Mom’s Who Write: Susan Bearman

Writing My Way to Motherhood

by Susan Bearman

Two Kinds of People (

Mother Writer? Writer Mother? For me, it’s a chicken or the egg question. When you become a mother, you figure out pretty quickly how to write good nonfiction: medical histories; notes to counselors and teachers outlining everything they need to know about your child; letters to kids at camp; notes in lunch boxes; so many permission slips and forms that your fingers start to bleed. Writing — whether you like it or not — is part of motherhood.

I was a writer before I became a mother, but motherhood changed my writing along with everything else in my life. When my twins were born 16 weeks prematurely, I couldn’t be much of a mother to them. At 1.5 pounds each, they were cloistered away in isolettes and attended by teams of caregivers who were far more important to their survival than I was.

The parent support group at the hospital issued us keepsake journals, so I wrote. Initially, it was my way of tracking the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, life-and-death roller coaster that was their experience for five months on the neonatal intensive care unit. I recorded minuscule weight gains measured in grams; I noted each medication and procedure; I tracked which nurses and doctors were on duty; and I wrote down my questions — hundreds of questions.

As the days and weeks wore on, I found myself chronicling more than just their medical progress. Those journals were the place where I transformed myself from terrified bystander into the mother of these remarkable beings.

I wrote how shocked my husband and I were that no one congratulated us on their birth: “Whether they live for 90 days or 90 years, these are their lives and we intend to celebrate.”

I wrote about my worst nightmare: “What if we keep them on life support and they live only a few days or weeks knowing nothing but pain?”

I wrote about my helplessness: “I sit at this wicked electric breast pump for hours every day, sucking out a few ounces of milk that we have to freeze because their digestive systems are so immature that they can’t even get mother’s milk yet.”

I wrote about how one triumph always seemed to lead to the next crisis: “Today they turned down Molly’s oxygen levels and talked for the first time about her going home, but then they told me that she has retinopathy of prematurity and will probably be blind.”

I wrote about their incredible will to live: “Isaac has turned the corner from his devastating infection. He’s become a local hero and staff from all over the hospital have visited him to say ‘Way to go, Ike!’”

I stopped writing when we took them home from the hospital. I had no time to write. I was busy being their mother. Today they are 18 years old and healthy — ready to write their own stories. But this is the story I was meant to write. I think it’s time to get out those journals and get busy.


One thought on “Mom’s Who Write: Susan Bearman

  1. Happy Birthday and love the message in a bottle reference. Couldn’t agree more! At a conference with Ed Hirsch this past weekend, he said the same thing about poetry and that poetry is an act that happens in the body not just in the brain; that we as poets need readers and are responsible for inscribing something against the vanishing. Thought you might resonate with these ideas as well. Love the blog!

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