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The Power of Confession

Photograph by Getty Images

“I write about my uterus,” I said laughing, nervously. My mom’s friend gave me a tight smile. “What about your uterus?”

“How I use it.”

My joke was going nowhere. I stuttered an explanation. I get paid to write and mostly I do so about motherhood and the experience of being a mom. She asked me if I knew a few famous bloggers, I don’t. I sometimes tweet at them. But we aren’t friends. She went back to the kitchen to talk to my mom about minivans.

I find myself in this position a lot — explaining what I do.

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I didn’t set out to be a mom blogger or a mom writer. It just happened. I have been writing and freelancing for nine years. I’ve been blogging for 12 years. But I’ve only been a mother for three and a half. Something happened when I got pregnant with my daughter. I still can’t explain it. I described this phenomenon once, bitterly to my dear friend who has a Ph.D. in the Old Testament, she knows Hebrew and Ugaritic. (I had to Google how to spell Ugaritic.)

“Once I had a baby,” I told her, “it was like, suddenly what I said was interesting and then I started getting published. Like real published. No one wanted to hear me before I procreated.”

She laughed, but shook her head. “Or maybe motherhood made you a better writer. Don’t get me wrong, but it’s our vulnerabilities that make us accessible and maybe that’s what happened with you. You just needed to find what made you accessible.”

This is why she has the Ph.D.

Maybe it’s these adorable, exasperating little open-heart wounds that opened up my writing in a way it never was before.

I frequently wonder about the wisdom of her words as I write my own. All too often I find myself struggling when I write about my children. Where is the line? Will I violate their privacy? What is their story? What is mine? Where is the line between them and me? Between created and creator? Between mother and daughter? Mother and son?

My kids make me bleed. They did it the moment they were born. They do it every day, whether it’s scratches from the baby’s fingernails or an accidental bump from my daughter, or a late night conversation when she crawls into bed and asks me if I missed her before she was born. Did I? I’ve never thought about it before, but yes. All of a sudden, yes. And it’s 1 in the morning and my heart is bleeding all over this cramped Queen bed. Then the baby cries and I go in and rock him and feel like I want to sleep forever and want to hold him forever. And maybe it’s these adorable, exasperating little open-heart wounds that opened up my writing in a way it never was before.

Lena Dunham was recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine in a write-up that is only glancingly critical of her confessional style, her appropriation of the stories of her sister Grace, her vulnerabilities that she bleeds all over the page, all over the TV. Ultimately, the profile seems to conclude, these confessions, painful and intimate are what endear her writing to us — a generation of women confessing all over the Internet.

Like Dunham, I am a Millennial (albeit a few years older). Like Dunham, I’ve been criticized for my confessions, for my appropriations of stories. But like Dunham, I too find my redemption here — writing through wounds.

Men who confess are powerful. Women? When we confess we overshare, we appropriate, we are handed a tissue and told to go clean ourselves up.

And of course, I’ve been wounded other ways. But for me there has been nothing more literally wounding than motherhood, than a human tearing its way through my vagina, ripping me to shreds — leaving my blood and poop everywhere for a janitor to mop up while I held the mewling love of my life, still covered in bits of me.

In her essay, “The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” Leslie Jameson asks, “Women still have wounds: broken hearts and broken bones and broken lungs. How do we talk about these wounds without glamorizing them? Without corroborating an old mythos that turns female trauma into celestial constellations worthy of worship?”

This is the tension isn’t? The writing of women. How do we write through our wounds without glamorizing, without mythologizing?

I am no Dunham of course. But I find power in the confession of her work. The shared confession of women everywhere — mothers and others. I think that this is what cracks us open, what makes us accessible. This is why we write about our children, our open heart wounds.

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Before I go, it is worth noting that these questions, these demands are never made of men. Men who confess are powerful. Women? When we confess we overshare, we appropriate, we are handed a tissue and told to go clean ourselves up.

So, I cling to this idea that by standing and writing, wound to wound, we share pain and laughter and really? Isn’t that the point?

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