“Motherhood for Beginners” by Abby E. Murray

Abby E. Murray


First, realize: you’ve been drowning
for thousands of years and you know
what finally gets their attention?

The economy. Birth rates at their lowest
where you live in a country that boasts
the second highest cost of childbirth

of any industrialized nation
and your neighbor recommends
goat yoga when you lock yourself

in the car to cry. The only thing
we love more than feeding babies
is keeping them in line for bread,

their sweet legs dangling off
mama’s hip and one hand caught
like a finch in her hair. Second:

a man once told you women
who refuse to have children
are selfish, and you stared at him

like he wasn’t your husband,
like that’s not the kind of paradox
you prepared yourself for, loving

a person who thinks this way
even for one disastrous moment,
even when you know he’ll learn

how cruel this claim is long before
you write the poem to remember it.
Forgiving him takes just as much

work as it does to forgive mothers
who say the same thing, assuming
you’ll agree because your daughter

clings to your legs when they say it,
assuming she was born because
it was your duty to deliver her. Third:

you don’t owe this world a single regret
or forfeited wish or deferred acceptance
or apology for happiness.

Spare no silence for those
who tell you what hurts the most
is normal or a sign of the times.

The truth is, you will rinse both shit
and vomit off your hands before 7 a.m.
sometimes no matter who you love,

you will sleep in your work clothes
and forget the cupcakes
and beg a child to believe

she was not born to carry anybody
no matter who solemnly swears she was,
and you’ll bury this fact in the gleam

of her brainstem or your own
then celebrate by watching it bloom:
your child or the one you never had

shaped exactly like the life you saved
by letting it be what it was, a breath,
a body, a slow unfurling of color

on a silver landscape that constantly
needs reminding why it exists
and what it has to do with wonder.

Finally: they will treat your history
like an opinion. Be troublingly true.
They’ll think I wrote this only for you.

from Poets Respond
May 9, 2021


Abby E. Murray: “Because of the timing (Mother’s Day weekend), it seems this poem is occasional. But I wrote it in response to new data that shows birth rates are down in the United States, and the ensuing conversations about whether the pandemic is to blame or some other ‘trend,’ such as—I’m just throwing these out here—lack of jobs or housing, violence against women, unequal pay, racism, broken systems meant to protect mothers and children, broken healthcare, or thriving sexism. I know I’m not the only one who suspects Captain Obvious edits most newspapers (‘people aren’t wearing masks and Covid is getting worse!’), but I wrote this to remind myself that I am just as valuable to this world for being a mother as I am for my own life, just as I am loved for loving others and naming what isn’t right.” (web)

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