11/09/2010

Of Books and Birthing

Been thinking a lot about pregnancy and birthing and prematurity recently, likely because these are the topics of my current project, but still it's surprising how the metaphors keep happening.

Being stuck in research was like a difficult labor transition that I wasn't sure I'd break through, but with the help of another I did and found the links I needed to take the next step on the path.

Being anxious about things not happening quickly enough is a familiar birthing thing too - except I really don't know about that. My first child was born prematurely and I was only aware of being in labor when the ER nurse said I was 9 cm dilated (yes, I'm one of those unfortunate women who thought her contractions were gas cramps). But this writing has made me anxious, wanting the story to birthed quickly and as painlessly as possible.

I've learned that this is something we women in the US have been trained to think. The movie The Business of Being Born was very eye-opening. I knew bits and pieces already - how birthing on the back was supposedly introduced by Henry the VIII who wanted to see the birth process, how it's easier on the doctor for a woman to lay on her back during labor for 'easy access and observation.' I knew bits about the increased use of anesthesia and other pain medications and the complications that have come from the lack of sensation as a result. But it wasn't until watching the movie that I could see how the trend for doctor's ease, fear of litigation, and need for speed stripped women of their power to do the thing they were built to do - birth babies.

So that's got me thinking about the way we birth books and essays and stories, how the publishing machine and the fame/fortune that sometimes comes to writers has created circumstances similiar to the way we birth children. Journalistic deadlines spill over into publication deadlines. Audience demand for faster, more timely material crashes into the demand for more robust, more personal accounts. More authenticity and More presence creates conditions where material gets out into the world before, perhaps, it's ready. Or in my case, not at all because I can't manage to live up to the pace set by these demands.

Then I end up with still-born manuscripts, never given a chance to develop. Move on, I'm told. The next will be better. But when to grieve what did not happen? When to make things right and take the time to create that needs to be on the timetable it naturally has?

I'm thinking about what strangles manuscripts like an umbilical cord wrapped around the neck, how things like helpful suggestions or encouragements to include more detail, more theme, more looping back on images can strangle a manuscript just trying to float in supportive liquid.

I'm thinking about how pregnancies and births are not solitary affairs, not really. We're born into communities, nurtured by them and sometimes restricted by them, and that writing communities are no different. They can nurture and constrict and this is neither bad nor good, just something to understand as a factor in the writing.

I'm thinking about the generosity and stinginess of us human beings, how our hopes and excitement create generosity and our fears make us stingy, and how that strains and pushes against and with the birthing of a child or a book. I'm grateful for both, because the first makes the work worthwhile and the second can push me to look deeper, face my own fears.

And sometimes I can face my own fears and see sensation of fear as actually excitement and flow with that. Expand instead of contract. Why do we call it contractions, anyway? Why not call the moments of release between contractions Expansions? Wouldn't our labors be easier? What if we no longer called it labor, but something more joyous?

Or perhaps we need to reframe labor as something joyful and not something to be avoided in our instant soup culture. Slow food. Slow being. There is nothing lazy about relaxing into a process. Ask a Buddhist if you doubt.

This is something of a lumpy post and perhaps not really publishable, but it says some things on my mind and I think about those babies that come through too soon, the ones like my daughter who look emaciated at birth but who manage to survive and thrive. This will all go into something else, I'm sure, and it's a good post for now, a start of a conversation here.