Why We Write

Poets and Writers - - The Literary Life -

BE­TWEEN Fe­bru­ary and May 2008 I wrote 230 thank-you notes. They ac­knowl­edged gifts and ex­tra­or­di­nary kind­nesses re­ceived, but not for a happy oc­ca­sion. I wrote the notes af­ter we lost our baby boy, a still­birth at eight months of preg­nancy, af­ter five years of try­ing to con­ceive and as many failed at­tempts and lost preg­nan­cies. I had wad­dled into the hos­pi­tal emer­gency room the night of Thurs­day, Fe­bru­ary 7, 2008, in la­bor and giddy with ex­cite­ment. My hus­band, John, and I left the hos­pi­tal on Satur­day, Fe­bru­ary 9, with our son’s death cer­tifi­cate: Liam Mén­dez-Booth; Fri­day, Fe­bru­ary 8, 2008; 12:28 AM; 5 pounds, 10 ounces.

At the time, I had es­tab­lished a ca­reer as a mar­ket­ing, ad­ver­tis­ing, and cor­po­rate writer. I was the Copy Com­mando, the writer called in when the con­cepts were com­plex, the clients were dif­fi­cult, the dead­line was tight, and the writ­ing needed to be com­pelling and clear. I had com­mand of the lan­guage, a store of words that I knew how to se­lect, group, and craft into reader-friendly copy that ex­plained foren­sic ac­count­ing or the me­chan­ics of pre­ci­sion time­pieces or the im­pli­ca­tions of dig­i­tized med­i­cal data.

I left the hos­pi­tal with new words. Pla­cen­tal abrup­tion was the term for the de­tach­ment of my pla­centa that had de­nied blood and oxy­gen to my baby. Strep A bac­te­ria is the in­fec­tion that at­tacks vi­tal or­gans, is lethal to un­born ba­bies, and that I could have con­tracted any­where. Such pre­cise sci­en­tific words ex­plained what had hap­pened but not why. I had done all the right things through­out my preg­nancy, and even well be­fore it, yet my baby died. Why? Dur­ing those ini­tial months, I didn’t un­der­stand the why of any­thing. Why was there traf­fic on the street when we left the hos­pi­tal? Why were the bode­gas along Jer­sey City’s Kennedy Boule­vard open for busi­ness as usual the morn­ing John and I rode in the limo be­hind the hearse? Why were peo­ple walking with pur­pose, like they had some­place to go, like life mat­tered?

I strug­gled to name things af­ter I left the hos­pi­tal: the thing to put my ce­real in (bowl ) or for the long way out­side the bed­room (hall­way). I couldn’t com­pre­hend that green means go and red means stop at in­ter­sec­tions. I was a fail­ure: a woman un­able to keep my baby alive and a writer

NANCY MÉN­DEZ-BOOTH is a fic­tion writer. She teaches writ­ing and Latina/o lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture at col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in New York and New Jer­sey. Her work has ap­peared in print and on­line, in­clud­ing in the Jet Fuel Re­view, KGB Bar Lit­er­ary Magazi

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