Margery Kempe: Patron Saint of Writing Moms

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Sara Fredman observes that becoming a mother helped her perspective as a writer, much like Margery Kempe, a medieval mom with 14 kids who managed to write The Book of Margery Kempe — a treatise on her own spiritual reinvention that may very well have been the first memoir. Despite the sore boobs and the sleep deprivation, Fredman says being a mom sharpened her focus and motivated her to write within the small windows that having three small children allows. Read her essay at Electric Literature.

New motherhood blindsided me like a semi truck. There was the fact that breastfeeding physically tethered me to my child like one of those yo-yo balls from the ‘90s, able to extend only so far before I had to rocket right back.

There are some who would use motherhood as a cudgel or a cautionary tale in an attempt to convince us that becoming a mother—or too much of a mother—means locking ourselves out of the writing life. But the truth is that, like Margery, I found that motherhood unlocked something in me. Maybe it was surviving four days of labor or fourth months of no sleep, but when I emerged from the fog, I had more to say and an increasingly fiery need to say it,

Having children has simultaneously fried my brain and made it sharper and more focused. I don’t know how this is possible, but it is my truth. I see things differently now because growing and birthing a baby changes you. It can change your palate and your shoe size and it most certainly changes your brain. For Margery, this meant a series of divine visions that altered the course of her life. For most of us, the changes are far less spiritual, but they can be similarly revelatory.

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