Writing & Pregnancy & Risking It All : A Hen Life Manifesto

I am due to deliver my first child, a sweet baby boy I’ve come to quickly, ardently adore, in 100 days, and this — the existence of a rough timeline — is one of the only dissimilarities I’ve found between my temporary preoccupation (pregnancy) and forever occupation (writing).

Does this seem strange? I’ll break it down.

100days

1. Both writing and pregnancy are entirely about creation in the most tangible, literal sense.

You had nothing but a whisper, a dream, a hint, a hum, a haunting, and then, with magic, with toil, with attention, with time, something complete arrives, and, oddly, it no longer has so much to do with you. It is separate. It is whole. It is vulnerable. You are not its owner, but its keeper, and even that position is provisional.

2. Both writing and pregnancy are widely explored topics.

My own office features a small tower of pregnancy-related books and an entire shelf devoted to the craft of fiction and scriptwriting. But despite what the myriad of resources promises, neither can tell you what really matters. (Trust me, I’ve done the reading, and some of the writing — ha! — as seen on Momtastic and others.) In his brilliant On Writing, Stephen King illuminates, “It is, after all, the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster’s shell that makes the pearl, not pearl-making seminars with other oysters.” Sure, writers can inform other writers, and moms can inform other moms, but we can cause a fair amount of damage, too. Value your instincts, friends.

3. Both writing and pregnancy require patience and perspective.

And not just within the writer or woman-with-child. If it takes a village to raise a child properly, it takes a small county to properly support a writer. And should that writer simultaneously be a woman-with-child, a small army will suffice. (A few Pregnant Writer shout-outs to some less-recognized soldiers: Thank you, barista, for knowing the exact amount of caffeine per espresso shot. Thank you, hairstylist, for asking about my work as much as my baby registry while we returned my mane to an acceptable state. Thank you, FedEx staff, for waving me and my belly and my time-sensitive envelope addressed for New York to the front of the line, whilst I shimmied in hopes a public potty wasn’t far.) 

4. Both writing and pregnancy incite great paranoia.

Awaiting a literary agent’s/reader’s/producer’s/director’s/talent’s feedback shockingly parallels that sinking/exciting/butterfly-fluttering/hope-everything’s-a-o-k feeling before an ultrasound or doppler heart probe or test. Simply, the stakes are high (so very high), and the results (so usually, seemingly) definitive.

5. And, lastly, should I succeed in writing or pregnancy, I must become this:

HenLife

For those of you agriculturally-impaired, this is a HEN.

[Number Five came to me quite recently, upon the eve of some unexpected, unfortunate news. I’ll get to that, I promise, but first, how this hen stuff applies to the writing life:]

My first novel — the one I’m currently peddling — took me about three years to complete in full. Yes, I pursued other endeavors during this stretch (a few TV movies, lots and lots of freelancing, earned an MFA, got married, bought and renovated a house), but my creative energies were most focused and filtered into this fictional baby, this fictional baby who made no promises — not to me, not to anyone.

And there was this night, about a year ago, on the porch of our rented little red house, where we ate honey mustard chicken and watermelon wedges with our best friend. Having finally fixed a pivotal chapter, I was on a high — an obnoxious sky-rockety one — feeling like success was inevitable, feeling like I could taste it, as true and honey-drenched as the chicken on my fork.

“But what happens if, you know,” our best friend began, punctuating my glee. A cautious concern took over his posture, his brow, his tone. He knew he was poking the bear, but if you know him, you’d know this has never deterred him. “I’m just gonna say it. What happens if it’s great, but nothing ever comes of it?”

He wasn’t doubting me; he wasn’t doubting the work. He was doubting my control of its exposure, its reception, its likelihood of being embraced the way I hoped. He was doubting the (unwarranted, but innate) inclination alive and well within optimists everywhere:

That things would work out swimmingly, because, well, why the hell shouldn’t they?

[Relevant Sidebar: I’m an optimist. So much so, I’m surprised when I don’t come out on top in Vegas. Thank god I seem to surround myself with upbeat, but practical non-optimists. My husband’s a hopeful realist and a medical doctor, which, combined, could be defined as: (n), a good-natured person who sees the danger in empty promises; one who winces when “of course” is employed when “maybe” should be.]

Back to the honey mustard chicken, which was becoming more mustardy by the moment….

“I mean,” our best friend said, hesitantly, lovingly, curiously, “do you ever feel like you’ve put all your eggs in one basket?”

The porch went quiet. I devoured the biggest remaining watermelon wedge then admitted that yes, that’s exactly how I felt. In fact, if any project matters at all, that’s always how I’ve felt.

“So,” he repeated, “what if nothing happens?”

It was clear he wanted to know that I had some shiny Plan B, a life raft/safety net/marshmallow pit to land in, a way to reconcile it all, with a smile and a solid reserve of my sanity. (He’s a good, caring friend.)

[Truth is, I can’t remember how I responded. I probably said something that made everyone on our cozy porch feel cozy once again, which is really to say, I probably lied.]

If asked now, I’d have the courage to answer with the truth:

“What ifs” are worthless. They’re the creative person’s rain cloud. They dampen, darken, shadow, and cast, and when you address them, you give them staying power. You invite them to linger just above your head as you attempt to work. Inevitably, at some point, you get stuck and glance up, and they rain down — hard, sloppy, angry drops — clouding your vision.

Worse than that, eventually the “what if” rain cloud does, indeed, spark some Plan B brainstorming, and, if desperate enough, it can appear shiny as Plan A (your vision is clouded, after all). Soon, you can no longer tell that Plan B’s no brass ring, no trophy, but a tarnished consolation prize. And it doesn’t stop there. If Plan B doesn’t pan out (because, like Plan A, you gave up on it), your parasitic rain cloud returns, inviting you to again recalibrate to consider an even lower success as satisfactory, securing “what if exploration” as the first step to settling. You can glorify it, dress it up, spray paint it gold and call it “adaptation,” but we almost always adapt too soon, and that’s the real truth.

And you know what’s MOST FRUSTRATING about the whole “what if” ordeal? You never actually have to address it to begin with because NO MATTER THE SITUATION, we ALL already know the answer because it ALWAYS goes something LIKE:

“Then that would suck. Then that would bring me great disappointment. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Followed, somewhat quickly, by:

“But, truly, if that did happen, I guess we’d just deal with it, right? I mean, seriously, what are we to do, but try again? Grow from it? Learn from it? Move on? Move up? Move more? If it’s out of our control anyway, we have no real choice in the matter other than not letting it break us, right?

[Annnnd, CUT. Belabored monologue ENDS. Sun shines through the sliding glass doors of the OFFICE. It’s PRESENT-DAY — a dewy Midwestern morning. ABBEY (30), pregnant and ponytailed, wearing nothing but a terry cloth robe, hoop earrings, and a copious amount of cocoa butter, returns to the topic at hand and on-screen. She appears to be focused on her long-neglected blog, though one hand rests on her protruding belly.]

While my first novel has been fighting the good fight, attracting good people (no official update yet, but good wheels in good motion), I’ve kept busy this past winter and now spring, developing and writing new stuff that’s got me all abuzz, and it occurred to me the only reason these “what if” rain clouds even matter (introduced that evening by our best friend, but housed by me looong before) is because the stakes are so high. Higher than ever. The highest! UNTIL, suddenly, in November, I discovered I would be creating something with infinitely higher stakes yet.

Hello, pregnancy!

But, somehow, this felt more in my control than navigating the subjective, nebulous world of book pitching and beyond. This I could do. This was in my power wheelhouse. I’d research extensively, eat well, move appropriately, adjust accordingly, remain smart, remain poised, remain grateful, et cetera, et cetera, and all, naturally, would proceed peachy-peachy.

I truly felt this way (I really, really did — can you believe it?) until just last week, when, during a routine check-up that confirmed the baby is, indeed, developing along perfectly (YAY!), my body appears to inexplicably and suddenly be at a higher risk for preterm labor (WTF?).

And so, as expected, the “what ifs” roll in, one after another, compounding into a complex weather system inches above my head.

Some rain clouds bring questions. Some bring white noise. Some thrust me into a Googling frenzy.

Some rain clouds send me curling into Anthony’s chest. Some make me crave a second or third popsicle. Some scatter when I’m momentarily distracted then recluster at the least convenient moment.

And when they fully capture my attention, forcing me to go ahead and glance up, they rain violently, streaming my cheeks with tears.

Until, not long at all and just as suddenly, I remember “what ifs” are worthless.

I remember I’m in the business of creative productivity. I remember my writing life has equipped me extraordinarily well. I remember I’ve been a hopeful hen all along.

I remember anything worth anything requires putting every egg in a single basket… a single FedEx envelope… a single burgeoning belly.

I remember it’s the only way to live, and we’re responsible for making our own weather in the meantime.

I rub my sweet belly and get back to work.

xo

A

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