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by Kim Todd

Heading into the Hedgebrook dining room, I stopped to give a poet a hug. She pulled back with raised eyebrows, having felt what hid under that chunky sweater, knit by my mother-in-law: I was five months pregnant with twins. Later, as we sat down to bowls of pumpkin ginger soup, and the warmth and vitamins flooded in, I sensed their tiny presence more clearly than I had so far. “More of this,” my body, their bodies, demanded. I took another spoonful.

As an expectant mother, you have no end of resources telling you how to gestate, What to Expect When You’re Expecting being the most famous. Advice floods in from relatives and well-meaning strangers. An embarrassed man offers you a seat on the bus, a friend buys gallons of milk in preparation for your overnight stay. The body also lets you know what it needs, a quiet companion become suddenly bossy, rebelling if you are not eating enough food or the right kind or not getting enough rest or too much.

But the steps for nurturing an idea are much less defined. Who would tell me how to go about it? During the day, researching 17th-century natural history for the story I hoped to write, I read about Leeuwenhoek, his revolutionary microscope design. As he focused the lens, a veil dropped away and he could peer inside drops of water, worlds within worlds, triggering disgust and wonder. And Swammerdam, who created dissecting tools so fine he could find all the organs inside a caterpillar, extract them, and trace their connections. At night, I read stacks of Glamour, slipped to me by the poet, lip gloss ads and star gossip easing the pregnancy insomnia.

As I bumbled around the cottage, restless, waiting for sentences to come, I was surprised at how well it was designed. I held my pajamas in my hand, needing a place to hang them, and there was a hook. I made a cup of tea and wanted to put it down while I sat and read, and there was a shelf. The cottage seemed sentient as if, like the woman who made the soup, it knew just what was required. Someone had thought hard about building this creative space. Gradually, I found a pattern and the words began to bubble up.

I don’t want to say that gestating children and fleshing out stories are the same. That hearkens back to when female artists were dismissed by those who said that women’s creativity was biological and not intellectual. For me, being pregnant was far more mysterious, far more insistent and frightening, than any kind of work on the page: the nose bleeds that came from nowhere, the tests that would show if a fetus was damaged or sound. But the waiting, the need for preparation and patience, are common to both.

And what would I recommend if I were writing What to Expect When You Are Expecting (to Write a Novel, Play, Essay, or Poem)? Walk along the road to a cold October beach. Try to hear a winter wren. Waste time wantonly. Read your work out loud to an empty room, one that appears to understand you. Burrow into afternoons of solitude with no one to offend or impress or startle with your strangeness.

Don’t be surprised when you feel the first kick.

Kim Todd
About Kim Todd

3 Comments

  • Brenda Miller
    4:06 AM - 13 May, 2012

    Beautiful!

  • Liz Quinn
    1:37 AM - 17 May, 2012

    Beautiful and right on!

  • Martha Goudey
    5:05 AM - 26 May, 2012

    I feel compelled to seek solitude, to walk into my garden and listen to the birds, to sit quietly and wait, to be a little strange and say no to innocent invitations to be social…and wait for that kick. Beautiful.

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