Dear Reader: I’m so pleased to present one of our own writers on the launch of her new book, Stretch Marks. Welcome Liz. I’m so happy to interview you and offer your story our readers. You are such a special person!
Q: Your book chronicles your nearly 20-year journey to motherhood – one littered with disappointing and painful experiences, repeated slammed-doors, and a litany of failed attempts at conceiving and adopting. Although you triumph in the end, the reader can’t help but feel helpless as they follow you along. I was so intensely struck by the sheer pain, grief, and loss you endured along the way. Can you talk more about your fervent desire and determination to become a mother?
A: Ironically, I hadn’t a desire to become a mother until my mid-thirties. After I’d married, then it was like lightening struck and everything else in life paled by comparison. It became a mission. I wanted into the inner circle along with my prolific mother, sisters, cousins, and friends. I’m also stubborn and hardheaded and when I want something, I go after it.
Q: The transparency and rawness of your (range of) emotions, while trying to achieve motherhood, will strike a chord with so many midlife mothers who themselves have hidden and unspoken experiences of defeat. What compelled you to write this book? Why were you so willing to expose yourself in this manner?
A: I wrote the book, thanks to my husband, who hounded me for years to tell my stories and would remind me I was a writer. I’d been so overwhelmed with two toddlers that cobwebs had shrouded my computer. When I finally wrote, read, and revised my story, I came face to face with my incredible loneliness.
I’d felt stranded, needlessly, and suffered in silence because there wasn’t a way to openly talk about infertility. My family and friends knew, but no one brought it up in front of me. With best of intentions everyone skirted the topic and worked overtime to stay clear of an awkward and prickly situation. Behind closed doors my beloved grandmother would caress my hands and with moist eyes press a novena into my palms. St. Jude had never failed her. My aunts would hand me a perfume-like bottle filled with an amber liquid along with a wink and hug. An aphrodisiac with an astonishing track record, twins were common, so they said.
Telling my truths didn’t unravel me, as I was afraid it might. At first, I wasn’t willing to expose myself and my drafts told a safe, politically correct story. My writing group and later my editor took me to task, though, forcing me to dig deeper and put all of myself, the good, the bad, and the ugly on the page.
Q: Your precise details and the ins/outs of your quest often read like a tale of espionage. At several points, esp. during your multiple trips to Mexico, I’d use the words “thriller” and “riveting” to express my experience while reading your book. In fact, in my nonclinical opinion, I’d guess you struggled with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) following these experiences? Would you agree?
A: Thanks, Cyma! I’m happily surprised, you and other readers have referred to Stretch Marks as a thriller. I still shy away from describing it as PSTD, but for a long time, I didn’t realize what I was going through, because I wouldn’t talk about it. Plus, in my mind, PTSD was reserved for the military, victims of horrendous abuse, who truly suffered. Not me, a woman who desperately longed to be a mother. No one forced me to adopt or to live in Juárez.
But, I couldn’t deny that I’ve gone through years of waking up alarmed, in a cold sweat for no apparent reason. I’d patrol the house, check the boys, doors and windows, and give in to insomnia until exhaustion won out.
Q: I was repeatedly touched by your obvious deep connection to your Latino roots – a lifetime filled with close family, matriarchy, religiosity and cultural mores. How did this impact your journey to motherhood and near-miss in reaching this goal?
A: While my family was excited, they didn’t share in my anxiety. I’d set the bar too high when I compared myself to the leading ladies of our matriarch and was devastated that getting pregnant and going full-term eluded me. I was a Latina, for God’s sake. I was one of eleven, and believed infertility sidestepped my Mexican/Greek heritage. My maternal grandmother had told me so herself, taking my chin in her delicate hand, and pronouncing that no one in her family was incapable of having a child. Just wait and see.
Q: Did you choose to adopt (only) from Mexico as another nod to your culture?
A: We were looking into adopting from Guatemala on a recommendation from a friend, when we received the phone call from my brother-in-law. Rick, at the time, was a priest in El Paso, Texas, whose mission was to help several orphanages in Ciudad Juárez, and he was offering to broker an introduction with one of the agencies’ directors. I absolutely wanted to replicate the traditions, pass on our Catholicism, and keep my mother tongue alive. I also believed this would bolster the fragile bond between us.
Q: You write often about the fact that the Latino culture seems ill-equipped to deal with issues of infertility, loss, and the inability (for an individual) to achieve motherhood. What do you attribute this to?
A: There are taboo subjects and stereotypes in every culture. My family and relatives considered it bad etiquette to air private matters like money, infidelity, homosexuality, and infertility in mixed company. Without realizing it, I followed suit and at times pasted on a happy face at family functions, projecting hope when in actuality I limped along in silence.
My family believed that they were being protective and thoughtful. No one dared asked me if I was pregnant. Again. No one brought up babies around me or used baby vocabulary anywhere within my earshot. And when someone did ask, thankfully, I’d hoarsely answer before bursting out into tears and emptying the room. It’s uncomfortable to see someone vulnerable and grieving. Everyone headed for another drink, to the bathroom or to check on their kids.
Q: What impact do you hope that your essays/writings and your book will have on Latino readers in America?
A: I hope more of us will voice our experiences and find comfort and assurance that we’re not alone. I’m grateful to each and every woman who has commented on my blog or offline and shared her loss and sorrow. I hope more of us will brave through and acknowledge a loved one’s loss with a simple, “I’m sorry,” and a squeeze of a hand or a hug. I still possess the cards I received decades ago where my enormous pain felt visible to someone and remember the flowers and meals like a warm salve.
Q: It is fascinating that your marriage endured the number of struggles that you experienced. It’s a rare man who can endure this type of trial and tribulation with interest, compassion and commitment. To what do you attribute this continuing bond?
A: We endured the onslaught of disappointment and defeat together. He raged and grieved right along with me, never hurried me and took the public brunt of our loss to protect me.
If my Nachu, Nah choo were alive, my maternal grandmother would take all the credit. During a visit, I’d asked her how she’d met my elegant, worldly grandfather. While her feet manipulated the sewing machine pedal machine, her hands stitched taffeta with an incredible precision as she regaled me with the heart-shaped romantic moment. I swooned. She kissed my cheek, then revealed her secret. Nachu had looked at his hands and shoes where, just like her grandmother had explained, much was revealed about a man’s character. Mijita, most important, next to ambition, is he has to make you laugh.
Q: Many adoptive mothers and couples begin their quest for parenthood believing that “love is all you need.” However, once into the experience, those simple desires often turn to despair, intense questioning of it all, and sometimes, in the end love just doesn’t conquer it all. Issues of RAD, ADHD, OCD; the necessity for constant therapy and intervention often crushes what was a simple desire for hope and life. You, too, seemed to reach that peak, with despair.
A: I reached that peak of despair several times, but was more worried about how I’d be viewed and judged for venting my frustration and mounting disappointments. I often wondered why I was so different than all the other mothers who carried on with contented smiles. It seemed I was the only one suffering from the mother’s curse of the ever-present doubt and guilt.
It took a long time before the “love is all you need”-bubble burst, and only then was I able to begin balancing my life and recognize when I was in puppeteer mode.
Q: What words of wisdom would you impart regarding others’ journey to achieve motherhood.
A: Reach out to others. Start with one person, a family member, friend, or a blogging community. Voice your experience, like I said before, the truth won’t unravel you.
Q: Finally, has your achievement of motherhood, in midlife, been what you had hoped?
A: Yes and more. Becoming a mother blew right through every expectation, assumption, and preconception I’d ever had. There was much I didn’t know at forty-five, but instinct told me I no longer was the center of my universe. I stepped aside. At times, I felt I couldn’t contain the joy of simply watching my sons. Other times, it stretched the outer boundaries of who I was, afraid I might splinter and snap.
When I’ve listened, they’ve taught me slow down, that they own their life and like it or not, from the very first minute of motherhood, it’s all about letting go.
It’s ironic that I’ve published Stretch Marks as they are leaving home.
Thanks so much, Cyma!
Liz Raptis Picco,59, is a writer and blogger at www.stretchmarks.me, featuring Stretch Marks, her memoir about motherhood and adoption. Her blog showcases her guacamole with feta cheese background (Mexican mother, Greek father, raised in a border town) and offers an edgy, no-holds-barred perspective. She lives in Northern California with her family. When she’s not writing, she works as a health education consultant, and writes for MotheringintheMiddle.com.