Why and How I Write What I do
Since my early teens, I’ve been on a quest to find the missing pieces to help me make sense of the world and of myself as a woman and a person.
One of my first quests was to understand why my parents truly despised one another. Both were intelligent and modern thinkers – my mother a High School English teacher and aspiring writer, and my father an electrical engineer and successful inventor. But she expressed herself through dramatic emotions and aspired to ideals of justice and to living passionately, whereas he loved facts, loved the classics, playing chess, and having structure and discipline in life.
My father would counter her impractical but high ideals with statements such as “a fact is a fact” and “life is not fair.” But without going too deeply into who my parents were, I just want to share that for me, they came to epitomize the tragic inability of otherwise successful and intelligent persons to get along and respect one another–a trend that we see dominating US culture today.
My mother was a second-wave feminist. One of the things she ingrained in me early on was the idea that you should not and could not be proud of your reproductive accomplishments (pregnancy and children) because reproduction was “mere biology,” simply an automatic behavior of the body, and not an actual creative or intellectual achievement.
As her daughter, I looked for the missing pieces: that is, for the reason that she was so deeply unhappy and unable to feel a connection to other people, including her children.
One thing both parents agreed on was to raise my brother and me without religion. They were atheists—he was from a Jewish background, and she, a Catholic family. They decided, in their words, to “give us a fresh start.” This left both of us feeling rootless and disoriented for many years, but it also gave us space to explore different approaches to what it means to be human, without religious indoctrination. For me, this exploration included a few years of Christian fundamentalism (where I learned my Bible stories and was steeped in Christian metaphysics and morality), followed by a time of atheism, and then forays into yoga and meditation. My experiments also included feeling the effects of diet and breathwork on my mood, health, mental focus, and productivity.
It was clear to me in my early twenties that it would be a mistake to separate the body and mind: they influence one another profoundly and on every level. What followed from that was the recognition that my mother was wrong: children are not the product of “mere biology,” but are a product of who we are: mind, body, heart, soul, diet, toxic exposures, and both our joyous and traumatic experience. Years later, I would understand that past generations’ diets, toxic exposures, and life experiences play a role in our own and in our children’s health and well-being. In fact, preparing for and having children is a profound act of generational love, responsibility, and creativity, on every level.
I would say about my writing that, well, first of all, I never intended to become a writer of heavy-duty, non-fiction, health-related books. (My degree is in music.) Although I always journaled and dabbled in poetry and fiction, writing was a hobby. That changed when I became a mother and experienced firsthand the sheer number of postpartum health struggles that go unanswered and unsupported by our medical experts. I realized, as you only can when you become a mother, what women are up against, and I began to look for the missing pieces.
My book, Mother Food, was the first result of this quest. I discovered that my body’s under-production of breastmilk responded strongly to foods and herbs that breastfeeding women around the world use with the intention of increasing their milk production. Yet, for western medicine, the idea that diet could matter for lactation has been decried as misleading and “mere superstition.” Biological functions, after all, are supposed to be robust, automatic, and reliable.
Consider this: It is not that long ago that babies were believed to feel no pain, and that mothering was blamed when a child was autistic. In fact, our medical history is packed full of wrong beliefs about babies, women, and the roles of mothers.
While researching for Mother Food, I discovered numerous research articles that investigated the ways that a mother’s diet influences pregnancy, milk production, her baby’s allergies and also infant colic—and much more. I recognized that this information is present in published books and research articles, but absent from the mothering books and magazines.
It became my goal to collect this information into one place, one book, and to describe it in easy-to-read, compassionate and supportive language (I’ve had “mommy brain” and know it is real). In Working at this project over fifteen years, I learned just how difficult it can be to write good non-fiction! Fortunately, I did a good enough job that now, nearly twenty years after its initial publication, Mother Food is still recommended by lactation specialists and valued by mothers.
After its publication, I was done with non-fiction and allowed myself to indulge in “hobby writing” starting with a re-writing of fairytales that feature daughters and mothers. I wanted to re-tell these tales in a way that allows the daughters and mothers in the stories to heal their relationships, while also reminding the reader about the suppression of women’s healing knowledge across centuries of European history. I worked on this compilation, titled Red Madder Root, off and on for seven years. Then I put it aside, feeling that the time was not right to publish it.
As life would have it, one of my dearest prayers was answered in 2013. On a whim, I’d taken a 200-plus hour certification class in hypnotherapy. (I thought it would be an interesting way to spend the summer.) Toward the end of the program I realized I had acquired a set of skills that would help me help mothers who suffered from birth trauma and breastfeeding grief.
I opened a hypnotherapy practice and soon, set to writing again. My second non-fiction book. “Healing Breastfeeding Grief,” was published in 2016.
The recurring theme of my life seems to be finding the missing pieces, organizing them in ways that are easy-to-understand, and then passing the information to those I hope will find them useful. I also seem to find themes that are neglected and bring them into the public’s attention.
For instance, in the 1990’s, no one talked about how food and herbs can help mothers produce a good milk supply. In the 2010’s, no one talked about the special traumas of new mothers. This second book, too, was welcomed by postpartum specialists and today is translated and used internationally to help mothers recover from their traumas.
I thought I was finally done with non-fiction! (Can you tell that I really don’t like writing non-fiction? It is truly so so hard to write well!)
But in 2020, isolated in my home during the lockdowns, I felt moved to write another non-fiction book, again for mothers. This time it was about gardening: how to grow foods and herbs that support milk supply but that also can be used in the treatment of common family health matters.
With this book, I want to educate mothers about the useful medicinal and edible plants that grow in our neighborhoods and gardens, including weeds such as dandelion, sow-thistle and purslane. I packed my book A Mother’s Garden of Galactagogues full of practical know-how. It was published in early 2021.
Climate change has been on my mind, so the book includes many “famine foods,” “drought-tolerant foods” and plants that can be grown year-round on balconies and porches. With these “home grown galactagogues,” mothers can be empowered to nurse during difficult times.
Indeed, in summer 2021, the impacts of climate change could be felt. Our farmers had no water for their fields. Fires burned in surrounding forests. On one dreary day in August, (the sky was thick with smoke and ash), I remembered a little book that I’d written long ago about mothers and daughters and the suppression of women’s medicine. Taking the abandoned book out from storage, I went to a nearby creek where, sitting on the bank close to the water, the air was clear enough to breathe. Turning the pages and becoming absorbed in the stories, I was overcome by emotion and started to cry. I heard my own clear voice from my past, reminding me how and why we commit to live our best lives, even in the darkest of times.
I wondered if perhaps the time to publish the book had arrived. I shared it with a few friends and, getting their positive responses, felt it was true: many wonderful people may feel informed, uplifted and supported by these stories. Perhaps though, especially, this book is for the same people who read my non-fiction books: women who believe in and support the wellbeing of families, who work in the healing arts, and who walk an authentic spiritual path, whether within or outside of any religious teaching.
The tragedies continue. In 2022, war began in Europe, exasperating food shortages. Mothers struggle to obtain formula. New strains of viruses are in the news. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), tells us that the planet will soon undergo dramatic changes.
I think about young families and children every day. I think about the struggles of people to overcome suppression. I realize that even in the hardest of times, and even if should it be the end of the world, children are born each day. Babies must be fed. Mothers need the revivified knowledge of ancient traditions, and to know which of our weeds, flowers, trees, cacti, vegetables and fruit that grow all around will support their milk supply.
My hope is this: that in response to so much hardship, a culture of the heart will emerge. I hope that my writerly contributions, even my little story-book, Red Madder Root, will be part of and contribute to this new phase of human culture.