In addition to her university teaching, Greene teaches writing at an annual writing, yoga, and meditation retreat for women in Oaxaca, Mexico. Click on www.oaxacaculture.com to learn more about this retreat
The Shelf Life of Fire, Greene’s new novel, is scheduled for release from Light Messages in April 2019
Available for readings, writing workshops for pregnant women and new mothers, and for workshops and presentations on creative writing, academic writing, and grammar, Greene can be reached at email@example.com or through her website www.robingreene-writer.com
The narratives in this collection emerged from interviews with women who had recently given birth. For the first edition, to find those willing to speak candidly about their birthing experiences, I placed an advertisement in a national publication directed at new mothers. I received over two hundred responses, conducted seventy-six interviews, and selected thirty-six stories. For the new stories, I placed a shout-out to new moms on my Facebook page and asked friends and colleagues to do the same. I received many responses and trusted my gut, selecting those women to interview who seemed most enthused about sharing their stories and then winnowing those recorded stories down to the ones that seemed most compelling I have chosen stories of women from a range of socioeconomic circumstances and cultural backgrounds. There are stories from women who are well-off financially and from those who struggle to make ends meet. Some women are young; others are older. There are narratives from white women and from women of color. Some describe a first birth, others a second or third birth. Some women bring a strong religious faith to their stories; others do not. And while not all fifty states are represented, most geographic regions are Nearly all of the women interviewed for this book spoke to me by telephone. There were a few I could meet and interview in person. Nevertheless, each of the interviews began as formal tape-recorded dialogue with a stranger and ended as an intimate conversation with a friend Usually, I sat on the floor in my half-darkened bedroom, listening to the strong voices of these women. I’d have the same list of prepared questions for all my interviews, but more often than not, I didn’t ask them. I quickly learned never to fill a silence with a word of my own; the women I interviewed inevitably had a word more poignant, more accurate than any I could offer. When I relaxed and allowed my natural sympathies to guide me, the women I spoke with seemed encouraged toward greater openness, and I was encouraged toward more authentic listening. Later, these conversations were transcribed, condensed to eliminate redundancy, and my own voice as interviewer was edited out. I wanted no intrusions into the stories, no editorial voice to interfere Frequently, the women I interviewed asked that I correct their grammar; they didn’t want to “sound bad” and were often afraid that worrying about correct speech would be distracting. And so, in the end, I did correct some grammar, occasionally adding missing words or rearranging paragraphs to forge necessary connections or to include vital information. But I have done my best to stay true to the diction and speech patterns of the women whose stories are included here. Each narrative is prefaced by a brief autobiography, but I’ve omitted information on race, ethnicity, and religious identity to allow each woman’s story to unfold naturally. When race or ethnicity becomes central to the narrative, it enters the narrative; when it is not central, that information remains unstated. Some names, locations, and identifying details have been altered at the request of the interviewees who wished to ensure their anonymity, but I have tried to preserve essential information so that the stories are consistent with each woman’s recollections Often, while I was writing the book, curious well-wishers would question me about the veracity of the stories. They’d ask, “How do you know these women are telling the truth?” or “How can you be certain that they’re remembering correctly?” My response was always the same. These women speak emotionally and credibly; they recollect details and specifics through the filters of their own psyches-but who doesn’t? What we perceive to be true and what we remember as true becomes our truth. Our ongoing sense of reality depends on it The first edition of Real Birth, published in 2000, contained thirty-six birthing stories I had gathered in the 1990s, nearly twenty years ago, so when I agreed to gather a sampling of more recent birthing stories for this second edition, my question quickly became What’s changed?
And that question propelled me into a year of listening-this time to a new generation of mothers who agreed to share the details of their intense, often life-changing birthing experiences with me and, through this book, with others For this second edition, I recorded twenty new birthing stories and chose to include an additional nine-a symbolic number. These stories, for the most part, feature hospital births, for today’s hospitals offer more progressive care and additional options for the birthing mother. So that’s changed. But what else? Well, although women come to their birthing rooms or beds with iPods rather than boom boxes and CDs, attend hyno-birth more frequently than Lamaze classes, and immerse their laboring bodies in birthing pools rather than tubs, their questions are not fundamentally different than those asked two decades ago: Should I have a natural childbirth or use medication? How much medical intervention do I want? Should I birth at home or in a hospital or birthing center? Should I use midwives or doctors? Will I need a C-section? Will my birth plan be honored? Who can I trust? Who will advocate for me? Can I handle the pain? How will my partner respond? How will my life change?
Birth remains a threshold experience, altering our identities, relationships, and responses to the world. Through the lens of motherhood, we see war, terrorism, the economy, the environment, and our marriages, partnerships, and families differently. As stakeholders, our investment in the future becomes irrevocably altered Bringing babies into the world takes enormous effort. And that effort invites self-reflection, which, I’m grateful to report, is much more welcome today than it was fifteen years ago when I first struggled to find a publisher for Real Birth. Back then, after sending out my manuscript to fifty-plus publishers and agents, I’d frequently be asked, quite rudely, “Who wants to read women’s birthing stories?” I had one academic press, initially very interested in my book, back out after its marketing department decided that the book didn’t fit clearly into any genre and, therefore, was unmarketable. “Who would be your audience?” was the question the editor-in-chief posed in his final rejection letter, thinking his question rhetorical But today a plethora of birthing stories are available on TV, through oral history projects, and on the Internet, and we know there is an audience. Moreover, there’s a clear recognition of the value of these stories. As they become part of our herstory, they connect us to one of our most primal human moments and reveal something essential. While the first Real Birth might have been groundbreaking, the second Real Birth is firmly grounded Grounded. I like that. And as I look back at my own motherhood-to my son Dan, now age thirty-two, whose birth first inspired this book, and to Ben, age twenty-five, whose birth motivated me to record the first story for Real Birth-I realize that their births still ground me to the roots of my identity as a woman who did this amazing thing, who birthed babies and brought new life into the world And now that “first new life,” my son Dan, and his wife, my daughter-in-law Jen, have their own new life in the world, and their own birth story, as I became a grandmother last year. Full circle? Yes. I am grounded again, as a new generation of my family takes shape. And I’m pleased to include that story here Birth represents renewal, a perspective shift as we move forward through life’s stages- from child to adult, to parent, to grandparent, and, if we’re lucky, beyond. These stories privilege us with insight, linking us as readers to our own life stories and providing a sense of hope, interconnectedness, and joy
-Robin Greene, 2014