Writing & Motherhood
by Annie Downey
All rights reserved, Annie Downey, 2006
I remember the first thing I ever wrote about being a mother. I was eighteen years old, my daughter, Iris, was eight months old. We had a tiny one bedroom apartment in downtown Burlington. I had just begun my first semester at college and had signed up for a creative writing class. Our first bit of homework was one of those basic “How to ___” writing assignments. Classmates shared their ideas aloud—one hip-dressed student said she was going to write about how to make an Orgasm (like the drink!)—another student chirped up and said that he was going to write about how to get a hot guy in the sack. Everyone laughed. I remember being panicked about what I would write about.
My professor said to me, “Write about what you know.”
I went and picked up my daughter at the college daycare. As I pushed her stroller up the street to our apartment, I thought about how boring and dull my life would seem to my college classmates. At the same time I didn’t want their lives of endless partying and fast relationships. I liked being a mother, I liked the safety of it, and, I knew I was good at it. I liked the weight of my daughter on my hip, I liked nursing her, I liked folding her little baby clothes at the laundry mat, I liked mashing up food for her, and I loved giving her a bath, changing her diaper, and reading her stories. I enjoyed it.
After I put my daughter, Iris, to bed that night, I sat down to write. The words
flew out of me. It was something I hadn’t felt in a long time—me—alone—just me. And I
was O.K.. Typically, because I couldn’t stand the loneliness of the night, I would leave
most of the lights on in the apartment and go to bed along with Iris. But that night, while
writing my assignment, I felt cozy and good. I didn’t feel alone. I had words for company. When I finished the rough draft, I turned off the lights in the apartment and went to sleep.
When the next class rolled around and I shared “How to Change a Poopy Diaper”, the class loved it, and thought it was hilarious. It was so exhilarating to be both seen and heard by a room full of people. By incorporating my mothering experience with my writing—my first writing class became a place for me to share my stories of single motherhood which lessened my own feelings of isolation and I made me a happier mother, which, in turn, benefited my daughter. By creating a venue in which to share my joy of my daughter with other people (something I had always imagined married couples shared), I was able to also claim my own identity as a writer without feeling I was leaving my daughter, Iris, behind. At that time, I felt I couldn’t do anything that somehow didn’t include her without feeling tremendous anxiety and guilt. If I wrote “our” story, then those feelings wouldn’t tug at me— extinguishing the page—and thus extinguishing this new found freedom to become what I wanted outside of motherhood.
So, I began to write…I wrote everyday in my journal, I wrote poems, I wrote short stories, and I wrote essays. I wrote through a rocky relationship, another baby, and a break-up. I wrote through graduation from college, court processes, my mother’s illness, and a new marriage that has had its ups and downs. Writing has been my companion— my one other relationship— besides the relationship I have with my children— that has remained consistent and unwavering. I am always loyal to it.
Now that my children are older (my daughter now in her senior year at high school and my son in middle school) and are developing their own amazing identities—beginning to get a sense of their own crazy ideals and dreams—their own story—it is easier for me to allow them to do just that. It is easier to be at peace with them flying in and out of this little colorful nest of mine because of writing. Because I have been able to slowly claim my own identity that goes beyond being their mother—a part of my life that doesn’t necessarily always have to involve them—that doesn’t have to be “our” story—but is “my” story— that occasionally (when allowed and if invited) is intermingled with theirs.*