When I finally sit down to write poetry at 9 p.m. in my “office” – which is my laptop sitting on my long wooden dining room table – I usually hear a drama-filled voice start calling, “Mama, mama, come quick! Ariel fell under my bed and I need her now!” or “I need to pee! It’s an emergency!” or “I need a lullaby!” That’s from my just-turned-5-year-old daughter Grace. Almost a year ago, I had a nine-weeks-premature baby, Zack, who’s sleeping in the room next to Grace and will most likely wake up and start bawling when he hears her calling me. Translation: It’s hard to find quiet time to write.
I followed in my maternal grandmother’s footsteps with both of my pregnancies; my body fought me every step of the way. With each child, I had a different placental issue that caused both of them to be born early, each at 3 lbs., and a NICU stay. They’re both healthy and happy now, but the fear and anxiety that comes with hard pregnancies (“You could have died, the baby could have …”), and babies born way too early, stayed with me. Both arrived in the winter. After each birth, I was discharged alone, leaving a baby in the NICU, walking out of the hospital, sore, torn open, empty-armed, on a cloudy, snow-filled day. Both babies underwent lots of hospital tests, danced with various health issues and finally came home. Despite getting clean bills of health, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting for something else to happen. A black angel at my shoulder. A voice in my ear saying, You’re not safe. They’re not safe. Just wait.
That fear paralyzed my writing for almost two years after my daughter was born. I had no way to canalize the pain, fear and anxiety I was feeling. Family members would say, “Shouldn’t you be over this by now?” And yet, as I’d look at pictures of my fragile daughter in the NICU, stuck with tubes and laced with monitor wires, I would break down. One day, I pulled Louise DeSalvo’s book, Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, from my bookshelf. From reading the book in between feeding a baby or running laundry, I re-found my passion for writing by starting to look at it as a way to heal my emotional wounds. DeSalvo shows how writers like Virginia Woolf, Audre Lorde and Isable Allende were transformed by the act of writing. I decided to try to write again, like these women.
Since I’m a magazine editor and a mother by day, I took to writing late at night after my husband and child were in bed. At first it was hard to write out of my pain, but amazingly, a poem that I wrote about my experience with Grace in the NICU, “Necessary Work,” won Ruminate Magazine’s Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2012. That push galvanized me to really focus on making writing as much a part of my regular life as I could. When I had my second baby nine weeks premature last January, I went through the same shock, fear and anger. Yet, I had a cushion. I had lived the experience of having a child in the NICU, a child who comes home. And, I had my writing. I kept writing through the five weeks Zack spent in the hospital. When he came home, I had already started writing through what I felt: Zachary, you were in God’s memory before time.
Life with a full-time job and two children is hectic and also full of blessings. It’s up to me to keep writing my way through chaos, taking my experiences and making them into art. Grace knows that I’m a writer – she asks me to read her my poetry, and I say to her, “This is about you. This is about Zack.” And she says, “Are you happy Jesus sent us to you?” And I say to her, as much to myself, “Oh yes, oh yes.” You have transformed my life. You have elevated my art. You are my inspiration.
Nicole Rollender’s poetry and nonfiction have been published or are forthcoming in various literary magazines and anthologies. She’s the winner of Ruminate Magazine’s 2012 Janet B. McCabe poetry prize for her poem, “Necessary Work,” which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also won Princemere Poetry Journal’s 2012 Princemere’s Poetry Prize for her poem, “Quickening.” Nicole is a regular blogger for Ruminatemagazine.com. Her poetry chapbook Arrangement of Desire was published by Pudding House Publications in 2007. Nicole, who has an MFA in creative writing from Penn State University, is editor of Stitches magazine, which has been nominated for three Jesse H. Neal Awards and won the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) 2011 Magazine of the Year Award. She has taught creating writing at Penn State University. Nicole also blogs regularly forRuminatemagazine.com.