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It's Time To Listen To Your Mother

In 2010, Wisconsin-based blogger and humoristAnn Imig wanted to create a forum to “give motherhood a microphone,” so she planned a live performance event in her hometown. Five years later, groups of writers are gathering in 39 cities around the country to continue the trend by sharing their diverse experiences of mothering. Thirteen local writers from across the Triangle will share stories ranging from grappling with maternal guilt to caring for an aging mother. “Listen To Your Mother” runs tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at William Peace University’s Kenan Auditorium.

Host Frank Stasio is joined by three local writers who share their experiences: Beth Messersmith talks about how her son’s premature birth inspired her to become a mother activist and state-level director of; Glenna Wolfe Hurlbert shares her experience visiting her own mother in a nursing home; and Mary Davila talks about meeting her daughter’s birth mother in Ethiopia.

Here's an excerpt from Beth's piece: When he was born at 31 weeks and one day, it was 15 hours before I got to see or touch him.  They rolled me in to meet him and placed his tiny two-pound body in my arms, and the fierceness of what I felt for him literally took my breath away…

What I never knew before having a premature baby is that my reality of sitting by his incubator was a dream for most NICU parents. I watched every day as right around dinnertime the nursery would flood with families rushing in after work.  Even for those lucky enough to have paid maternity or paternity leave, it was a decision between taking it while their babies were in the NICU, or once they came home… While my son fought and grew over his two months in the hospital, I sat and grew in my own way.

I settled in with some light reading on maternity leave, infant mortality, childcare, and healthcare access… somehow I’d never realized exactly how bad these policies are and the price families pay as a result. America talks a good game about valuing motherhood and families in this country, but when the rubber hits the road the US doesn’t come close to having policies that reflect that sentiment. 

Here's an excerpt from Glenna's piece: It is lunch time when I arrive today.  I forget how early they serve meals.  I’m self-conscious as I walk across the dining room – many eyes are upon me in speculation.  Aides are slowly serving the independent eaters first.  I look for Mother; she is not at her usual table.  Then I spy her in the horseshoe of those patients who need help to eat.  Mother sits there, detached from the clatter, in the line with six other residents. 

 My lovely mother, sans her chestnut curls and swinging ear bobs, is grey and diminished.  In her washed-out denim robe she looks like a wary child caught in the heavy wheelchair.  She’s lost more weight recently, and her hair hangs white and lank.  Her costume jewelry is in her bedside table for the duration. 

I pull up a chair to sit beside Mother.  She acknowledges me with a smile, but no recognition.  Always mannerly, I think, even when there is little else left.

Here's an excerpt from Mary's piece: I remember the big table in the conference room of our adoption agency’s office, and how tiny she was sitting at it. We joined her at the table, and for a long, long, time, no one said a word. Tears: ugly, snotty, heaves and heaps of tears. Finally, I said, “Thank you,” and the translator spoke to her in Amharic. She replied and the translator spoke to us in English, “She says, ‘Thank you.’”

She told us many things about her family and her life, and she shared her hopes and dreams for her daughter. Dreams of health, education, and love. Dreams any mother has for her child. We promised to do our very best to make her dreams come true, and we promised to tell our daughter how much she is loved by her Ethiopia mother.

We don’t call her our daughter’s “birth mother,” because she did far more than birth her. Hers was the voice that our daughter heard sing to her for nine months in the womb, hers was the breast that nursed her, hers were the hands that changed her diapers, hers was the heart that longed to raise her, but simply couldn’t. She is her Ethiopia mom; she is far more to us than the words “birth mother” convey.

Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.