Q&A Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood

Q&A Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood

Terri Hawkes HeadshotAuthor Q&A: Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor, Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist and Everyday Enactments (Demeter Press)

Why did you edit the Performing Motherhood anthology, what was your goal for the book and why these specific topics?

Performing Motherhood was a true team effort with my co-editors Amber Kinser and Kryn Freehling-Burton, our terrific cohort of contributors, and the hard working Demeter Press family. My background is as a professional writer, director and actor; I am also the mother of teenage twins. Currently I am pursuing a PhD at York University, focusing on women working in the arts. Kryn, who teaches at Oregon State University, was in Toronto for a MIRCI (Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement) conference and heard me present a paper on mothers working in theatre. I wrote the essay in a “maternal theories” class taught by Demeter Press publisher, Dr. Andrea O’Reilly, and had used that opportunity to interview colleagues – actors who had become mothers – and question them about how becoming a mother had affected their work opportunities in the theatre. Kryn approached me about my work, and at a subsequent conference, aligned with East Tennessee State University professor Amber Kinser to pitch the idea of this book to Andrea. Andrea then asked us all to co-edit. An editing team was born!

From the beginning, Amber, Kryn and I were interested in the intersection between performance and the maternal. By this I mean we wanted to showcase a large cast of mothers who perform motherhood in their everyday lives, mothers who perform in the arts, mothers who creatively battle impediments to mother-work, and mother-artists who use their mothering as the muse through whom they explore the sorrowful, joyful and triumphant experiences of mothers. We wanted to show that the work of mothering is inextricably interwoven with our creative work, whether that creativity is in the domestic or private spheres, and whether it emerges in artistic, activist, or everyday enactments. We initially chose the topics based on a loose idea of representations of these themes, but ultimately, the chapters chose us. We received a substantial number of worthy submissions for this anthology, but ultimately it became clear as to which ones suited our themes and our desire to present mothers with agency. In the process, we were inspired by topics that hadn’t been on our radar — unique experiences of mothering that we hadn’t read about elsewhere. We were also reminded of the vast artistic connections between performance and the maternal in diverse arenas – from the sexualization in our childrens’ dance practices to musical activist opportunities for mothers in the Appalachians, to Canadian-Punjabi cultural performances of mothering, to online photography and blogging about motherhood, to poetry making around queer and trans performances of mothering. And while the artist arenas expanded and diversified, so did our feminist lens; we were pleased to include contributors who spoke about different performances of mothering from perspectives which examined race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, age, and ability. Our goal was to include it all: to create one big feminist party of rockin’ performances of mothering, and to gift this to a diverse and engaged audience of artists, academics, activists, mothers and mother-lovers!

What makes a good anthology great?

My subjective response to this is that, to be great, an anthology, like any story, needs the key ingredients of thoroughly drawn characters, an intriguing setting, an energetic plot, conflict, strong voices, thought provoking themes; ideally it will engage and emotionally affect its audience. An anthology has the blessing – and challenge – of bringing many contributors to the cast. Each contributors’ chapter has a story to tell, an audience to engage, a message to relay. As a whole, the group of stories has the opportunity to tell a larger story, to flesh out a more diverse cast of characters, to examine a greater group of themes, to leave the audience with a deeper understanding of the rainbow of issues, and ultimately, to leave the reader with the sense of possibility for their own stories of creation and agency. Ideally, the experience will also leave the writers feeling satisfied, and the readers feeling entertained!

WO BMP Performing MotherhoodWhat was the greatest challenge in bringing the book to market?

I guess this question around challenges in bringing a book to market might lead one to address the typical tests of combining mother-work with professional work: the late night Skype meetings, deadlines through parental death and elder care responsibilities, juggling of graduations and conference calls, and occasional efforts to tend to our primary relationships — those types of challenges? Yet in addition to that, publishing has its own set of challenges. In our case, Demeter Press, a fiercely vigilant press in defending the importance of maternal studies, lost some funding at the eleventh hour. However, Andrea O’Reilly, with the support of the Demeter team, a loyal readership and audience, and like-minded activists, ignited a campaign protesting this loss, and simultaneously procured an alternative form of funding which has allowed the press to survive. Yes – motherhood does matter!!

What would you like the reader to take away after reading Performing Motherhood?

Amber, Kryn, Andrea and I have always hoped that our work, and that of our contributors would help create awareness of the challenges, hopes, and possibilities of feminist mothering, or empowered mothering, or whatever term most suits you. Ultimately, we seek to support mothers – community mothers, foster mothers, adoptive mothers, LGBTQ mothers, mothers from visible minorities, mothers with disabilities, older mothers, younger mothers, single mothers, academic mothers, activist mothers, artist mothers and more. And although our stories are located in North America, in spirit, we support mothers globally. We celebrate these mothers, we sing their stories, we fuel their activism, we applaud their creativity, we fight for their agency, we enlarge the circle of engaged citizens who acknowledge and support and champion the complex journeys for mothers around the world.

What advice do you have for other mother writers?

Write five minutes a day. I’ve never taken that advice, but I hear it works. Some writers I know put locks on their doors while they work; which doesn’t really help if you have toddlers scratching at the door. Child care helps, if you can swing it, and not everyone can. This leads to the need for rethinking child care as a necessity, rather than a luxury. Ideally, writing should get the same kind of access to child care than any other priority responsibility would get.   Meanwhile, an option might be to depend on the kindness of extended relatives? Or good friends?   Or engaging your children in your projects? Others I know, who are in partnerships, ask their partner to take the morning parenting shift while they prioritize writing in the morning hours. Personally, I wasn’t entirely successful with any of the preceding. I used a hybrid of these tactics, and yet, oddly, I still needed to enroll in graduate school to rediscover a schedule that forced me to write. Deadlines. That’s what I needed. My father has always said: “Deadlines are your friend.”

Follow Tracy on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/17RBZ6l, and Twitter @Terri_Hawkes

Read an excerpt from Performing Motherhood

Buy Now: Performing Motherhood (Demeter Press)




Those Eyes

Those Eyes

By Kelly Jeske

WO BMP Performing MotherhoodThis is an excerpt from Performing Motherhood: Artistic, Activist and Everyday Enactments, edited by Amber Kinser, Kryn Freehling-Burton, and Terri Hawkes (Demeter Press, December 2014)

“Does she have an ethnicity?” Standing near the door of our apartment, the neighbor looks at my sleeping newborn. I am stunned silent. Later, my partner and I grunt out bursts of incredulous laughter as we try on retorts: “Do you have an ethnicity?” “We’re not sure yet? Can you usually tell by now?” “Well, of course she does! And so do you!” My neighbor noted difference and asked me to quantify it. This tiny creature, just becoming, must belong to some discrete category. Same or different? Like you or not?

On the street, black men comment on the likeness they see between my daughter and me. “Aw, she looks just like her mama!” they say, usually smiling big. Our brown eyes and full lips, her light skin, build the possibility of our relation by blood. In those moments, I find myself at once flattered by the comparison of myself to this child, and uncomfortable with the erasure of her first mother. I scramble for footing, trying to figure out if I can insert her into the space between myself and my daughter, into the conversation with this stranger. I have the keen sense that I owe it to my daughter to make her first mom real in this moment—that accepting credit for our likeness communicates disregard for their kinship. But some days, I also just want to be recognized as her mama.

Because she has very light skin, I often fear that my daughter won’t be read as a person of color. I ache with the knowledge that, as a white person, I cannot give my daughter racial identity. There’s so much that she won’t get from her white parents. We won’t pass on a cadence of speech that might be recognized as black; we can’t give her the ease of shared history and generations of family experience; we can’t build our own family culture of blackness; we can’t offer an embodied sense of what it means to be a person of color.

When she was smaller and had little hair, we adorned it with colorful barrettes, and styled it into puffs and nubs of braids. We used her first and middle name in tandem—her middle name more identifiably African American. We moved to a neighborhood with more black folks and a racially diverse childcare center. We learned to braid and bead her hair. I felt the tug of dissonance as I created visual contrast between myself and my child, while working at the same time to foster our emotional connection.

During our most recent visit with our daughter’s first mom, we had professional photos taken together. I looked on, through tears, as we captured images of mother and daughter together. Huddled around a computer screen, picking photos from proofs, the three of us exclaimed over expressions they share and features that are mirrored on their faces. We joked about the little girl with her three mothers and chose the shots that flatter all of us the most. I was eager to adorn our home with pictures of our daughter and her mother, pulling in another way to make their relationship more tangible to our four-year-old. I was excited to show the photos to friends and family, concretizing my daughter’s connection to her first mom in a way my words can’t manage. Their deep brown eyes, their widow’s peaks at the top of their foreheads, the kiss of toast that colors our daughter’s skin—to me, their likeness is obvious, irrefutable, beautiful. My favorite pose is with our daughter in her mother’s lap, my partner and me kneeling behind them. Our group is centered by our daughter’s mother, with all of us connected to and surrounding her—just as our smaller family has been brought to life through her body and choices.

When I share the photos from our visit, I’m astounded by a repeated refrain: “Now, do you see a likeness? I don’t really see it.” Several times over, individuals profess that my daughter doesn’t look like her first mother. They don’t say so with disdain or contempt, the people who utter sentiments like this. But they say it with a resolute certainty that makes me think they’re saying something different altogether. Something more like: She doesn’t really look black. Or something like: She looks like she’s really yours, so don’t be worried that she’s not. Or maybe even: I can almost pretend this weird open adoption thing doesn’t exist if I see how much this kid looks like you. Families claim members by discussing physical likeness; they keep departed beloved close by seeing their characteristics in subsequent generations. When newfangled families come along—mixing up race and gender and blood and circumstance—this comfort in appearance gets shaken. When we keep our daughter’s first mother in the picture, we’re demanding that a new lens be used—one the recreates possibilities for familial relationship.

I recently watched a video clip of our one-year-old daughter being held by her first mom. They’re gazing at each other and she’s saying: “Where’d you get those eyes, baby, huh? Who gave you those eyes?” Their eyes are locked as she asks again: “Who gave you those eyes?” My own eyes fill at her tenderness, at this claiming of their connection. As our daughter grows—even primarily apart from her first mom—I watch as her face takes on expressions I’ve seen cross her first mother’s face. I hear tones in her voice, ways that she expresses her thoughts, rhythms in her sentences that remind me of her mother.

When her three mothers talk about this beautiful child, we refer to her as “our daughter.” She is my ex-partner’s and mine, as we move through our days, navigating parenthood, love, and family. She is her first mom’s, once part of her body and living in skin, heart, brain, and cells that are informed by this lineage. As she walks through this world, crafts her own identities, and refines her allegiances, she’ll exist in the borderlands—the overlapping places where relationship is complex and origins aren’t obvious. My daughter’s brown eyes may be similar to my own, but it isn’t me who gave them to her. Pushing her into the world, placing her into my arms, holding onto her after she said goodbye, our daughter’s first mother shifted tides and created a harbor. By blood and by soul, we navigate in love.

Terri Hawkes HeadshotRead An Interview with Terri Hawkes, Co-Editor of Performing Motherhood.

Excerpt: Not Exactly as Planned

Excerpt: Not Exactly as Planned

NotExactlyAsPlanned-FrontCoverSix Years In: A Diagnosis

This is a sponsored excerpt from Linda Rosembaum’s memoir Not Exactly As Planned. To be published October 20, 2014.

My husband Robin and I trudged off to The Hospital for Sick Children, our 6-year-old son Michael in tow. We were told that a child psychiatrist would collect background information about Michael at this meeting, followed by neurological tests a week later.

A tall man in a white lab coat met us in the waiting room. He introduced himself to Robin and me, and explained that he was a teaching fellow working under the clinic’s director. I was a little uncomfortable because he hadn’t introduced himself to Michael. Perhaps I had made a mistake by bringing him. The doctor assured me otherwise and led us to his office.

Without yet making eye contact or any other form of connection with Michael, he opened a file containing blank sheets of paper. He grabbed a pen, and began the questioning.

“Tell me when problems with Michael began to surface?” he asked. “When did you start to notice he was different?”

Robin and I looked at each other but said nothing. A little confused about what was happening, we just stared at the doctor, as if we hadn’t heard his question.

“Perhaps it might be easier for you to tell me what makes Michael so difficult.”

My stomach was churning. I could see the doctor getting frustrated by our silence but he pursued his line of questioning. “How does Michael differ from other children his age?”

Neither my husband nor I were about to answer. They were fair questions, all of which deserved answering. But we were not going to rhyme off a list of Michael’s problems in front of him. We were there to get help for Michael, not make him feel bad about himself. What were we supposed to say: “He was trouble from the day we brought him home?”

The doctor put down his pen and looked at us as if we were idiots, but carried on with his line of questioning. Both Robin and I remained tongue-tied.

“Tell me about the problems Michael’s birth mother had.”

I’d had enough. Michael’s birth mother had plenty of problems, but nothing Michael needed to learn about in a doctor’s office, if ever. It took me too long, but I eventually mustered the nerve to say, “Could I speak to you outside?”

The doctor and I got up and walked into the hallway. I shut the door behind me.

“I’m sorry to sound rude,” I said, noting that I was saying “sorry to sound rude” more and more before I said something, usually rude. “But I think your questions are inappropriate to discuss in front of Michael.” I was on a roll that I wouldn’t be stopping anytime soon.

“He doesn’t know the sordid details of his birth mother’s life, and you’re asking us these questions before even saying hello to Michael or explaining who you are?” I wasn’t sure what to say next, so ended with “I don’t want to go on with the interview.”

I thought the doctor’s eyes might pop out in front of me.

I excused myself, went back into the office and told Robin and Michael to pack up. “We’re leaving,” I said, and from my tone, they knew not to ask why.

I put in a call the next morning to the director of the Child Development Clinic to explain my actions during the previous day’s fiasco. I started with my usual apology. “I’m really sorry to be making trouble, but…” Though furious with yesterday’s doctor, I made sure not to rant and be dismissed as a lunatic. I took a deep breath and calmly explained what I felt the problems were with the previous day’s interview. I let the director know I hoped I hadn’t done anything to stand in the way of Michael’s getting proper care. “We need the clinic’s expertise.”

The wonderful Dr. Wendy Roberts listened, sympathetically. She understood my point of view. She would be pleased to take on Michael herself as his doctor.

Robin and I took Michael back the following week. Dr. Roberts and several members of her staff spent a day interviewing Michael, reviewing his medical and growth charts, testing his cognitive and neurological abilities, measuring social interactions and developmental milestones. Robin and I were on hold emotionally. On the one hand, we were scared to think there might be something seriously wrong with Michael. On the other, if there was something wrong, we could fix it. Right?

We still had self-doubts about our parenting, but among the many gifts our daughter Sarah had given us was the belief that maybe we were not so bad after all. Everything seemed to come so naturally for her, and therefore for us. If we hadn’t adopted Sarah to retest our parenting, Robin and I would have felt even guiltier than we did, assuming we were the central cause of Michael’s difficulties. Many friends had tried to reassure us with the phrase “It’s not you,” but that only helped a bit. It didn’t compete with the cold stares we had to endure in public places when Michael was wailing, or comments from strangers about his need for “more discipline.” All added to our self-doubt and chipped away at our strength.

The following week, we returned to Dr. Roberts’ office. Greeting us in the waiting room as before, she smiled warmly, offered a firm hand, and led us to her office. “I have the results from last week’s tests on Michael,” she told us. “I’m sure the wait was difficult.”

She was right. It was difficult, but it wasn’t only the week that had been hard. In some ways, we had been waiting for this moment since Michael was born in 1987. It was now 1993. During that wait, there were times I actually hoped one of Michael’s doctors would find something wrong so we could get on with the business of fixing it. More selfishly, I thought a diagnosis could expiate the never-ending stream of guilt and shame Robin and I were drowning in from Michael’s problems, and our inability to make them go away. Of course I felt shame having these thoughts. What kind of mother wishes for doctors to find something wrong with her child?

I watched as Dr. Roberts rummaged through a rumpled stack of papers on her desk. I tried to read her face. She was giving nothing away.

“After discussion with my staff,” she began, “we’ve settled on a diagnosis.” The fluids in my stomach took a nosedive.

She continued riffling through her piles, eventually pulling out two photocopied sheets of canary yellow paper. Without saying a word, she handed a copy to both Robin and me. A hand drawn outline of a child’s face was sketched on the page. Features, including eyes, nose, ears, and mouth were filled in and had handwritten labels attached to them.

Robin and I looked up from our sheets and stared at each other. I was the first to break the silence. “It looks exactly like Michael,” I said flatly, as if shell-shocked.

“The resemblance is uncanny,” Robin added. “It’s eerie.”

“The drawing is used as a teaching aid at medical schools,” Dr. Roberts said, “to train budding pediatricians.”

I looked at the drawing again, and for the first time noted the small letters printed on top. The sheet was titled Common Facial Features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I looked at Robin, also studying the drawing, and noticed a slight smile forming on his lips. I understood. He must have just read the title too. It was the smile that comes upon discovery of something excitingly new, beautiful, profound, or so wrenching you can’t deal with the feelings it brings.

“Oh my god,” he said in a subdued voice, eyes still glued to the paper.

There was no room for disbelief or protest. Flat midface, short nose, indistinct philtrum (the area above the upper lip), thin upper lip, minor ear abnormalities, low nasal bridge. Check. Check. Check.

All I could think was, “Kira had been drinking with Michael too.” The liar. Why hadn’t we put all this together earlier?

Even though Michael’s half-brother Andrew had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol effects (now known as “alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder” – ARND), considered a lesser form of the syndrome, our pediatrician never suggested the same might be true for Michael. In retrospect, I wasn’t sure why. Whatever the reason, we must have engaged in a strong case of denial on our own part. When we heard about Andrew’s diagnosis, why hadn’t we questioned whether Michael should be checked too? But because of Andrew, I had done a bit of reading about the syndrome. Enough to understand that the diagnosis Dr. Roberts just gave us meant our son was brain-damaged.
If we had been in denial, we were no longer. A part of our Michael’s brain was destroyed while in his birthmother Kira’s womb. He was damaged in a way that said, if you looked at the statistics of the time, our son would quit school, never be able to hold a job, live on the streets or worse. We would have the next ten or fifteen years, at best, to see if we could change the prognosis.

Tears streamed down my face. Robin, knowing me well, had come prepared. He reached into his pocket and handed me a tissue.

Dr. Roberts finally spoke. “You’ll recognize Michael when I tell you that the earliest characteristics of FAS during infancy include trembling and irritability. The child may cry a lot, act agitated. As the child gets older, he may ‘flit’ from one thing to another; have short attention spans; be prone to temper tantrums and non-compliance; is easily distracted; often hyperfocuses and doesn’t respond well to changes, particularly when required to move from one activity to another.” The list went on.

“But Michael’s birthmother said she didn’t drink during her pregnancy,” I said, noting how little conviction I had in my voice.

“If at all possible, I suggest you go back and check with her again. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this before. The drinking history she gave you is incorrect.” Dr. Roberts left no room for doubt. After seeing the line drawing, we knew she was right. Yes, Kira had lied.

Dr. Roberts explained that fetal alcohol disorders vary and are manifested in different ways, depending on when the mother drank and what areas of the fetus’s brain were affected. Tests showed Michael’s brain damage manifested as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); possible oppositional disorder and severe learning disabilities. His relentless skin picking was possibly some form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or perhaps a Tourette’s syndrome type tic.

“I know you won’t be surprised to hear that Michael has some autistic characteristics too,” she continued. “They showed up in his interactions with other children, but aren’t significant enough to be labelled Asperger’s syndrome, the type of autism he is considered closest to. But that explains his tendency to parallel play rather than interact directly with other children.”

Dr. Wendy Roberts was a pioneer in the field of FAS and was devoting her career to families with children like Michael. She was one of the few pediatric specialists in Canada who could diagnosis the syndrome, unnamed and absent in the medical literature until 1973. That explained why Michael had been to so many doctors during his short lifetime, yet none of them even hinted at the possibility of FAS. Nobody knew anything about it. The problems associated with drinking during pregnancy eventually became common knowledge, but very few medical professionals had ever heard of fetal alcohol syndrome at the time of Michael’s birth in 1987.

To Dr. Roberts’ great disappointment, the syndrome had been studied minimally since first named, though interest was starting to gain momentum. She was disappointed that more attention, money and research had been directed to crack babies. Despite the mythology and sensationalized media hype surrounding these newborns, evidence was showing that crack was much less harmful in utero than alcohol.

“The toxic effects of alcohol are devastating to the fetus,” Dr. Roberts added. “I personally don’t think there is any safe limit, though the jury is still out on the issue.”

“What does all of this mean for us, Dr. Roberts? What can we expect, what should we do?” I asked.

“Unfortunately, there’s little research to tell us what the future holds for Michael. Recent findings are based on children diagnosed in their teens,” she said. “It means they hadn’t been diagnosed early enough for caregivers to make significant interventions in their lives.” She was trying to soften the blows of the dismal futures predicted in the literature. It wasn’t hard to see the effect her words were having on us. Robin was slouched in his chair, his eyes moist. I was unusually quiet, unable to dam a torrent of tears.

“If early interventions had been made,” she continued, “the children might have fared better.” The majority of those studied led lives as predicted. They had dropped out of school, were living on the streets, unemployed or on welfare and were repeatedly in and out of jail by the time they hit twenty.

“The part of their brain that affects impulse control is damaged,” she continued. “So is their ability to learn from their mistakes or understand cause and effect as we do. They may feel remorseful after doing something wrong, but it doesn’t mean they will have the impulse control not to do the same thing again. That may explain why they’re in and out of the prison system.”

“I don’t want you to be too upset from all this literature,” she added, seeing our distress.

“Michael is only six. With early diagnosis and intervention, he has a better chance than those kids for success in life.” She suggested we make an appointment for the following week to discuss the possible use of meds to help with some of Michael’s symptoms.

“You two have already done a wonderful job with Michael. Most kids with FAS can’t bear to be touched and many don’t bond with their parents. The fact that he is so warm and connected with you is a testament to your love and hard work. He’s lucky to have you.”

Hearing the kindness in her words, desperately welcomed and needed, my sobs deepened. Tears of sorrow. Tears of relief – a diagnosis telling us something was physically wrong with Michael relieved some of the guilt. And tears of rage – at Kira, the world, the gods, the Fates, everything and everybody – except Michael.

In my gut, I had believed something was wrong with Michael, no matter what doctors said. Now, I no longer had to pretend everything was fine. I wouldn’t have to make excuses for Michael, Robin or myself. We no longer had to listen to someone telling us Michael was bad. We didn’t have to live with the confusion of ambiguity. We could take action, move forward. We could help Michael and turn the tide of expected events.

“I feel hopeful,” I said to Dr. Roberts, with remarkable energy, then looked over to Robin. He was still slouching in his chair, bleary-eyed. I sensed it would be best to keep my momentary optimism to myself. Who knew how long it would last. Probably not very.

Linda Rosenbaum (lindarosenbaum.com) is an award-winning writer and lives on Toronto Island where she raised her children. She has worked in TV, documentary films and advocates on behalf of children with special needs. Her story about her son, “Wolf Howling At Moon,” won the Readers Choice Award in the 2013 Canada Writes literary contest for creative nonfiction.

Interview with Linda Rosenbaum

NotExactlyAsPlanned-FrontCover Excerpted from Not Exactly as Planned,Copyright (Demeter Press © 2014) by Linda Rosenbaum. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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