Mothers as Makers of Death


Best of 2018

We’re away until January 2, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2018. Enjoy your holiday!

Stages in pregnancy as illustrated in the nineteenth-century medical text Nouvelles démonstrations d’accouchemens.

I wrote the first draft of my novel Heartbreaker in a ten-day mania in August 2015 with a fist-size bandage over my left ear; beneath it, a track of dark-blue stitches. The smallest bone in the human body, my stapes bone, which is charged with conducting sound in the middle ear, had stopped working. I now had a thin hook of titanium fluttering in my head, and in the on-switch manner of miracles, my hearing returned.

My husband had taken our two young sons on a road trip to a small cabin on the east coast of Canada. I could not lift anything heavy. I had to keep my heart rate low. I could not wash my hair and wore it in a knot shined with grease on top of my head. I turned off my cell phone, unplugged our landline, and disconnected from the Internet. This was my plan: to be unreachable. Didn’t Jonathan Franzen pour cement into his USB port and work in some kind of carpeted hell-mouth of a rental office to finish—which one was it now? Ah yes, Freedom?

My husband could see I had a novel inside me, and it was a commotion, and the only way to settle it was to write it, and the only way to write it was to be alone. I had not been alone in a decade. I had not been alone because I am a mother, and a mother is never alone. When she is washing, sleeping, raging, she is not alone. For a mother, this is the state of things. Children hang from your clothing. They pummel you with questions. Like a gunfight, like the most consuming love, like an apocalypse: they take up all of the available space.