Up to now,
my daughter has had her childhood made
between the dueling clock,
and my motherly arms–
I can still see the tiny, bent form in bed at dawn,
dark hair feathered all around on the pillow
traces of night seeped out from coiled fingertips,
behind the windowpane,
sunrise marked the sky overhead
a shade of peach orange–
soft as silk,
the morning air wormed
into the rise and fall of her chest,
those sweet chocolate eyes blinked away sleep,
and in the corner,
the clock chimed its early hour–
there were those narrow seconds before
the universe spun into wake,
before it split open the comforting veil of illusion
as the burdens of day captured my whole
became just another ghost slaving away on earth–
I shrunk down beside her,
tucked my daughter’s body into the pleats of an embrace,
and for that small primrose instant,
I was eased from the living and its chaos,
to simply be.
Lana Bella has published work with over one hundred journals, including a chapbook with Crisis Chronicles Press (Spring 2016), Ann Arbor Review, Chiron Review, Literary Orphans, Poetry Salzburg Review, elsewhere, among others. She divides her time between the US and the coastal town of Nha Trang, Vietnam, where she is a wife of a talking-wonder novelist, and a mom of two far-too-clever-frolicsome imps. https://www.facebook.com/niaallanpoe
My first child turned one a few weeks ago (cue racking sobs and blubbering about my baby!), and in that time I’ve learned a lot about parenthood and, surprisingly, myself. In the last twelve months I’ve learned that:
My body is a fascinating, glorious machine. It can swell and stretch, tear and heal, sustain and contain. My body built my baby, brick by microscopic brick, and it bibbidy-bobbity-booed a whole new organ in the process. My body gave way to bring a whole new person into the light and then, if that wasn’t enough, my body alone continued to nourish that new being for almost a year, all while simultaneously contracting back to (almost) its original parameters. When you really think about it, it’s easy to understand why fertility goddesses were a thing. The biology of motherhood is miraculous.
I like having a baby. Some people don’t. They count the days until their baby can do things by himself, ache for when they can leave for more than three hours at a time. I wasn’t entirely sure I wouldn’t be one of them. It’s still a little surprising to me that I loved my son’s infancy so much. I would happily splash around in babyhood for years. I love having a baby and everything that comes with it. I love the nursing and the diapers and laundry and the delicious baby smells. I have a love affair with those fingernails, those crazy sharp, impossibly tiny fingernails. I love those giggles and coos, those gummy smiles, those chunky dimpled legs. I take immense pleasure in hearing my toddler call for his Mamamama, give me slobbery kisses, and cling to the backs of my knees. But, babyhood is such a sweet, short time. I already miss it.
I’m the authority on my baby. During those early weeks of my son’s life, I completely over-prepared. I read a few books and asked questions of my mother and my pediatrician and my mom friends, trying to arm myself with as much information as I could as I navigated this first year. Mostly though, I’ve found that, if I’m willing to pay attention, my baby is pretty good at communicating his needs, and I’m pretty good at meeting them. By the time he was three months old, I swear I knew what cry meant he was tired and what cry meant he was bored and what cry meant he was hungry. This ability to read my kid made us all happier and made the past twelve months the best time of my life.
I would be a horrible stay-at-home mom. I daydream about it sometimes, especially when the baby doesn’t understand that mommy needs to get up and function and no we can’t have a 3:00 a.m. dance party, but as much as I miss my baby during the weekdays, I 100% believe I am a better mother because I work. I’m lucky. I like my job and my coworkers, my hours are flexible, and I never need to take work home or check email at 8:00 p.m. When I leave for the day, I’m done. The rest of the day I can be present and engaged with my family. I know that, if I was home all day, the quality of our time together would decrease. I need adult interaction. I need my own money. I need to be able to take a sick day and actually use it to recuperate. I applaud the women who stay home with their kids (whether by choice or circumstance) and make it work. Their role in their family and in society is not an easy one to play. I am immensely thankful for the stay-at-home moms in my life. I benefit, as does my son, from knowing a plethora of women who can pinch-hit for me or schedule a girls’ night or just remind me that this time in my life is precious. In the past year I’ve learned that the women who stay home are worthy of much more respect and gratitude than they usually receive, especially as I learned it’s not a role I would play well. I always assumed stay-at-home-mommying was not a good choice for me, but I didn’t realize how much it was not my thing until I became a mom.
My baby is not much of a baby anymore, and while I will mourn the end of his infancy, I am so excited that I get to watch him grow. I can’t wait to see what the next years of childrearing will teach me about my son and about myself. It’s a wild ride, this mom gig, but I am ready. I will hold on tight, as long as he’ll let me.
Shannon J. Curtin is the poetry editor of The Quotable, a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (Anchor and Plume Press), and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications). Her writing has been featured in a variety of literary magazines including Mothers Always Write, The Muddy River Review, The Mom Egg Review, and The Elephant Journal. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. She’s the mother of Quinn, a real boy, and Bruno a dog that wishes he was a real boy. She would probably like you. You can find her at www.shannomazur.com and @Shannon_Mazur.
the number of a winner
of homeruns, fertile follicles
and home-made, juicy tarts
the number of blooming years
that have flown by
a frightening half-life
that has claimed her genetic garden
a georgia o’keefe painting
that has faded and paled
with the scorch of too much sun
and the wine of too many moon cycles
plus ninety-six more emoticons
and i could send a barren tweet
into a galaxy of frozen donor eggs
the number of breaths she takes
before diving into the ocean called hope
counting each crushing wave
of baby-soft longing
that laps up onto her gritty shores
each dark, silent night
Nicole M.Chambers is a fantasy writer, poet and non-fiction essayist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from Harvard University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. After becoming a mother and a certified yoga instructor, she eventually studied writing at Stanford University, where the seeds of her first novel, Eye of Fire, were sewn. She has also been a contributing writer to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Nicole lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, California with her husband and son.
When reviewing a book, I ask myself such things as: Was it an enjoyable read,Did the plot make a logical progression, Are the characters believable, Is the information helpful? Having read Kelly Kittel’s Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict,the question foremost in my mind is, “How dare I say anything at all about this family’s huge tragedy?” I wish I could just cry with Kittel and tell her how very, very sorry I am that this happened to her.
The details are plentiful, raw and vivid. Kittel remembers every single thing that happened at this horrific period in her family’s history. The story is compelling and suspenseful, and that suspense is certainly necessary to keep you reading a story so filled with tragedy: Kittel’s toddler son, Noah, was killed in an accident and nine months later, a second son, Jonah, was stillborn. On top of that, her formerly close relationship with her in-laws turned hostile, her marriage was strained, and, ultimately, she and her husband ended up taking their obstetrician to court.
That telling this story was cathartic to Kittel, there is no doubt, but what does it do for the reader? Kelly’s cherishing of her children, remembering the curves of their cheeks and the fluttering of their eyelashes and their weight in her arms, has changed my enjoyment of my own children for the better. I am relishing their childhood more, despite frequent frustration. I treasure moments and details more, their coziness beside me, their chatter at bedtime, their songs and jokes. The most important role of the book, I believe, is that it memorializes two people that the world would not know otherwise, Noah and Jonah Kittel. If only for them, one should read Breathe.
It is a testament to Kittel’s strength as a writer and her integrity as a person that she tells her story in such a way that I can imagine her sister-in-law’s motivations when she is sometimes brusque, rude, aggressive, hurtful; I can trace the line of tragedy and hardship in Cody’s own life—mothering an already troubled teen who is then scarred by tragedy, a painful and costly lawsuit against her husband that colored her perception of medical lawsuits in general. These tragedies aren’t on a par with the deaths of two children; they are nonetheless very weighty and life-changing. It is generous for Kittel to allow me to feel sympathy for both herself and her adversary.
Breathe does end on a hopeful note, with the births of babies Isaiah and Bella into the Kittel family, bringing comfort and joy with them.
Breathe is a book that reads easily and quickly, but the sadness lingers for a long, long time. Do read it, but steel yourself to face unthinkable sorrow. I think Kittel describes it best herself:
“A memoir about grief and family conflict may not be the story you feel like reading; Lord knows it’s not the story I felt like living…telling the story of my sons is the last thing I can do for them besides carry their cells to my grave. My story isn’t always pleasant, though it has many joyful moments. And it may not always be believable, because truth is stranger than fiction. But if you need a kindred spirit to help you untangle the weave of your own undeniable grief or family drama, know that I wrote this for you.”
Kelly Kittel is an author and a mother. She’s had 13 pregnancies and has five living children, her best work beyond compare. She lives with her husband and their three youngest children on Aquidneck Island but her favorite writing space is in their yurts on the coast of Oregon. She has written many notes to teachers and has been published in blogs, magazines and anthologies. Her first book, Breathe, A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, was recently awarded the IPNE Book of the Year and Best Narrative Nonfiction Book and was also an award-winning Honorable Finalist in the Readers Choice International Book Awards. She can be found at www.kellykittel.com.
Book Giveaway: Kelly loves to meet with book groups. Be the first book group to invite Kelly to meet with your group to discuss Breathe and she will send your group one free copy of Breathe. (Kelly will visit in person in RI or Southern MA or by Skype if you are located outside of this area.) Contact Kelly through the comments section on her website.