Almost a decade ago, I bought a laptop. The purchase felt like a way to clean the slate. I had just learned that my son was born with disabilities because I caught Cytomegalovirus (CMV) when I was pregnant. I was not prepared for the adventure of being his mother and caregiver. I hoped that writing would sort out the mess in my head.
But I didn’t know how to write. I had never kept a journal. My corporate job was technical and numbers-driven. How could I even begin to explain my feelings? How could I transfer my thoughts to words that would make sense to others?
Instead of writing, I reached out for help in other ways. I found a good therapist. I leaned on my husband. I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom. I became very busy juggling three young children. I learned how to be my son’s advocate and how to get him the support he needed to thrive. But I still had ideas floating through my mind – frustrations with accessibility and inclusion, parenting and caregiving. Many of my experiences were difficult to express to friends and family who only saw a small portion of the challenges I managed. I still wanted to write but I didn’t know where to begin.
In the fall of 2019, I finally had some free time. All three of my children were in full-day school. I enjoyed the quiet and met up with friends. Then, in January of 2020, I signed up for a memoir writing class. Once a week, I drove forty minutes to a church where a group of ten people wrote and read and shared the most intimate parts of their lives. I loved hearing about their experiences. I learned what memoir is and started to understand how to craft a story.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. My writing class went virtual. And my kids were home and learning online. I didn’t know how to balance their care and my needs while I worried about the impact of COVID-19.
“I think you have something to say,” my teacher said. She was referring to my experiences with COVID-19 and CMV. “Try writing about it.” I drafted an essay about my postpartum mental health. I didn’t know how to submit my work, but I did a little research and found popular parenting site Scary Mommy. I took a chance, submitted my essay, and was thrilled when I received an email acceptance a few days later.
After my first essay was published on Scary Mommy, in April 2020, my thoughts began to flow. I carved out a workspace (a card table in the middle of our sunroom) close to where the kids were learning virtually so I could shuttle back and forth. I jotted down ideas when I woke up, throughout the day, and late at night when the kids were asleep. I took more classes and learned how and where to pitch potential articles. It was cathartic to finally sort out my feelings in a constructive way and share them with others. Writing became my escape from the demands of each day – a way to reach the world outside my door when we couldn’t see anyone.
The pandemic pushed me to be vocal in a way I didn’t know I was capable of. Since I began writing, I’ve met amazing writers, connected with other families in similar situations, and educated people who couldn’t understand my experiences.
Now, I am back to shuttling my kids to different activities, scheduling appointments that were pushed off, and trying to find the time and energy to write. But, this time, I know I will. I learned that I have a voice — not only for my son but also for myself. And that both are so important.
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Author: Kristen Paulson-Nguyen