It’s a Tuesday night and I’m sitting in a Vancouver café surrounded by ten other moms. The café is closed and we are just getting to know each other in this warm, cozy, intimate space. There are new moms and moms of toddlers and teenagers. There are grandmoms, adoptive moms and stepmoms, and they’ve come from all over the city to be here—at a writing class.
Many people ask me why mothers would want to take a writing class – why they would want write their stories when they often seem so trivial, full of the day to day mundane details that make up a mother’s life: diapers, tantrums, carpools, soccer practices. It’s the same question often asked of mommy bloggers. But they’re missing the point. What defines our lives is struggle: struggle to reconcile our pre-baby selves with our post-baby reality, struggle to get through a miscarriage, struggle to get through loss, divorce, exhaustion, job loss, mental illness, death. This is the stuff of good storytelling and it is worth recording every detail, before we forget how the struggle transformed us, enlightened us and made us who we are today.
One of the coolest things about writing our motherhood stories is the process of self-discovery that comes along with it. There’s something about writing down the details of your life that forces you to see things in a new way and to ask yourself questions you’d never before considered. Here are some words that have emerged in my writing for moms classes:
“I offered a watery smile and let the tears pour. ‘I just took my daughter to pre-school for the first time.’ I warbled. The old lady patted my shoulder and told me to go shopping and enjoy my baby who was babbling in the stroller in front of me. But I couldn’t.”
“The first time my husband told me he didn’t love me anymore, I didn’t believe him.”
“I came to motherhood at knifepoint.”
Writing has always been therapy for me. A journalist, I turned to writing personal stories about motherhood when my first child was born 9 years ago. Becoming a mother, for me, was such a crazy and transformative experience, one that involved simultaneously a career crisis, a friendship crisis, a marriage crisis and an identity crisis. I turned to what I knew best to work it all out: words. I wrote about how difficult it was to go back to work to a corporate 9 to 6 office job, leaving my one-year-old son in daycare. I wrote about the effect children had on my marriage. I’ve written about playdates and nannies and green parenting. I’ve explored the myth of having it all. And it has been through writing that I have learned the most about myself as a mother and as a human being.
Writing is a mysterious and beautiful process, for professional writers as well as for first-timers. Often, what we think we are going to write isn’t what comes out on the page at all.
Words can document our journey and help us grieve, share and move forward. Words can validate our experiences and give us the confidence that our own stories are worth telling and valuable sharing. Words can ease the pain of reality because by putting them on paper, you are letting that pain go. Giving it a name, a story, a history. This happened to me. I survived. I grew. I am better because of it all. I am not a perfect mom, nor the mom I expected to be. I am me.
Cori Howard is the founder of The Momoir Project, teaching writing classes to moms in Vancouver and online. She is also the editor of the best-selling anthology,Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood. For more details, check out: www.themomoirproject.com