand our ideas of who can write what stories.
So I’m not waiting, either. Not waiting for anyone else’s permission to write as a mother. Yes, I was a mother once. And though I may not be what you’d expect of a mother – queer, young, childless – yes, I write as a mother still.