Book Salad

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boxofbooksSo I published a book last week. It’s called Brain Changer: A Mother’s Guide to Cognitive ScienceI formatted the text and created a cover out of a free-use photograph and an open source knock-off of Photoshop. I collected blurbs and wrote about myself in the third person: “Janine Kovac is the recipient of the Glushko Prize for distinguished research in cognitive science and an Elizabeth George Foundation Fellowship from Hedgebrook.” I updated my Amazon author profile and my Goodreads profile. I put a picture of the cover on Facebook.

I always imagined publishing a book like birthing a kid. You know—there’s the anticipation, the list of names, the birth announcements. And to fit with the analogy, perhaps self-publishing was like a home birth where I called all the shots.

But this was more like rummaging through the fridge looking for salad items to throw together for a potluck. Since my goal was to build a backlist with a little ebook, I wasn’t looking to write a magnum opus; I was looking for 10,000 words that more or less fit together.

I came across a collection of blog posts I’d written for a website called Raising Happiness. The posts paired a tip for raising kids with its practical application as Matt and I navigated a risky twin pregnancy that resulted in micro preemie twins born three months before they were due—but viewed through the lens of cognitive science.

Originally, the NICU/cognitive science motif had been the premise of a memoir, but as I learned how to build scenes, transitions, and tension, the narrative arc of the micro preemie story leaned away from cognitive science and toward—of all things—the unexpected end of my ballet career. That book is still looking to make its way into the world.

But here were ten posts, already written, that could be thrown together and sold for $4.99 as an ebook. Perfect ingredients for my self-publishing “salad.” Unfortunately, the pieces were obviously written for online. There were references to other websites and as a serial, each post had one or two lines to catch the audience up to speed. The essays had to be cleaned up if I wanted to put them together as a book.

I didn’t worry about the narrative arc or the hero’s journey and I didn’t follow the self-help template. I just focused on how to make the pieces sound like a coherent whole.

It wasn’t until after I submitted my files for printing and ordered 25 copies of my book that I realized what I’d done. I’d written the book I’d intended to write seven years ago—a memoir of our time in the NICU and how cognitive science helped us through a very challenging time.

And it happens to make a perfect stocking stuffer. You can get the ebook through iTunes or Amazon and you can get a hard copy of the book here.

G is for Gut Feelings

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GWhen my micro-preemie twins were in the NICU, I spent that time by cracking jokes.

“Why should I be worried about the blood transfusions?” I recall telling our primary nurse. “It’s not like I’m the one giving them. That would be something to worry about!”

In the two years that followed—which included two flu seasons’ worth of Synagis shots, monthly visits with infant development specialists and quarterly visits to the pediatric dentist—I kept up my mask. It wasn’t that bad, I told myself. Especially now that everything was fine.

When we were in the NICU, I was so afraid that if I let a wisp of fear, anxiety, worry or helplessness float to the surface, that I would crack and then I wouldn’t have the strength to take care of my little babies. And then when we were out of the NICU, I figured that since my boys had escaped infant death and disability, that I had escaped, too. I didn’t need to go back and feel all those scary emotions. Even in my writing, I muted my feelings.

I was scared that if I admitted to myself what the boys really looked like in those early days it might mean that I didn’t love them unconditionally. And I worried that if I admitted to myself that they might die, it also meant that I wasn’t optimistic.

And Now For Something Cheery

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I’m lying. This isn’t cheery at all. It’s a thought I had (I’ve been having a lot of them lately) about babies and mothers. Particularly this time of year when every day provokes me to reach back four years ago. What was happening four years ago this day? Four years ago this day (January 8th) we got a call from  Wagner’s doctor. He was eight days old. His weight hovered around the one-pound mark. He’d had a pulmonary hemorrhage. He had blood in his lungs.

There’s a tribe of Native Americans whose custom was for the mother to carry her stillborn baby until his soul was safely transferred to the other side. The vital organs were removed and replaced with sawdust and she’d carry the tiny corpse in a sling that she wore with her everywhere. I know why this is so.

We always talk about the soul as if it is something that resides on the inside of a person’s skin. But really one’s soul is the radiance that is emitted, like rays of sun. And so a mother carries a child for nine months and his rays roll together with his mother’s, like fog and sea air. When he is born, he takes some of her radiance with him. And if he dies before he grows into his spirit, his mother needs to hold the body until she can reabsorb his soul back into her skin.

There are parts of the corporal body that are not matter.

This is what pulls her shoulders to the ground, why she slouches. Why there is no color in her face, her jaw is weighted and drags the corners of her mouth down. They buried part of her soul when they put that little body in the coffin. They trapped it in that little pine box. On Sundays she goes to visit that bucolic place, the green hills and the large oak tree. Wisps of hemlock green waft into the air, like smoke escaping from a smoldering church. They find their way back into her body—through her ears, her nostrils, the pores on cheeks, the hair on her arms. She drinks in this lost life—not his, but hers.

This grieving process would have healed much more quickly had they just let her carry a corpse with a ribcage full of straw.

The funny thing about memory is that it gets folded. I didn’t hear about this anecdote until a few years ago. And yet, the story is fused with the memory of standing over Wagner that night on January 8th, 2010. Back when reaching for hope was like trying to find the light switch in a dark room. Because there’s a physical aching after your children are born. Like an amputee. If I could have just held Wagner. Close to my heart. Or better yet, inside my skin. It could have healed us both.