November 25, 2015
by Kate


I would be lying if I said that the last few months (or year) has been an easy one for me. It hasn’t.

I’m still in that place of not-knowing, of guessing and experimenting with food, supplements, exercise—anything.

Still, I’m trying to be grateful for good days. I have a new acupuncturist, and she’s fabulous. That helps. I’ve started doing yoga, something that has never appealed to me, and has in the past caused injuries. But I’m open to it now, again, because I sense that will help me settle and heal. I also have a new food plan—the low FODMAP diet (oh joy!)—and I have appointments with a nutritionist and my gastroenterologist on the horizon. Small steps in hopefully the right direction.

But as I sit with discomfort and not-knowing, I am trying to practice daily gratitude. So today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, I want to name a few things for which I’m grateful: dance parties with my girls (those splits! those funky moves! that infectious laughter!); Donny, for everything; the girls again—their tenderness and sister love and great sense of humor; my dad and mom and stepdad; my sisters and their families; my extended family; my dear friends; our home; work that’s meaningful to me; my incredible students; our health (even though it’s challenging me right now); health care and health insurance; warm clothes; our sweet dog; and books—all those essays and novels and poems that make me feel alive.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of you reading, you who show up here even when I’ve let this blog languish. I appreciate you all. Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving. What are some thing you’re thankful for this year?

October 26, 2015
by Kate

showing up

I’ve started a number of blog posts over the last couple of weeks. Each time, before I could finish the post, things with my health would change and I’d abandon it half-written.

A week ago I was feeling better—not perfect, but better. I could lift a basket of laundry, put the full Brita back into the refrigerator on my own, walk longer distances, and make it through the day without a nap. Exciting stuff, I know. I still had some pain, especially after eating certain foods (likely the result of gallbladder duct spasms), but emotionally I felt so much better. Better than I had in over a year.

It was helpful to read the pathology report, which found that my gallbladder was inflamed, consistent with chronic cholecystitis. Perhaps it’s odd that this made me so happy, but I had been worried that I would get it out and it would look perfectly healthy. Instead, it confirms that I made the right decision.

But then last week I developed some mystery pain on my left side, and I began to worry about all sorts of (probably unlikely) things, and I was right back in that place I had been most of the last year, second-guessing everything. I began to worry that I’d made the wrong decision (not a helpful or productive line of thought).

I’m hopeful that things will turn around very soon. In the meantime, I’m teaching and editing and trying to write a little every day. I’m walking and swimming again. Today was the first time I’d been in the pool in over six months. I was slow, but still, my body remembered how to slice through water, my arms pulling, legs kicking, head turning to breathe every couple of strokes. I felt muscles that hadn’t worked in months come to life again.

So I’ll keep showing up and try to be patient, and hopefully soon I will feel like myself again.

September 15, 2015
by Kate


Thanks so much for all your thoughts and good vibes last week. Surgery went well (though geez, I would have happily stayed the night in the hospital. There’s nothing like being rushed home completely drugged up, nauseated and in pain.)

The first night and day weren’t fun, and heck, the second wasn’t fun either. But each day I’ve felt a little more like myself. And then Sunday I overdid it. It was Stella’s birthday (12! How is that possible?) and I was on my feet too much of the day. We had a lovely family gathering in which she raked in lots of soccer paraphernalia. But even with everyone pitching in, I was exhausted by the end of the party.

Yesterday–and today–I woke up in more pain, so it’s clear I need to scale things back again. I’m trying to nap a couple of times of day and I’m being more careful about how much I move around. Of course my to-do list keeps sneaking in, clambering for attention, and it’s difficult for me to suppress that damn thing. But I will, I have to. Part of what got me into this trouble in the first place is overextending myself, so I know I need to be mindful of that.

So, the plan for the day: nap, get up and do a tiny bit of work, nap, walk slowly to the bus stop to get the girls, chat and get them snacks, etc., hopefully rest again, eat dinner, then go to bed early. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? So it goes. It still feels like I made the right decision, and hopefully I will be recovered soon.

September 8, 2015
by Kate

dear gallbladder, goodbye.

I know that I am supposed to want to keep all of my organs, and believe me, I do. I’ve tried, I really have. I changed my diet (and then changed it back), I’ve done weekly (often twice a week) acupuncture, I’ve ingested many herbs and enzymes, minerals and fermented foods. I’ve meditated. I’ve cried. I’ve bucked up.

But still, the pain persists.

On Monday, after my upper endoscopy confirmed that my ulcers were healed (meaning that my pain is, and has been, GB-related), I felt elated (even after the sedation wore off). A weight had been lifted. No more second-guessing what I was eating. No more “Is the pain from this or that? Should I be eating (or not eating) this or that?”

No ulcers cleared the way for surgery. There was a path, a possible end to it. When I showed Donny the brochure about gallbladder surgery (featuring a sad, sad woman whose hand—her fingers splayed ever so slightly—is pressed below her right ribcage) he said, “That’s you! That’s exactly how you look.”

Shit. I look like the sad, sad woman from a surgical brochure. Even worse: I’d looked like that for months. It was time.

But then Tuesday at four am, what slunk back into my fretting mind was the second-guessing. Was it the right thing to do? Had I tried hard enough to keep it? Would it really take care of the pain? (This had been the question all along since my problem isn’t gallstones, which are cured by removal. Ejection fraction issues sometimes are not.) This state of second-guessing was helped immensely later in the day by a very strong differing opinion. But it is my body, and I know what’s best, right? Still, I was waffling.

Before Donny left for work on Wednesday morning he looked crestfallen. “On Monday you were yourself again.”

It was true. For a few hours on Monday I felt like my real self again because there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I needed to find my way back to that clarity. I made an appointment with my regular, trusted doctor, who agreed with my other doctors. Again the weight was lifted, and it’s remained that way. It’s the right decision. I realize that now. So, goodbye, gallbladder.

Added to my general discomfort in recent months, I’ve developed a propensity for styes, those painful little eye infections. (Stress?) My right eye was the one afflicted and after rounds of ointments and antibiotics, and diligent daily warm compresses, it finally cleared up.

But on Friday morning, just prior to my pre-op appointment, the left eye piped up. Like the disgruntled sibling of a memoirist, it just had to be heard. (I don’t need your version of the story, I implored. But no. It insisted.)

We headed up north Friday afternoon and I was going to spend the weekend visualizing being pain free (GB and stye). I was going to BE POSITIVE! And it was working. On Saturday, I determinedly slept in. I went for a walk. I bought a book in town.

Then the weekend was hijacked. I’ll spare you the details because all is fine, but really?

Now the stye is improving and surgery is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Tomorrow. So I’m back to BEING POSITIVE and visualizing being pain free. If you could send your positive vibes, healing thoughts, and prayers in my direction, I’d be grateful.

I’ll keep you posted.

August 20, 2015
by Kate

fall motherhood & words class

Donny and I spent the last five days painting (or rather emptying, then taping, then painting, then taping more, then painting more, and finally reassembling) our kitchen and my office. It was grueling, but it’s done, and now my office looks like this:


And now I’m ready to dive back into writing and also gear up for my fall online Motherhood & Words class. There are still spots available, and I’d love to have you in class! Here are the details:

Motherhood & Words Online

Sept 30 – Dec 7  (10 1/2 weeks)

Whether you are a new mom or a veteran, whether you gave birth to or adopted your child, in this online class you’ll learn how to take birth and motherhood stories and turn them into art. Weekly lectures, reading assignments and writing exercises will focus on telling details, character development, emotional distance, strengthening your reflective voice, and revision. (Use Your Words will be the primary text for the class.) You can expect to generate two to three creative nonfiction pieces, and you will have an opportunity to revise and expand one of these into a longer piece. You will receive feedback from your peers and me on what emerges from weekly writing exercises. I will also read and comment on one longer piece (10 pages) and a revision of that same piece. This class is open to writers of all ability levels. Join this online community of mothers who are interested in writing about motherhood!


Click here for registration details.

What are you gearing up for this fall?

August 10, 2015
by Kate


This morning as I headed out the door for a walk, there was a crispness to the air, a hint of fall. I always feel melancholy as summer winds down, and that’s there—the knowledge that another summer is coming to an end, and that fall, then winter are right around the corner.

But mixed in with the melancholy is, I have to admit, some relief. I’m very much looking forward to having the house to myself again, to getting back into my routines: meditation, writing, mid-day runs (hopefully, if my hip and gallbladder cooperate).

But it’s been a good summer—a summer on the patio, a summer with family and friends, a summer of books, a summer of noodling. (Thanks, Levi Weinhagen, for reminding me how much I love that term.)

Last month, I realized I needed to shake up the structure of my novel. Or maybe I didn’t need to, but what if? What if I blew it wide open, introduced another narrator? I thought about it on walks, in the early morning, my head fizzy with possibility, a new voice starting to take shape. But was it the right voice? A sixteen-year-old boy? What did I know about teenage boys? Was I crazy?

So I turned to my Facebook friends, searching for male narrators to help convince me I was on the right track. I ordered every book that was recommended, and Donny and I are making our way through the stack. So much fabulous YA fiction! I can’t get enough of it. Here is some of what I’ve been reading and loving:

Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley – I don’t usually read fantasy, but even before I opened this book, I knew I’d love it. And I was right; it swept me away. I fell in love with Aza Ray and Jason. I wept uncontrollably at both the beginning and end, which prompted many hugs from the girls.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – I’m not sure how many times I’d picked this up in the bookstore and turned it over, smiling as I read the inside flap. So when a friend recommended it for my quest, I knew it was time. It’s so damn good. I was giddy as I read, nodding my head, desperate for these two to find their way together. Like Magonia, this book has alternating narrators, and it works so well. So well.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alíre Sáenz – How have I not read any of Sáenz’s books before? He’s amazing, and he’s a powerhouse having written eighteen books, including poetry, novels, short stories, and children’s books. I raced through this beautiful book with my heart in my throat, so worried about these two young men, so wanting them to be okay. LOVE!

Small Damages by Beth Kephart – You know that I love Beth’s writing (which I’ve written about here and here), and though this novel doesn’t have a male narrator, it’s been on my list for a long time, so I was excited to dive into it. I was not disappointed. It’s beautiful and sad and hopeful. I could feel Spain come alive on the page, almost smell the citrus in the air. Just lovely.

I’ll keep going with the pile stacked high on the floor of my office, but now it will be for pure enjoyment rather than reassurance. These awesome books have helped me trust that young man taking shape in my mind. So I’ll noodle about him a little longer and as soon as everyone clears the house and heads back to school, I’ll let his voice spool out across the page.

What are you noodling on this summer?

July 14, 2015
by Kate

summer and taking stock

I’ve been quiet here these last weeks. Part of the reason is that I’ve been busy. In early June we road-tripped to Winnipeg for a couple of days to see the first U.S. Women’s World Cup game, which was incredible and inspiring. The rest of the month was swallowed up with editing and teaching prep, doctor’s appointments, and the girls’ soccer games. Then we were up north with my family for a week before the 4th, after which I headed straight to Madeline Island to teach my women’s memoir retreat. Busy, yes. But part of the reason I haven’t posted in a while is that I’m not sure what I want to say here right now. I’ve been feeling a need to pull back and take stock.

I’ve been blogging since early 2007. I’ve reviewed dozens of books and interviewed dozens of authors. I’ve blogged about teaching and writing and family. I’ve connected with so many all-around fabulous people. I’m so grateful for that. But this last year with all of my health ups and downs—and it’s still up and down—I’ve realized I have to change something. Slow down. Refocus on my own work. Savor the time I have with my family. Read.

Summer is ordinarily a very busy time of year for me, but this year things have opened up, and I’ve come to realize that this is exactly what I need. I need to sit on the back patio in the morning with Donny, cups of coffee in our hands as we chat, admiring the garden and the life we’ve built together. I need to spend long afternoons with the girls at a city lake or a local pool. Maybe I need to scream my way down the zip line, dropping into the pool with a great splash, thoroughly embarrassing those girls. Maybe.

In my tiny pantry office, I have stacks of books I’ve been sent over the years, books to review. For years my to-do list has always included the name of at least one author to interview. I’ve read incredible books and had the opportunity to chat and email with so many talented and gracious authors. But I think I’m done now. (Yikes. I feel simultaneously thrilled and sick to my stomach writing those words—a sign that, for now at least, they are the right words, the right decision.)

I’m not sure what I do want to do in this space, but my gut tells me that I’d like to bring this blog closer to home, figure out how I can use this space to once again feed my creative process, enhance it. A need to turn inward, to listen to my own pulse.

I don’t know what that will look like, but I hope you’ll stick around and see what happens. I appreciate your patience as I fumble along, testing out what feels right.

June 12, 2015
by Kate

anthology week: the write on mamas’ mamas write

I’m happy to have Joanne Hartman, Mary Hill, and Janine Kovac, the editors of Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit and Grit, here for the final post of anthology week. Mamas Write is an anthology that grew out of the Write On Mamas, an amazing group of (mostly) women writers in the Bay Area. I first connected with them in 2012 when I was on tour for Use Your Words (though I previously knew Joanne through Literary Mama and Mary as one of my stellar students).


Over the years, I’ve led in person and online workshops for the group and I also worked with them on Mamas Write, so this anthology is dear to my heart. I’ll quote a little of what I wrote in the foreword, which echoes what Suzi and Kasia said in their interviews earlier this week:

This anthology not only celebrates why and how and what these mothers are getting down on the page; it celebrates community, the ways in which we support each other as writers and as parents. In “The Next Prompt,” the final piece in this book, Janine Kovac writes, “I know that if I can’t share these feelings here—with these mothers who graciously share their stories with me—then […] I will never write truthfully about anything.”

These writers have taken a leap—to write their truth, and to share that truth with each other, to share it with you. This collection is ultimately about the power inherent not only in writing, but in sharing our stories. It’s about creating a space—virtual or in person—where we all feel safe enough to be vulnerable, to write what we’ve been too scared to write.

KH: Thanks for being here, Write On Mamas. Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of this anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

WOM: Our anthology is a collection of stories written by members of our writing group, the Write On Mamas. The idea for the anthology came from the recognition that while we were a group with varied writing experience (from journalers to published authors) and varied writing interests (fiction, memoir, poetry, etc.) we all possessed a strong desire to write regardless of the barriers that parenting flung in our direction. From that spark, that drive, the initial question that shaped this anthology emerged: “Why do you write?”

The project, from start to finish, was an inclusive one. We are proud that every member who adhered to the submission and editing deadlines is included in this volume. We enlisted the developmental editing help of Kate who guided us in shaping our words into focused stories through her Motherhood & Words class and with individual editing. We were thrilled to see these polished pieces emerge from our rough drafts.

KH: It was so fun to see them change and grow over through the process!

Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out essays to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

WOM: As we included all essays that were submitted we had less control over the content or sub-themes of the pieces. But that only made it more fun! Structuring the anthology was like putting together a puzzle. We sat for hours in our favorite café, discussing placement and thinking carefully about the emotional journey the reader would take. We aimed to place humorous or lighter pieces after a group of more challenging ones, shorter pieces after long ones.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

WOM: With three editors, not surprisingly we all had different pieces that resonated deeply with us. For example, the pieces that dealt with loss and challenging times especially resonated with Mary and Joanne liked the humorous pieces that made her laugh.

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

WOM: We had no idea what we were getting into. How hard could it be to collect the pieces, send back a few edits, put them in order and send them off to the copy editor? We met every Friday morning at Bittersweet Café in Oakland, CA and poured over each of the submissions, crafted emails to authors with suggested edits, reviewed copy-editing, and wrote the appendices. It was a lot of work, but we loved working together and look back on our chocolate zucchini bread and hot cocoa days with fondness. Writing is so often solitary, but we found that editing as a team was a collaborative and bonding experience.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

WOM: It sounds cliché, but keep writing. Jot down the little things as you go about your day and file or type them up later. Take ten minutes to scribble down that moment you don’t want to forget. Enroll in a class – we are all big fans of Kate’s Motherhood & Words classes and retreats – to help you dive deeper and find the story emerging from your writing. And Write On Mamas has a national membership, so check us out!

KH: Aw, shucks, thank you! And thanks for taking the time to chat with me here at Motherhood & Words.

Thank you to all the editors whose anthologies were featured this week. Here’s to continuing to create the space for all our stories!

Leave a comment below by June 24th for a chance to win a copy of Mamas Write.

June 10, 2015
by Kate

anthology week: kasia james’ the milk of female kindness

The second motherhood anthology I’m featuring this week is The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood, edited by Kasia James. Kasia is the author of many short stories and science fiction novel The Artemis Effect. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with a hydrologist, an ankle biter and a big black cat called George.

One of the things I really like about this anthology is the fact that it contains pieces from women across the world. I love what Kasia says in the introduction: “Some of the stories will touch you, and some may challenge you, but all will give a greater understanding of what motherhood has meant to ‘ordinary’ women around the world…In diversity, we hope to encourage you to think and feel about motherhood in a deeper and different way.” And her book really does embrace a diversity of voices, which I love.

I’m happy to welcome Kasia to Motherhood & Words today. Thank you for being here, Kasia! (Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Milk of Female Kindness.)


KH: Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of this anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

KJ: Anger, primarily! When I had my son, I was at first surprised, and then progressively frustrated and dismayed in the way that society’s attitudes toward me appeared to have changed. Now ‘just a Mum,’ it seemed that the media believed that I should only be interested in nappies (diapers), my post-baby body and shopping. There seems to be a genuine dichotomy between motherhood as a shining and impossibly ideal, and yet also a dismissive attitude to women who are mothers.

Motherhood is such a fundamental change to a woman’s life, and an immensely complicated and challenging role. I wanted to collect women’s writing, artwork and thinking to broaden the conversation about the real experience. For this reason, I was quite deliberate in seeking a diverse range of women: writing as mothers of young children, older children, children with disabilities and also as daughters, in conjunction with historical, feminist, psychological and medical perspectives.

KH: I love the title. Can you tell me a little about that?

KJ: It’s a quote from the screenplay of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which discusses what it means to be a “real” man and a “real” woman:

“I might choose not to sacrifice my life caring for my children, nor my children’s children, nor drown anonymously in the milk of female kindness, but instead, say to go abroad. Would I still then be…”

“A real woman?”

I’ve always loved the sound of these words.

KH: Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out essays to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

KJ: The book did grow somewhat organically. I started with a core of great writers who I had met through blogging. They suggested other terrific women writers and artists who I contacted. At that point, knowing that my aim was to embrace the diversity of motherhood, I started to deliberately seek out people to write on particular topics. I hunted through publications such as Lunar Station Quarterly (which publishes speculative and science fiction by women) to find others. My own mother also wrote a piece for the anthology, which discusses not only her views about motherhood, but recalls her memories of my grandmother, so there is a personal connection there too.

The anthology also features three interviews, and I went to some trouble to find the right people to give a genuinely honest and thoughtful views of their areas of expertise.

In terms of the structure of the book, I took particular pleasure in arranging the pieces to bounce off one another: either to pick up on a theme from the previous work, or to contrast with it. As The Milk of Female Kindness contains quite a body of amazing poetry, there was also a need to balance the pace of poetry against prose and factual information.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

KJ: I think the pieces that particularly chime with me personally will change over time, as my son grows. He is only two and a half now, so ones like “Distance” by Kitty Brody, which really speaks from the heart about the guilt of leaving small children, and the fiction piece “Failure of Heaven” by Christa Forster, a darkly powerful piece about the cost to us of protecting our children, really resonate with me now. I also adore a lot of the poetry and flash fiction in the book. It’s a form of writing, for me, that captures the essence of a feeling or situation, like an ant in amber: a frozen moment or idea. In particular, I’d have to choose “The Changeling” by Laura Evans, “The Maclaren” by Marie Marshall, and “Something Like Survivor’s Guilt” by Angelique Jamail.

That said, if the pieces didn’t resonate with me, they wouldn’t be included in the book! They are all included because they made me think, made me glow, or tore my heart.

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

KJ: To be honest, I think that apart from the grind of proof reading (many times!), the most challenging but also the most rewarding thing was to put aside my personal experiences and beliefs. Just because they are mine doesn’t mean that they are more valid than anyone else’s! Compiling the collection has really helped to sort out my own thinking and perspective on motherhood: I certainly don’t feel I have all the answers, but I’m perhaps more comfortable with that uncertainty!

I was also blown away by the naked honesty the women in my book shared. Motherhood is deeply personal, and some of the emotions it brings out in us are not always acceptable to the world, nor even to ourselves. I can’t express how honoured I am that this fantastic group of women chose to share their real stories and ideas about motherhood: the relentless hard grind and the sacrifices, but also the limitless loyalty, the pride and the love.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

I suppose like motherhood itself, I’m no expert. However, I would agree with one of our interviewees, Professor Alison Bartlett, who is the Chair of Women’s Studies at the University of Western Australia. She expresses the importance of having more stories about this issue out there as a means to rethinking and broadening our understanding of what it means to be a mother. Without a diversity of views, we are more prone to a media driven, narrow-minded view of the whole experience.

From my perspective, I would also suggest considering separating your experiences from those of your children in your writing, although of course your lives are intimately linked. By this I mean that I might be fascinated by the differences in approach or life experience of another woman who is ostensibly in the same position as I am, but perhaps will not be so enthralled by the intimate details of potty training! What are your thoughts, reflections, fears? What makes you angry, or guilty, or joyful? What is it really like to give birth, or to give up a child? These are experiences that only you can write about. They are not pedestrian, to be brushed aside as “women’s business.” There is daily heroism here – celebrate it!

KH: Thank you so much for being here at Motherhood & Words and chatting about your anthology with me, Kasia!

Readers, please leave a comment below by June 22nd for your change to win a copy!

June 7, 2015
by Kate

anthology week: suzi banks baum’s an anthology of babes!

One of my favorite things about this work I do here is meeting other women writers who are putting their words out there, creating community and making the world a better place. Today I’m so excited to kick of a week dedicated to a few of these women and their projects. This week I’m featuring three fantastic anthologies that celebrate motherhood and writing, and I’m so pleased to kick off with Suzi Banks Baum’s An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. (You can leave a comment below for your chance to win a copy.)

3. An Anthology of Babes cover

I met Suzi online a few years ago when she asked me to participate in her wonderful Out of the Mouths of Babes blog series. Of course I said yes! (If you don’t know this series, you must check it out. She’s pulled together the words of some of my favorite mother writers.)

I’m so honored to kick off this week with Suzi, who creates community wherever she goes. Writer, maker, mother, she teaches the Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops for women, produces Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Writing to Others and a host of other soulful art experiences. Most recently published on The Mid you can find more of her work at

For me, her anthology is a call to action, a reminder of the power in sharing our words and art with each other and the world. In the introduction, Suzi writes, “You become an activist when you decide that what you have to say has enough value to be worth saying.” Yes! This makes me want to pump my fist in the air, which is what you’re going to want to do when you’re done reading.

Please welcome Suzi Bank Baum to Motherhood & Words!

KH: Suzi, thanks so much for being here and kicking off this week. Tell me a little bit about how you conceived of your anthology. Why did you feel there was a need for it? What made you take the leap?

SB: When I began writing in earnest, towards a narrative that captured my days mothering, I wanted companionship. I had swallowed Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions whole. I wanted more personal writing, not fiction, not idyllic, not ideas about “what to do when.” I had hit some hard patches and wanted to hear how creative women expressed the full range of experience. I prowled libraries and bookstores. I found works of fiction by women who were mothers, and some non-fiction beyond Lamott, like Laurie Colwin and Anna Quindlen, but I knew there had to be more. I wanted to read about women who were working creatively within the demands of mothering. Mother Reader, a collection by Moira Davey and Mamaphonic by Bee Lavender and Maia Rossini, were two collections that bore witness to a wider range of women’s experience. My research led me to this blog and to others. I found Lisa Garrigues Writing Motherhood. It sent me back in time to Alicia Ostricker’s Mother Child Papers, to books of quotes and art about motherhood, to re-reading Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich for clues on the way they worked. Erdrich’s poem “Advice to Myself” became iconic for me. (“Leave the dishes,” she whispered to me) It led me to scholarly texts and Demeter Press, but it did not lead me to writing with immediacy that felt alive, vibrant with newborn understanding. I wanted to hear words from women who were in it, not fictionalizing motherhood, not with the perspective of time and distance, I wanted to sense the heat of the kitchen, the sound of feet bounding up and down stairs, the doors slamming and the writer there, in the midst of it. Messy. I didn’t mind messy. But real, so what I felt was companionship and identification.

I looked to the creative women in my community. This is where my anthology seeded and gestated.

KH: Can you talk about the way the book is structured? Did the pieces you receive dictate the content of the book, or did you specifically seek out works to address different topics that come up when women write about motherhood?

SB: The works in my book, literary and visual, were mostly sourced by a call for entries to a small group of writers in my area and to my blog series on motherhood and creativity called Out of the Mouths of Babes. I conceived and produced a live event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers that featured six writers reading 8-minute works that responded to my initial questions: Tell me how your creative life fuels your mothering. Tell me how mothering impacts or affects your creative life. How is motherhood creative? Do you find your creative yearnings stymied or fed by motherhood?

The range of responses caught me by surprise. I loved the diverse interior spaces women ventured into. I loved how their real lives were so interwoven with their creative expression, even though their work was thwarted by parenting or they had chosen to leave behind their primary creative modes of expression, I loved the energy and vitality, the ache and painful yearning that came through in all of the pieces. Birthday cakes and business decisions, meditation and losses, fresh sprigs of mint and buried memories of their own childhoods came forward and I knew the work had to be seen by more eyes than those on my website.

After two years of running Out of the Mouths of Babes for the Berkshire Festival and on my blog, I knew the integrity and impact of the work. I had enough content to create an anthology. I knew there was room on the shelves for the words of my peers. My longing for companionship in this expression and witnessing the fascinating and varied responses made me leap to publish.

I have produced Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others event and the partnered blog series for four years running now. I would like to continue. I recast my theme every year. This year’s theme was The Village: Who else is here while you mother? I now have enough material for another anthology, but have to table it while I market this current one and do my own writing on the book that started this whole line of inquiry (and sprouted my career as a writing teacher, social media mentor and producer).

Just last night, my 20-year-old son came into my bedroom where I sat reading. He read the cover of my book and asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of reading about mothers?” I smiled. I read constantly. My shelves are full of a range of works- poetry, fiction, social commentary, essays, short stories, historical fiction, but he is correct. I am still devouring all the writing I can find that takes me inside this timeless and contemporary experience of women’s lives.

The book my son found me reading is Katrina Kenison and Kathleen Hirsch’s collection, Mothers, 20 Stories of Contemporary Motherhood. Published in 1996, this collection of 20 works of fiction by women writers is prefaced by an excellent introduction. Each work is followed by comments by the authors. I could fill this page with excerpts from the introduction, but this says it all for me:

“We decided to narrow our focus to stories that would portray the complexities of mothering in America today as we and other women of our generation are experiencing it – not as a footnote to career adventures, not as a subplot to romantic entanglements, but as a state of existence with an integrity all its own, rampant with grace, ambiguity, and bittersweet revelation.”

Kenison and Hirsh’s book confirms today what I recognized when I decided to publish An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice. The voices from inside motherhood were worth amplifying.

KH: What pieces in the anthology particularly resonate with you? Why?

SB: Each piece in the anthology makes me more comfortable to be my full self. I have long been a multi-passionate woman (Marie Forleo’s term). I write, make jam, garden, paint, act, sing, do yoga, collage, sketch, knit, sew, embroider, dye, weave, felt, print, journal, make books, bake. I do lots of things, not all at the same time, certainly not in the earliest years of motherhood, and not all now, but I think about them while hanging laundry, I ponder them while reading at night, I explore ideas from hand to hand while walking in the woods with my kids and wonder what would happen if I started writing from this moment, when the slap of a beaver tail startles us all out of our late summer afternoon stupor and we dissolve into laughter and fright? In that first round of pieces women offered to the blog series, I felt a surprising safety in the thought, “If she can, I can.” Which reminds me of something Tania Pryputniewicz wrote: “What a relief: I am not exploring the seams of intimacy alone.” These stories offered me courage. They offer readers courage, comfort and companionship.

Motherhood certainly defines us. On a blog I will never forget finding on one of my “down the rabbit hole” searches for writing about motherhood and creativity, a woman wrote, “Motherhood is the one thing in my life that I have done, that I cannot undo.”

This may sound a bit bleak. And it may sound a bit stark. And it is true.

You cannot undo this. We will never stop being mothers. We will never cease our innate desire to mother others, to support, nurture and assist growth. Celebrating this inevitable, eternal, ancient and penetrating topic with a group of creative women allows a whole forest of possibility to emerge. I don’t have to set my mother-self aside to do my work.

Motherhood is timeless and captivating. Generations of women before us have been silenced, as women, as mothers, as healers, as teachers. I feel it is my responsibility to create a legacy of voiced women, so that our daughters’ daughters can look back and see, as Terry Tempest Williams writes,

“In a voiced community, we all flourish.”

Suzi Banks Baum II OUT

KH: Was there anything that was particularly challenging or surprising that you encountered as you compiled and published your anthology?

SB: During the course of publishing and marketing this anthology several things surprised me.

  • I was surprised by how much women had to say.
  • I was surprised by how some women took this opportunity of being published to join a forum of discussion, integration and reflection on motherhood and creativity. Many have launched successful businesses, cottage industries and exciting new literary offerings because of the permission this project has given them. Our momentum is countering the dearth of vibrant writing about women’s experiences.
  • The contributors who never responded to having been published surprised me. Kind of like the rare chicken, they hatched the egg and walked away from it. I realized that I did not ask them to commit to any reciprocal marketing, and that I had certain expectations. I learned there are certain things I need to make contingent on being included in any future projects.
  • I was surprised by the gentle way so many people received the book. My best friend from fifth grade and her mother bought a copy, read it and talked about it with each other. When I visited them last summer on the book tour, they spoke of some of the stories as if the writers were all with us in the room. They referred with such familiarity to the writing. I learned then that I must be assiduous in what I select for inclusion in this project because people read carefully. The impressions that are made by the written word and the visual image can reach deeply into people’s lives. I think of the tenet, “Do no harm.” I want to include the hard stories that touch sore places long insulated by grief and shame. Open, curious hearts will receive them each. I want what is true to be unvarnished by style or fancied up. These are not cute stories of what happened in the grocery store. These are stories of real women filled with yearning and wonder, caught in the act of making lives while mothering.
  • I was surprised by how much I love the eyes of an editor.
  • I was surprised by the responses of women who are not mothers; so touched by these.
  • I am surprised at how proud I am of the book, that it is dedicated to a woman who was present and engaged in discussion at the first live event, whose hands are pictured in a photograph in the book and who died within a year, leaving two teenagers behind, that funds from the book do double philanthropy as I share proceeds with two different organizations that supply free and low-cost healthcare to women and families in Berkshire County and that it is so very lovely to hold. It looks good. It feels good.

KH: What advice would you give to women who are just starting to explore motherhood as a subject matter in their writing?

SB: All I can say it this: Your story matters. Write or make your art work a part of your daily life.

Let your kids discover you lost in reverie, fascinated by the whorl of a pinecone. Let them know your hands paint-stained or berry splattered, let them know the strength of your advocacy for the planet and its people, let them hear the sound of your singing voice and see you on stage. Model passionate citizenship to your children by living full out.

I love what Katherine Paterson says: “As I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time are those how have given me something to say.”

Be stopped by motherhood, put down all your devices and pre-occupations and give it your full, unsullied attention, and do not let it squelch your voice. Let it connect you to other women. Talk with them. Be a good listener, to your own heart, to the hearts of your family and to your world.

Then, word by word, tell us all about it.

KH: Amen, Suzi! Thank you so much for taking the time to “chat” with me.

Readers, if you’d like to win a copy of An Anthology of Babes, please leave a comment below by June 19th!