Kerry Clare, our tireless, brilliant, and somehow both sweet and trenchant editor is taking a leave from 49th Shelf next week … FOR THE SUMMER. Just for the summer, thanks to god. She’s having a baby. Baby #2, a sister for Harriet. We are very excited for her, and thought the perfect gesture with which to send her away would be to republish a little something she wrote a few years back about her initial adjustment to motherhood.
The piece is called “Love is a Let-Down,” published in the Fall 2010 issue of The New Quarterly, and Kerry has declined to let us post it here. “49th Shelf is not about me or my writing!” she said. To which we said, “Fine. Be like that, all upstanding and decent and non-whorish.”
But. I can write a little about my recollection of reading “Love is a Let-Down.” Ha!
When I first came across “Love is a Let-Down,” I was having one of those days as a mother (at the time, of just one thrilling but challenging toddler) when I could not do one thing right. I was feeling fuzzy-minded about work and feeble according to every checklist I had yet consulted about what constitutes good parenting. Thank goodness time, experience, and candid conversation with other parents has given me more confidence (and humour), but then … I felt frighteningly inept.
Somehow The New Quarterly had made its happy way into our house, and I ended up getting to page 42, where Kerry’s essay begins. It was actually on page 43 that my head exploded, where Kerry describes her first night as a mother:
“I spent that night imagining various scenarios in which we gave the baby up for adoption. Which has become an amusing-sounding anecdote I pull out now and again, but that night I’d never been so serious, or desperate. If nothing else, I thought, we might sneak out of the hospital without anyone noticing, and go home to resume life as normal. Surely this was a possibility? ….
There were people out there who would have given everything they owned for our good fortune, for this wonderful baby, for the opportunity to be parents. Which was, I thought, all the more reason for us to offer our daughter to them, never mind the nine months we’d spent preparing and waiting, how thrilling it had been to finally meet her. I’d just never thought it would be like this.
That first night, lying there in my mechanical bed with a baby whose needs I was incapable of meeting, I could only think of one good reason to keep her, no way around it. The only reason we couldn’t give the baby up for adoption was that her grandmothers would never forgive us.”
“Yes!” I cried. I was not the only one with fantasies of escape. I was not the only one for whom motherhood, at first, came not gently, but as a ferocious storm as upsetting as it was joyous. I must admit that upon hearing my beloved son’s first (at the time) monstrous-sounding cry I asked, horrified, “What is THAT?” (His voice has since matured to a gremlin-like tenor and opera-singer-esque decible.)
I continued on, gulping every word as if it were air. Then I got to page 45, and began hysterically laughing as Kerry documented the hormonal first week post-birth:
"I cried the day after we left the hospital, when Stuart and I went for a walk and we only made it to the end of the driveway. I cried because our daughter was so wonderful, it was unfathomable, and because I loved Stuart so terribly, and now I’d gone and destroyed our life. I was dreadfully sorry about that. Then I cried because I couldn’t help it, and the sky was so blue, the trees were so green, and the entire universe was such a miracle—what a gift to be here. And also because I kind of wished I was dead.
I cried at the space the new baby had made in my life, how she’d managed to overwhelm everything else, and how I hadn’t ever realized what I was lacking before. Maybe because I hadn’t been lacking anything. And I also cried because now I knew that if anything ever happened to her, it would destroy me, a new vulnerability that was terrifying to consider, and then when I was finished crying about that, I cried at “anything ever happening to her” in the most benign way, that life was hard and I wouldn’t always be able to protect her.”
“What is going on over there?” asked my husband watching my full-body reaction to whatever it was I was reading.
“Everything,” I said.
He read it later (after my second and fifth re-readings), and two weeks later (as this was the time at which 49th Shelf was just beginning) Kerry Clare was hired as editor of 49th Shelf.
Kerry, thank you from all the team for your absolutely excellent work on 49th Shelf from the start. We will miss you—and I for one will struggle not to mess things up too awfully while I assume the role of editor for the summer—but we are so excited for this new baby of yours and this new chapter in your family’s life.
For those who haven’t read "Love is a Let-Down," you can indulge here.
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