For All Mothers

Three years ago, Kelly Kittel began her journey of book tours and signings, publicity and PR for her newly published memoir, Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict.  I’d journeyed with her, on parallel paths, in a shared writing group for months before.  Kelly has journeyed today to Washington, D.C. to advocate for appropriate allocation of funding for maternal health programs.

In December 2016, the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Dark Act of 2015 was signed into law.  Today and tomorrow scores of women visit the Capitol to discuss how to enact programs highlighted by the legislation.  It’s wonderful to see my news feeds filled with faces I’ve met in my maternal health circles, gathering together at the core of our country, for the health of mothers.

Kelly and I have had different journeys in motherhood.  She will be speaking to bereavement and infant loss.  She is speaking from her own personal experience.  My personal experience is with postpartum depression.  I was honored and touched that she asked me to give her my take on the care I’d received postpartum and what it may have lacked; to bring a firsthand account of what mothers in Rhode Island might need to recover and thrive despite postpartum depression.

To be a mother is to know the utmost joy and deepest despair.  While our manner of grief might differ, we all embody the emotion.  I thank Kelly Kittel for taking hers, and mine, on her latest journey.


More info on this initiative:

http://mmhcoalition.com/advocacy-days/

http://mmhcoalition.com/impact/

Stranger than Fiction

 

You just can’t make this stuff up.

 

We’ve all heard people say this. We may have even heard some pretty good instances of the phenomenon. Read Kelly Kittel’s Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict, however, and you’ll find perhaps the best exemplar of it ever.

Kittel’s story starts much like many other love stories: with the birth of a precious baby boy. We learn to know and love Noah, Kittel’s fourth child, right along with her. Amidst the love and adoration, though, there is an undercurrent of tension. Relations with extended family increasingly interfere with the Kittels’ close knit circle of immediate family, creating conditions ripe for catastrophe.

A tragic accident involving Noah is unfortunately and unbelievably only the first tragedy to befall Kelly and her family. In her quest for “an oversized house and a plastic car overflowing with round-headed pink and blue babies while [she] navigated [her] way through the Game of Life,” Kittel experienced miscarriages and an unnecessary stillbirth, unsupportive and argumentative family members.

Through personal anguish and legal battles, spiritual searches and encounters with nature, Kittel somehow arrives victorious on the other end, relishing each and every moment with her family of five living children and the spirit of those in heaven. Even with all its loss, Breathe is always – on every page, in every word – a life-affirming story.

I was fortunate enough to have read Breathe in its entirety before publication. Shortly after Kelly joined our writers’ group, she began sharing excerpts of her story, until we’d read, critiqued, and discussed the whole thing. We stroked the cover of her first proof when she passed it around the circle one night (it really is velvety soft!). We cheered her on upon its release on May 14, the birthday of her dear son, Jonah, his one and only day upon the earth.

Kelly Kittel wrote this story for those precious sons robbed of the oft-neglected privilege of breathing. But she also offers a poignant story of survival – her own. And in doing so, she most certainly will help countless mothers and women do the same.

Breathe-Cover

 

 

 

Wavelength

There comes a time when you see your mother as a being separate from yourself.  It’s not as an infant when you realize you exist outside her body.  It’s not when, as a toddler, you assert your independence.  The tumultuous teenaged years don’t do it.  Even becoming a full-fledged adult doesn’t do it.

She will always be your number one fan, miracle-worker, therapist, and helpmate.  She will always allow you to be self-centered when you come calling because you are her world.  She is your MOM.  (No Pressure 😉 )

But there are moments when she does something on an even more amazing level of awesome – perhaps even sublime – in which you see in crystalline form what a perfectly human and beautiful individual she is.

The first time this happened was when I was an early teen.  My parents, consummate do-it-yourself-ers, were in the middle of some household project that necessitated the transit of a long ladder through our tiny kitchen.  One inadvertent swing of the ladder swept the decorative items off one of the display shelves surrounding the window.  A crystal-clear unicorn, whose knobs and nodules captured and refracted the sun’s rays into rainbows, shattered against the stainless steel of the sink below.  I heard my mother scream like I never had before: a desperate, anguished wail.  She cried as she gathered the pieces.  This was another thing I rarely – if ever – had experienced with my mother.  These were not the welled-tears of sentimentality; these were big fat gobs of grief.

Being a young person, with no framework within which to place this, I asked my mother what was wrong.  She explained that the unicorn had been a gift from her sister when she had lost a baby.  Four years prior to my birth, my mother had delivered my would-be sister, stillborn.  This was my first encounter with this information, with this grief.  While I now had a framework, it was shaky.  I knew it was tragic.  I knew my mother hurt.  But I had no idea to what extent.

Years later, as a mother myself, now accustomed to grief, but still not of that magnitude, I sat with my mother in the parking lot of a botanical garden.  We stared out the windshield at the glass squares of the greenhouse.  ‘A woman in my writers’ group has written a memoir about her family, Ma,’ I said.  ‘About her journey through love and loss.  She had a stillborn, too.  Much the same circumstances as yours.’  There were some eerily similar details in their stories, though my mother never got the legal vindication that this woman did.  ‘Would you read it?’

I didn’t know if I was overstepping my bounds, if I was being too forward, pushy.  Was I dredging up feelings that my mother had gladly put to rest years ago?

‘I suppose it might be good for me,’ she said.  ‘Therapeutic.’

Months later, I took my mother to the launch party for that book: Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict by Kelly Kittel.  The day before Mother’s Day, we spent the afternoon of the launch together.  Ironically, though we were celebrating the ubiquitous holiday, I saw my mother as ‘other than mother’.  Hearing her speak to Kelly and share her story, I saw the profoundly deep wellspring of strength my mother’s been drawing from all these years.  I saw her as a woman, fighting a soul-crushing battle and winning.  I saw her as someone – like myself – who has been curled up on the floor crying, but she got up!  She went on.  And gave me the best, most important parts of herself.  All while, unbeknownst to me, she was suffering a tremendous loss.

It was hard for me to not insert comments or explanations as she spoke.  I felt the intermediary between these two women and wanted to help forge the link.  But the link between these two women had nothing to do with me.  It was in their tragedies and victories, their similar experiences with death and inextinguishable life.

I saw my mother as a distinct individual, a woman with her own suitcase of memories and maladies, a human being with a suit of armor and the soft underbelly of a mother.

Image

Photo by John Butler

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