We're so excited to introduce something new to our blog: The Author's Series. Each month, we'll be sharing a story from an author who has written about their experiences in motherhood. Their stories are vastly different, yet all share the common thread of motherhood. We hope that you enjoy seeing this journey through their eyes...and keep your eyes on our social media for some fun giveaways! Today, we share author Ann Campanella's story; we have included links to her book at the end of the essay.
When I was 33, my husband and I moved from Houston to my home state of North Carolina ready to build a horse farm and start a family. I was excited to be back home closer to my parents, where I imagined sharing my future children with their grandparents. Life was working well for me, and I was used to success. I had left a job as a newspaper editor and was enjoying freelance writing while I taught horseback riding lessons on the side. My husband had a good job, and our future looked bright.
And then I had my first miscarriage, which coincided with my mother’s gradual decline into Alzheimer’s. My mother, who was also a writer, had always been a loving, sensitive woman. But when I told her about the loss of my baby, she seemed almost angry and was unable to offer her usual words of comfort.
I felt empty and alone. I’d had a blighted ovum; there had never been an actual fetus. Yet, my grief was real and deep. In those early weeks of my pregnancy, my husband and I had raced ahead in our minds, imagining not only a newborn, but playing with a toddler, taking our child to school, wondering where he or she would go to college, dreaming of a wedding. And, suddenly, all of that was gone. There was a deep ache inside me.
My mother was the person who I most wanted to share this loss with. In her right mind, she would have understood, listened for as long as I needed to talk and been a comforter. She would have shared truths from her own life that would help me process this experience. For the first time in my life, I had to accept a shift in our roles. It was time for me to become the caretaker.
Over a several year period, I had two more miscarriages, each one different, confounding and heartbreaking. At the same time, my mother slipped further and further into her illness. Her constant confusion and emotional upset was painful to witness. A sense of grief and loss spilled into every crevice of my life. Each day provided a new canvas for it.
How did I get through this period of my life? There were no easy answers, no quick fixes. My days were hard. Some afternoons, I would walk down to the barn on our property and stare out at the herd grazing peacefully. Sometimes I would rest my forehead against my horse’s face. His quiet presence would absorb some of the pain and allow me to move on.
I also wrote. I’ve always journaled, but during these intense years, I filled up notebook after spiral notebook. I wrote about the day before we took my mother to the hospital, when she didn’t know who I was, when she left my house in the middle of a thunderstorm to go see her brother who lived miles away. I wrote about how hard it was to be changing diapers for my mother when I wanted to be changing them for my baby. I wrote about the bleakness that had taken over my life.
Some days, if I kept writing long enough, I would catch a thread of sunlight. With the details of my bleak existence poured onto the page, I felt lighter and could embrace the possibility of hope. Somehow, deep inside, I knew there was a purpose to my suffering, that the intensity of this double-sided grief had a meaning. I wasn’t sure what it was. But I knew that by writing about it, I could penetrate my own numbness and begin to feel alive again.
Perhaps that’s when the idea of sharing my story first took root. I had felt so alone in my grieving over my miscarriages and the loss of my mother. As an avid reader, I had always enjoyed entering into other people lives through memoirs and novels. Books were a window into other people’s suffering and how they persevered. When I had struggled through various transitions in my life, my mother often suggested a certain book for me to read. She knew the power of inspiration and a well-written story. I had always enjoyed reading beautiful literature where deep and meaningful themes were intertwined with natural settings and family sagas.
I wanted to offer this to other women in Motherhood: Lost and Found. Loss of a pregnancy and a mother’s illness are not easy topics, yet they are a part of life. I didn’t want to sugarcoat the realities of grief, but instead provide a realistic look at my own suffering while sharing moments of beauty, the gift of memory and family connection along with the joy of being alive. Each of us has a story, and each one is unique and exquisite.
Ann Campanella is the author of the award-winning Motherhood: Lost and Found, a memoir that tells of her struggle to become a mother at the same time she was losing her own mother to Alzheimer’s. Formerly a magazine and newspaper editor, her writing has appeared in local and national publications from literary journals to the bestselling A Cup of Comfort series. Her poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and twice she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She has a degree in English Literature from Davidson College and lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals.
Motherhood: Lost and Found, is available in paperback and on Kindle. In honor of her mother, Elizabeth Williams, a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of her book will be donated to Alzheimer’s disease/dementia, animal and land preservation nonprofit organizations.