Jaclyn J. Reed: “I Can’t Bring Myself to Birth You Yet”

I Can’t Bring Myself to Birth You Yet

By Jaclyn J. Reed

The world is not ready for you. Neither am I.

I’m not the woman I wanted to be at 27. I’m still learning to reread my story without reliving it, to write a better tomorrow without losing today, drowning in yesterday, obsessing over what may – more likely, may not – cross my path. I don’t yet know how to replace my broken parts without ending up in pieces – to keep despair from decaying into despondence. Even if I can call myself sane, what then? Where do I fit in when each morning I wake, watch the news, wonder if our country still stands? If, when I find it does, I’m disappointed, frustrated, exhausted by the convenience afforded deviants with deep pockets keeping us apart?

My mother raised me to do / be / experience more than her, so I trek life the long way round, ease into things, cross my T’s and dot my I’s, say please and thank you and apologize – own my shit. Where her wings were built of distressed leather and aluminum, she built mine from steel; knew life would temper me, the way it tempers us all, the way it will temper you.

I do not want to temper you. I want to coddle you when no one else will, lend you my calm when the world gets too big, too polluted, too unfair. Not to shield you from modernity or harsh eventualities, just equip you for real life, provide weapons for an arsenal I hope you’ll never have to use.

You must choose the hills you die on carefully and be brave enough to let things go. Take on midterms, toxic masculinity, racism and bigotry, erratic hormones, and palatine adults with a pleasing smile, a daring gaze, a quick wit. As quick as your draw, if they still wish to fight. You’ll learn that coming to the table cannily creates more conflict than it solves, that intolerance must be intolerable if we want justice / peace / equity. There’s a whole world outside your bubble, and the truth is: people are usually better than they believe themselves to be. Your peers’ personas on playgrounds – virtual and in the real – just shadows on cave walls, more fearsome than the ones projecting them, the children just as dazed and disheartened as you will be.

You’ll be from a different generation than me, see things I haven’t, pick up tricks that took me eons to grasp. You’ll grow up too fast. All I ask is that you take up space and build boundaries of rose bushes, not bricks. Know what you deserve, trust yourself enough to accept it. Being yourself is a constant effort, as is any love – so much harder than hate, so much easier to waste. Do not define yourself by ideas and ideals; such idyllics always let you down. Question your perspectives, the filters through which you experience, the trauma in which you are rooted, the moments that make up your foundation. People change so often, and why shouldn’t they when life grows stranger by the hour?

Fluidity is how humanity survives. I’ll do my best to help you flow, teach you how to move again after long pauses, how to wake up the day after devastation and reintroduce yourself in the mirror without shattering the glass. And when inevitably you cut yourself, I will be there to help you embrace the scar.

But first the world and I have to stop falling apart.

About the Author: Jaclyn J. Reed received her MFA in Writing from Carlow University and her BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Adelaide, Northern Appalachia Review, The Sunlight Press, and Prime Number Magazine, among others. She works in e-commerce merchandising and lives across the way from a Hershey’s Reese’s factory.

Image Credit: Mary Cassatt “Susan Comforting the Baby” (1881) Public Domain image courtesy of Artvee



By Kelly Hansen Maher

Accepting the rise and fall of boxcars heaving
across the city, our industrial neighborhood.
Old neighborhood, in which immigrants,
studying for citizenship exams,
named the streets in the order of the presidents.
Trains make their slow move uphill, Fillmore,
Pierce, Buchanan, measuring each breath taken,
the newborn on my chest. Her small head
in the dark room, nose and mouth open,
sleeping. We stir; we are steady as train yards, lids
flutter. I hear insects at the open windows, the out
and in of her breath, my husband’s
deep twitching, the dog’s snore. Our bed
smells of human milk, which is lean
of fat and protein so that she will wake frequently
and want me. She has this one country.
I’m on an incline, never fully prone,
kept my word, kept her head
above the blankets, on the pillow of my arm,
kept her face to the air of the room all spring, all
summer. It’s before dawn when the birds…
the light in the room doesn’t change, but the trains
have stopped rolling over the narrow
bridges… birds must know… the pale yellow
beyond the yard… what first birds? chickadees
or sparrow, or thrush? I have small dreams
all night, it’s a covenant to keep her
breathing. Her new system in delicate
crating at the rail of my clavicle,
she’ll track with me, start again after stopping.
I don’t miss depth, tuned from sleep, Lincoln,
Johnson, Ulysses, anything could happen
to her in that other room
without me, and god help me,
there will be no more death in this house.

Today’s poem was was previously published in the Blue Mesa Review and appears in the collection Tremolo (Tinderbox Editions, 2016, copyright Kelly Hansen Maher). It appears here today with permission from the poet.

Kelly Hansen Maher is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but now lives in Grinnell, Iowa. She is the author one book of poetry, Tremolo (Tinderbox Editions, 2016), and is currently working on a second collection, as well as a book of memoir/essays. Her poems have been published by the New Orleans Review, Briar Cliff Review, and others journals. She teaches creative writing courses with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.

Editor’s Note: With its evocative imagery and haunting ending, today’s poem is motherhood poetry that resonates, that stays with the reader. There are truths here all mothers of infants know: “I have small dreams / all night, it’s a covenant to keep her / breathing.” Time is measured like breath. Breath is the promise that life will go on, one breath at a time. Sound functions on the level of the line, the scene, the moment, propelling the poem forward, pacing the reader to go on expectantly, breath slow, aware and uncertain.

Want to read more by and about Kelly Hansen Maher?
Kelly Hansen Maher’s Official Website
Buy Tremolo from Tinderbox Editions
New Orleans Review
Midway Journal
Tinderbox Poetry Journal


"Arab Motherhood" by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.
“Arab Motherhood” by Georges Sabbagh, c. 1920. Public domain image.

Editor’s Note: In honor of Mother’s Day, I have gathered together some of my favorite poems that I’ve featured on this series over the years that consider motherhood from a plethora of perspectives, for motherhood is such a multi-faceted experience. From the perspective of the child: memories of mothers, good mothers, bad mothers, absent mothers, mothers we have lost. From the perspective of the mother, of the would-be-mother, of the once-was mother: pregnancy and childbirth, love and fear of and for our children, the kind of mother we are or are not, the kind of mother we want to be, the children we never had, the children we have lost.

Today’s selection is in honor of motherhood itself and its many faces, in honor of that imperative person without whom none of us would exist and who–for better or worse–so deeply affects who we come to be.

Today’s post is dedicated to my own mother, who has always been one of my most dedicated readers and faithful supporters, who has shaped my being from zygote through womanhood, and whose legacy as mother takes on its newest incarnation on this, my first Mother’s Day as a mother.

Mother, I’m trying
to write
a poem to you

which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I’ve wanted
to say, Mother
…but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them.

–Erin Belieu,
“Another Poem for Mothers”


“Elegy for a Mother, Still Living” by Elana Bell

“Cultiver Son Potager / Growing Vegetables” by Dara Barnat; translated by Sabine Huynh

“Prayers Like Shoes” by Ruth Forman

“We Speak of August” by Valentina Gnup

State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies by Alexis Rhone Fancher

“A Poem for Women Who Don’t Want Children” by Chanel Brenner

“Baby” by Jaimie Gusman

“Psalm to Be Read While My Daughter Considers Mary” by Nicole Rollender

Hemisphere by Ellen Hagan

“Labor Pantoum” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz

“Depression” by Terri Kirby Erickson

“Dinner for the Dying” by Jen Lambert

Decency by Marcela Sulak

Little Spells by Jennifer K. Sweeney

“The Invention of Amniocentesis” by Jen Karetnick

“The Sadness of Young Mothers” by Richard D’Abate

“Mom’s Cocks” by Jenna Le

“The Balance” by Danusha Laméris

“The Committee Weighs In” by Andrea Cohen

“Mother-In-Law” by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell

“Change of Address” by Ruth Deborah Rey

Want to read more Mother’s Day poems?
Mother’s Day poetry from the Academy of American Poets
Poetry about mothers from the Academy of American Poets



By Jen Lambert

When the boy comes inside
with blood on his ripe hands
and a quiver of pointed explanations
on his back, I’m chopping yellow onions.

When he says it’s a doe, that she lies
on the edge of the wood, and that he knows
she was pregnant, my skin tightens.
The scar on my belly, that battered, barbwire grin
that opened like a window for him, twitches
for the dying mother and the calf like a love note in her womb.

When he hangs his knife on his belt
and heads toward the wood, I boil water, crush garlic.
I remember when the doctor pulled him, screaming,
from my belly. I remember the howl in my womb
as he sewed me shut. I remember my first meal
as a mother. Nothing could satisfy.
I salt the vegetables. Crush the mint.

Today’s poem was originally published in Boxcar and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Jen Lambert is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and burntdistrict magazine. She received an MFA from the University of Nebraska, and her work has appeared in journals such as Pank, The Los Angeles Review, Sugar House Review, and Redactions, among others.

Editor’s Note: As a new mother, I recently began a search for today’s best poems about motherhood. Jen Lambert’s “Dinner for the Dying” came highly recommended and does not disappoint. And so today we kick off a series of poems within this Saturday Poetry Series that will consider motherhood and hopefully leave their mark upon the reader as today’s poem has left its mark upon me.

There is something of Naomi Shihab Nye in this work. In the salted vegetables and crushed mint. In the intersection of the natural, the familial, and the body. This is a poem of quiet power, wherein tragedy is gently stitched to memory, where life and loss are depicted as two sides of the same coin. Moments of radiant lyric emerge from the subtlety and strength of today’s poem: “a quiver of pointed explanations,” “that battered, barbwire grin / that opened like a window for him, twitches / for the dying mother and the calf like love note in her womb.”

Want more from Jen Lambert?
Official Website
Heart Journal
Tahoma Literary Review

Things to Worry About

Norah Vawter Parents
The author with her parents, Skip and Denise, 1985.

Things to Worry About

by Norah Buckley Vawter

Dear Mothers,

Things to worry about:

  • Worry about the planet.
  • Worry about your children’s welfare.
  • Worry about your family and friends.
  • Worry about not wasting your life.
  • Worry about kindness and love.

Things not to worry about:

  • Don’t worry about conversations you had yesterday.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
  • Don’t worry about what other people think, period.
  • Don’t worry about jogging strollers.
  • Don’t worry about jumperoos vs. exersaucers.
  • Don’t worry about getting a fancy anything unless you really want it.
  • Don’t worry about worrying.
  • When holding a newborn, don’t worry that he is so tiny and fragile you might break him just by holding him. If babies were that fragile, we wouldn’t have a human race.
  • If you had great parents, don’t worry about living up to impossible expectations of what parenting should be like. Your parents surely, surely had days when they made mistakes, maybe even huge ones.
  • If your parents were awful, don’t worry about doing everything differently to create some magical world full of goodness and light for your own child. Just do your best. There will probably be plenty of magic and goodness and light.
  • Absolutely don’t cry yourself to sleep thinking you are the world’s worst mother. You’re probably doing better than you think. In fact I bet you are strong and beautiful. I feel certain that you deserve happiness and love.
  • Don’t worry about the dark circles under your eyes from lack of sleep and lack of makeup and just being plain tired and wrung out every day.
  • Don’t worry about the fact that Mom X gives her kids all organic food when you don’t.
  • Don’t worry about what Mom X must think when you pull out a bag of Honey-Nut Cheerios and food-dye-ridden Goldfish crackers for your toddler, while she feeds her kid homemade flaxseed bread and homemade yogurt with a smattering of wheat germ.
  • Don’t worry about anything anyone posts on Facebook. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about haters in general.
  • If you had your heart set on nursing, don’t worry if you can’t.
  • And don’t you dare let any parent bottle-shame you. When you are sitting at the park with your baby in your lap, and you pull that bottle of formula out of your bag – hold your head high because you are feeding your baby.
  • If your own parents are gone like mine are, don’t worry that your kid will grow up never knowing them. They’re around – somewhere. They’re inside of you. They’re inside of your kid. They’re in photo albums and in the books they read to you, the ones you now read to him.
  • Don’t worry about how you will eventually have to explain what death is, and where Granny Denise and Grampa Skip are.
  • When your kid starts to point out “Nise” and “Skip” in the family photos on the wall, because you’ve been doing that, don’t worry if you cry in front of him. When he says, “Mama sad” – don’t worry about what to say. Something will come. And then he’ll probably want to hug you, and it will be the best hug in the world. Ever. And then you can say, “Mama happy,” and mean it.
  • Don’t worry about being the perfect mother.
  • Don’t worry about perfection, period. It doesn’t exist, and if it did, life would be a hell of a lot less interesting.

Things to think about:

  • How can I be a mother and still be a human being in my own right?
  • If I’m not happy, how can I get there? If I’m not happy with how I fit into my world, how can I fix that?
  • Am I doing my best, as a parent, as a human being, in general, etc.?
  • What tangible, specific things can I do to make my life better, or others’ lives better, and maybe even make my world a better place to live?
  • If I want to make my mark on the world, how can I do that?

Love always,

Norah Buckley Vawter

Things to Worry About Parenting
The author with her son, 2015.


Inspired by Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Scottie, dated August 8, 1933

Norah Vawter wishes time travel were possible so she could party with Scott Fitzgerald and then talk literature. She earned an MFA in fiction from George Mason University and  has work published or forthcoming in Extract(s), The Nassau Review, and Agave. Currently she stays at home with her toddler while at work on her first novel.



By Ellen Hagan:


Downriver is always long
& always flailing, finding

where our lives begin,
intersect?  You, your bones

the humped slope of nose
browned skin of home.

You, sand. You, ocean.
You, bending & me.

How many nights we sleep
alone, our bodies rising—

what it means to miss you.
What it means to expand.
What it means to be birthed.
What it means to be sacred.
What it means to go home.

Place of birth, birthing
ground. Ground that is sacred.
You that is sacred.

Bones that hold together.  Bind.
Bound to you.  My mother.

I am bound to you.  My mother.
You stitch me from inside.  Hollowed.
your split sheath of self, your letters
the slow cursive of your language,
can’t I hear your voice, always?

Lock the doors.  Latch the locks.
Shut the windows.  Close the blinds.
Cover up.  Clean your room.  Do
the dishes.  Wash the clothes.  Behind
your ears, yourself.  Clean the floor.  
Scrub.  Mop the remains every day
is one that you can use to erase all
the mistakes.  Blemish free.
Shine the doorknobs, pine, every
crease of space.  Cabinets.  Don’t leave
food out.  Food brings mice.  Mice
bring disease.  You will die.  You could 
die.  Don’t die.  Don’t ever die.  You 
stitch me from inside.  I am bound
to you.  Can’t you always hear
my voice?


Bring the snakes in their skins, sly
& surrender. Simple bodies of grass
& clover, their slithering and sleuth-ness.
& the earth & the dusty fisherman
in from their boats, bobbing. Bring
piano, bring pain. That yellow skirt
pocked w/ fuchsia & the halter
of your mother’s pixie 60’s ways.
Let out the hems from your dresses,
the vertebrae in your back, body
forget skeleton—be loose, let it be dirty.
Get there. Call the black cat promenade,
lazy through the streets. Let your hair
down. Let it crawl, crowd the length
of your back. Bring soca & fiddle,
that record player your father bought
your mother in 1974. Bring all the days
from 1974 & on because time is a revolver.
A bag of limes on your back porch
squeezed & bitter & neon & orbiting
over you. Is your neighbor calling.
Is satsumas bursting on your tongue.
Bring your shiny shoes & arched soles
for the flapping pageant of second line
parade, the 100 parades from now until.
Autumnal. Hymns. Prayers.
Ways to say yes. Bring with you
your rope of hide, your many rings
of muscle & the washcloth
for your stomach, your feet
for the laying nape of your neck.
Bring danger & ways to hold your lips,
your lips, bring them too.
Spanning the whole of you.
You become.


Already a lullaby inside.
Your palms to belly, breath
on hip.  You are changing,
beginning. Too.  And you,
baby girl, or boy. Or two.
Are just gills. Still. Heart in
mouth. Red burst of newness.
Fins.  Fish or fowl. Shrimp
are larger than you.

Still, you are breaking me
apart. Him too. Our hearts
and lungs, and gills. Bursting 
You are stretching all,
all of us. Open.

Today’s poems are from Hemisphere, published by TriQuarterly Press/Northwestern University Press, copyright © 2015 by Ellen Hagan, and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Hemisphere: The poems in Hemisphere explore what it means to be a daughter and what it means to bear new life. Ellen Hagan investigates the world historical hemispheres of a family legacy from around the globe and moves down to the most intimate hemisphere of impending motherhood. Her poems reclaim the female body from the violence, both literal and literary, done to it over the years. Hagan acknowledges the changing body of a mother from the strains of birth from the growing body of a child, to the scars left most visibly by a C-section €”as well as the changes wrought by age and, too often, abuse. The existence of a hemisphere implies a part seeking a whole, and as a collection, Hemisphere is a coherent and cogent journey toward reclamation and wholeness. —TriQuarterly Press/Northwestern University Press

Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer, and educator. Her latest collection of poetry, Hemisphere, was released by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2015. Ellen’s poems and essays can be found in the pages of Creative Nonfiction, Underwired Magazine, She Walks in Beauty (edited by Caroline Kennedy), Huizache, Small Batch, and Southern Sin. Her first collection of poetry, Crowned, was published by Sawyer House Press in 2010. Ellen’s performance work has been showcased at The New York International Fringe and Los Angeles Women’s Theater Festival. She is the recipient of the 2013 NoMAA Creative Arts Grant and received grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. National arts residencies include The Hopscotch House and Louisiana Arts Works. Ellen recently joined the po­etry faculty at West Virginia Wesleyan in their low-residency MFA program. She teaches Memoir, Poetry & Nature, and co-leads the Alice Hoffman Young Writer’s Retreat at Adelphi University. She is Poetry Chair of the DreamYard Project and a regular guest artist at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts.

Editor’s Note: I fell in love with the poems in Ellen Hagan’s Hemisphere for their language: earthy, sensual, gritty. Unafraid of blood and birth, of mud and heat, of nature, of relationship, of what is real and lush and vivid, of what is primal and complex. I am reminded of the swamp, of the first creatures that dragged themselves forth from the murky depths, crawling forward, always, evolving for the sake of life. I am reminded, also, of witchcraft, of alchemy, of drawing down the moon. Of things my mother taught me, of that which has been handed down from woman to woman through the ages.

Today’s poems were meant to be, here, today. Because they are about the twin experience of birth—both as child and mother. Because much of this book is about the relationship between mother and daughter, the circle of life as only mother and daughter experience it: “where our lives begin, / intersect;” “what it means to miss you. / What it means to expand. / What it means to be birthed. / What it means to be sacred. / What it means to go home.”

In honor of Mother’s Day, and of the magic that grows from the rich soil of today’s poems, today’s feature is dedicated to my mother, the water sign, from your daughter, the water sign. “You that is sacred… I am bound to you. My mother.”

Want to see more from Ellen Hagan?
Ellen Hagan’s Official Website
Ellen Hagan’s Blog
Drunken Boat
Buy Hemisphere from Indie Bound