Interview by Frances Turpin
“The stories I tell are not my own – they are fictionalised, though entirely plausible scenarios“
A note from Poetry Wales: Although in this interview we are discussing cis women’s experience, Poetry Wales acknowledges that people of all genders can have wombs and become pregnant, and the erosion of the right to have an abortion in the United States will affect all of them.
Blessings for the Women
i.m. Roe v Wade
i. a thin pink line that sealed your fate in seconds, left you heaving on the carpet, knowing he had violated you twice over: once in the carpark under a flickering neon light, and again now, leaving a trace of himself inside you, to grow slow, like a tumour you might learn to love ii. you were too young even to realise the bleeding had stopped, it wasn’t coming monthly yet anyway. By the time you were certain, your middle was already watermelon round, the whispers audible behind the hands of strangers. A child carrying a child of her own iii. you longed for that baby. Had told the world, sharing names and nursery ideals: rainbows and rocking horses clouding your vision. It wasn’t until you laid down for the sonographer, bare bellied as a salmon, that you saw the small bulge in your fallopian tube, learned the awful truth - the child would never have survived, but you still could iv. the night was dense with oud and rose oil, as you moved together, packing your nails with dirt and his skin cells, listening to the tawnies calling into the night. The length of his body like cooling rope against yours, the glug and beat of your hearts as one. The torn latex no more than an overlooked mistake v. your breath came syrup-thick, fast as a wild horse galloping, the tremble and sob at your core, the realisation that your body was now your own personal prison cell, governed by men you had never even met.
You tell five different stories of potential parenthood and pregnancy here. What made you choose second person – ‘you’ – over the more traditional narrative options of third or first?
Speaking on behalf of others can be a difficult thing to do tactfully, and with this poem I was trying to speak on behalf of women everywhere who will be impacted by the overturning of Roe v Wade, through stories that represent situations in which a person might choose to terminate a pregnancy. The stories I tell are not my own – they are fictionalised, though entirely plausible scenarios – and so I felt using the first person wouldn’t have been appropriate. With dramatic monologues or poetry that shares the story of a recognised character or historical figure, first person tends to feel more fitting as a narrative voice, but in this instance the topic felt like too sensitive an issue to try to embody these women’s voices. Using second person also felt symbolic of the way in which women have had their voices stripped by the supreme court’s decision, along with their choices and bodily autonomy.
Your upcoming collection is about motherhood, specifically becoming a mother during the pandemic and lockdowns. Although that experience is not explicitly stated in this poem, there is a sense of isolation in all of the stories that mirrors a lot of the isolation felt during those lockdowns. Do you think that the feeling of being alone in that way is something that is missing from a lot of dialogue about pregnancy (whether wanted or unwanted) and the decisions around it in general?
Absolutely. Becoming a new parent, particularly a mother, can be a hugely isolating experience. This is especially the case for first time parents who may not know others with children. The sense of loneliness and drudgery that can accompany the early months of an infant’s life tend to be left out of the discourse amidst the congratulations, and there remains a stigma over speaking about the challenges and difficulties of pregnancy, childbirth and new parenthood. Pregnancy itself is very much a solo experience, regardless of support from partners, friends and family – only the pregnant person can truly experience the changes in their body and mind that come with carrying a new life. After birth, for many women, isolation stems from the need to take on the role of primary care giver, remaining home alone while their partners head back to work. (Although there are opportunities for Shared Parental Leave available in the UK, take-up remains low amongst eligible couples at an estimated 3-4%, with campaigners rightly insisting that the system is flawed and unfeasible for many.) Pregnancy and motherhood is a multi-faceted experience – while it can be a wonderful and joyful time, it can also be lonely, isolating and difficult, and we need to consider all these aspects when discussing the decisions around becoming a parent.
The language you use to describe each pregnancy – ‘a tumour’, ‘ a child’, a longed for ‘baby’, and ‘torn latex’ is, I think, very realistic to the different stories that you present. In particular, ‘a tumour you might learn to love’ is especially evocative – the juxtaposition of ‘tumour’ and ‘love’, and what those words represent. It comes at the end of a stanza that feels, as someone who is female, like the personification of the nightmares that we all have; the worst case scenario. Why did you choose that particular juxtaposition for that section?
With this poem, I wanted to present a selection of scenarios in which a woman might choose, or be medically necessitated to, end a pregnancy. The first stanza depicts an assault which leads to an unwanted pregnancy, leaving the woman feeling ‘violated twice over.’ The juxtaposition there of ‘tumour’ and ‘love’ is intended to convey the complexities an unwanted pregnancy can carry. While a person may feel that an unwanted embryo is akin to a dangerous foreign object within their body, growing and threatening as tumour, they may also be very aware of that embryo’s potential to become a child, and be forced to envision a future in which that child is born. Of course every situation is different, and the emotions and thoughts behind each pregnancy-related decision nuanced, but in this particular stanza I was highlighting the confusion and emotional turmoil which many women face under these circumstances.