As I know from my own experience and that of many of the Gateway Women I’ve worked with, creative writing can be an incredibly powerful way to help us come to terms with the completely unacceptable reality of our loss; a loss that, furthermore, because our grief is ‘disenfranchised’, is not recognised, tolerated or understood by society.
Many of us have been told that we need to ‘get over’ not being mothers and that children aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. These will often be the same people who will then spend the next twenty years gushing about their children, and the twenty years after that about their grandchildren and who will happily claim that their family is the most important thing in their life. So, no big deal huh?
I think that perhaps what unemphatic m/others often fail to realise is that being childless isn’t just about not having a child; it’s about a life-course that will never come to be: it’s about no first days at school; no qualifying membership to our local community of families; no shared experiences to bring us closer to family, colleagues and strangers; no chance to share our daily domestic lives with young growing people and to use our experience to help them thrive; no connection to the culture and experience of the next generation; no grandchildren and no one to pass our memories onto. And that’s just a short (and incomplete) list off the top of my head!
Sometimes I wonder if it’s not that most m/others can’t understand why we’re grieving; but that rather unconsciously they grasp the depth of it and simply cannot imagine tolerating it, even for a moment, and so they brush it off with a ‘bingo’ like “Why don’t you just adopt?” (For more on bingos, watch my TED talk!)
And so, thwarted by grief’s natural desire to seek out others to discuss it with, many of us turn to pen and paper as our confidante. As a prose writer myself, I’ve noticed that in times of overwhelming emotion, sometimes only poetry has the capacity to capture the fleeting, liminal poignancy of the moment and so I was honoured to be asked to review accomplished novelist and poet Lauren Carter’s new collection of poems, Following Sea which has just been published by Turnstone Press in Canada. Although the collection is about more than Lauren and her husband’s infertility and childlessness, the longing, desperation and resolution of that punctuate this extraordinary collection of poems chronicling the hard and haunting history of her ancestral Scottish family’s emigration to Canada after the Highland Clearances.
As Lauren wrote when we corresponded by email: “Some experiences in life are so raw and primal and outside of language (like grief) that they cannot be expressed except within abstraction: using imagery, dream-like language, almost an encoding. This is what poetry is for me. A way to turn what otherwise might be just painful howling into something that makes sense, that might even be beautiful and meaningful for others.”
I asked Lauren about her own thoughts on writing as a therapeutic tool and she responded: “I’ve always written poetry through difficult experiences (although not just poetry: my novel, Swarm, is also about a young woman longing to have a child in a tough world, post-economic collapse when a feral girl starts stealing from her garden). Because of this, it came quite naturally for me to grab a pen when things felt really hard, and trying to conceive, month after month, can be so very hard. I needed something to ground me during that cycle of hope and despair, hope and despair, and poetry and writing really gave me a footing, as they always have.”
For me, the combination of her family’s history and her and her husband’s desire to create a new life work together perfectly in the collection: a brutal combination of hope and hardship and eventually, a new way of living, but at great cost. In our correspondence, she writes that the poem ‘Guardian’ is about the day that she and her husband decided to stop trying. Many of us, whether we were engaged in actively trying to get pregnant or not, remember the moment when we knew we were ‘done’.
This is a startlingly beautiful collection of poems and the weaving together of nature, grief, history and domesticity bring to mind the work of my very favourite, and much missed childless poet, Mary Oliver. I’ve often felt that grief like ours has the power not just to break our hearts, but to crack them open to a love and appreciation of the natural world a little more intensely than those wrapped up in the hurly-burly of family life perhaps have time to appreciate; whether or not that’s true in general, it’s certainly true for ‘Following Sea’. Whether you’re a seasoned reader of poetry or a first-timer, there’s a richness in Lauren’s words that really nourishes the soul.
Lauren Carter (1973- ) is an award-winning poet and former Ontarian living in St. Andrews, Manitoba (Canada). Her debut poetry collection, Lichen Bright (2005) was long-listed for the ReLit Award and an earlier poem, ‘Island Clearances’ won the ROOM 2014 poetry contest. Her first novel, Swarm was voted onto the CBC Canada Reads long-list and her prose has been nominated and long-listed for various awards and has been anthologized in Best Canadian Stories. Following Sea (2019) is publishedTurnstone Press and is Lauren Carter’s second collection of poetry.
Lauren Carter is a writer and creativity coach http://laurencarter.ca/
If you’d like to explore creative writing as part of your recovery from childlessness, please join our ‘GW Writers Group’ which is private sub-group in our ID-checked, Gateway Women Online Community on MightyNetworks.