Jackie Leonard is a mother, wife, teacher, and writer. She is also the founder and editor of Motherscope magazine, a California based literary magazine written by and for mothers. Each issue of Motherscope has a theme, and the first issue, quite fittingly, is dedicated to birth stories (read some here).
I met Jackie virtually when an essay of mine was accepted for Motherscope’s second issue on the topic of choice in motherhood. I have contributed pieces to many anthologies and magazines throughout the years, but I have never devoured one as quickly and thoroughly as I did my issue of Motherscope when it arrived, wrapped in a beautiful bundle.
Speaking of bundles…Jackie, a coffee and tea lover, is limiting herself to one cup of coffee per day during pregnancy. Sometimes she even skips days, but not today!
Fill your mug with your favorite beverage and join Jackie and me as we sip our drinks and chat about the importance of sharing stories, why she is a great mom, and her relationship with motherhood and writing.
Me: In the Dec. 2019 Issue of Motherscope, you mention that the magazine began because of a Facebook message. Could you talk a little about that?
Jackie: Sure! Early in my first pregnancy, I felt an impulse to return to writing, to find a deeper purpose beyond the routine of my life — I was working as a paralegal again, after realizing that teaching high school wasn’t my path, and had recently attended the 2017 Women’s March in Los Angeles. I wanted more, but wasn’t sure what. My pregnancy amped that urgency because I was so fearful that motherhood would change me in ways I didn’t like, that I’d lose even more of myself for the sake of my child.
When I learned that a couple women I knew were also early into their first pregnancies, I decided to reach out to them via Facebook messages. At the time, they were acquaintances, women I’d known from previous circles, but had lost touch with. I attribute this decision, and the relationships that blossomed between myself and these women individually, with the eventual formation of Motherscope.
Throughout our pregnancies, and into motherhood, I’ve corresponded with and gotten very close to both these women. We have a bond that didn’t exist before because we connected so deeply by sharing our own experiences with one another. There were things we related to and were experiencing alongside one another, but there were also differences that we each benefited from learning about and supporting each other. This experience helped me hold onto myself through motherhood, and continue to nurture my own needs. My motherhood experience felt so different than what I expected, and what I’d seen on television, in movies, read about, witnessed. Having other women to share with showed me that motherhood looks so different from person to person, and there are so many stories and voices that go unheard.
I know not every woman has those opportunities for personal connections with other mothers, or may struggle to find their community. The magazine became a way to help women find themselves and share their stories of motherhood with others, to give women the opportunity to read and listen to stories they may relate to, or learn from those they don’t.
Me: Describe how you felt when Motherscope’s first issue was published.
Jackie: I definitely felt the overwhelming wave of pride when I finally allowed myself to sit down and take in the variety of stories I’d gathered from all across the world. I remember having this moment where I asked myself how I even managed to get these. It had taken me nearly a year of asking people I knew, sending out calls for submissions, reaching out to listservs to share the opportunity with the mailing lists, and for a long time, there was silence, and very little traction.
Once I started putting the issue together, it took me a long time still to feel like it was finished. I was so worried about having a major typo that I missed that I wouldn’t find until after ordering the large print run. I ended up ordering two separate proofs and continued to find things to tweak and correct. I finally had to make the call that it was done and order a 50 book run, only to receive poorly printed covers!
Eventually, everything got squared away and corrected. We had a wonderful launch party for the first issue, and I got to celebrate then. By that time, it had been over a year of searching, editing, production and waiting. To have that final product at the end of all that was very fulfilling — but I was also ready to move onto the next issue by that point too! The cycle continued, but I noticed the second time around, things went much more smoothly, and I felt even more satisfaction and accomplishment. I think in the back of my head, I was worried I’d only really be able to create one issue. The second one affirmed what I’d created was resonating and growing.
Me: Did you always want to be a mother?
Jackie: As a child, I think I always assumed I’d be a mother one day. It was the sort of thing I didn’t really question, and as a teen, I thought I’d have kids by my early twenties. In early adulthood, my perspective and world expanded, and I think that led to years of not really seeing myself becoming a mother to eventually not thinking I wanted to be one. As I shared earlier, I held onto this fear and belief that becoming a mother meant losing a part of myself. I didn’t think motherhood was worth sacrificing my ambitions and dreams. I didn’t want to resent my child for holding me back. And, I also didn’t know that I’d meet someone that I wanted and trusted enough to have children with.
Early into dating my husband, I scared myself a bit realizing that I could see myself having children with him, something I’d never felt before. For a while still, neither of us were sure we truly wanted children. To be honest, there was a lot of uncertainty still even after we eventually decided that we wanted to start a family. But we took the chance and it has completely transformed everything for us in such beautiful ways.
Motherhood has enhanced my life, it’s been so healing, filled my days with depth, joy, love. It is such a gift to be my son’s mother. Being a mom lit me on fire and has challenged me greater than anything else I’ve ever experienced. It’s made me fight harder and work harder for myself, for my child, for my family. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world along the way.
Me: How do you balance writing and motherhood?
Jackie: I’m not sure there’s a balance between writing and motherhood. I will say that motherhood reconnected me with writing, which really feels like reconnecting with myself. I find that being a mother, spending so much of my mental and physical energy caring for a little human, makes me yearn for the outlet to write so much more. I know writing makes me feel better, it helps me connect with myself when I feel like all I’ve done all day is feed, clean, and talk to a toddler. It allows me to feel creative, embrace inspiration, and document the fleeting moments I get to witness through the eyes of my child and from my vantage point. I can’t call it balanced because it isn’t consistent, and I don’t have a regime that has stuck for too long, especially when I am also teaching, leading and editing through most of my “free” time. But I can say that I’m writing much more since becoming a mom than I ever had in the previous ten years.
One thing that has helped make it more accessible for me is setting reasonable expectations and making it a priority. If I’m having a tough day, I’ll make a point to sit down and write as soon as my son goes down for a nap or bed, even if I have other things I need or want to do. I’ll set a timer for five minutes. I tell the women in my workshop all the time, we all have five minutes a day that we can commit to some writing time if we want it. Usually, I end up writing for much longer, but the freedom in being able to be okay with, and feel accomplished by, just those five minutes of writing makes a big difference.
Me: What are some essential workspace items that you must have in order to write?
Jackie: Honestly, the only “essential” item for me is a tool to record my thoughts. I think the Notes app on your phone is such an asset especially for moms. In fact, one of the stories featured in Motherscope’s second issue was written by a mom entirely from her Notes app during a late night breastfeeding session. That’s really all you need. If you get inspired and you can’t write, I go so far as to say, record it with a voice memo. You can always transcribe later, but it is not likely guaranteed that you’ll remember what you wanted to say if you wait for a paper and pencil.
That said, I definitely have a “writer’s toolkit” and routine that I like to utilize whenever I have the capacity to do so. I think setting the scene, making sure I’m relaxed and have taken care of certain things beforehand, are essential to a really fulfilling writing session. That can mean taking a bath, drinking some tea, going to a place in my home that I feel most comfortable, writing in a special journal, bringing in essential oils (a spray or diffuser). I really like to make it this therapeutic, ritual experience, especially if I’m trying to process something that’s upsetting or confusing, or document a moment. It makes writing feel like a treat, this real act of self care when I can make the time for it in this way.
Me: What makes you feel like you are doing a great job as a mom?
Jackie: When I feel like both his needs and my needs are being met. It doesn’t imply that there is balance on any given day, or even week, but that there is this ebb and flow that allows me to spend more time on myself and know he will be okay, and sometimes giving him more because he needs it and knowing that I can take care of what I want to do at a later time. I haven’t figured out the formula for this, but I know what it feels like when I’m there.
This feels a little weird to say, but honestly, I feel like I’m doing a great job as a mom all the time. I think that is because I know that alongside parenting and caring for my son, being his mom, I’m also actively working on myself, making sure that I am the best version of myself that I can be. Because of this, I feel confident saying that on any given day, I’m doing the best I can, and I can tell my son is happy and cared for.
Me: Why is it important for women to share their birth stories? Stories about motherhood in general?
Jackie: A woman’s birth experience holds so much power. Think about what birth means to the woman who cannot have children, who has miscarried, who adopted, who was a surrogate, who had an abortion, who has experienced trauma… there are so many layers and versions of what a birth story can be and look like.
For the most part, all we see about birth is a woman’s water breaking and rushing to the hospital, the sweating and pushing and cursing, and then a baby arrives. Other times, there’s a major emergency that involves rushing to surgery. Sure, some birth looks this way, but it is so overwhelmingly represented this way its no wonder there’s so much fear associated with it.
I think birth is such a small moment in our motherhood experience, but it is also such a defining moment. It wasn’t that long ago that women were medically “knocked out” in hospitals, alone, and woke up to a new baby. Birth stories weren’t really a thing a couple generations ago in America, during the silent generation.
I’ve talked to lots of women who say they never really thought much about their birth experiences, or just have a few bullet points to say about it. I think that’s because we’ve never really celebrated the women in the birth experience. It’s all about the baby, and since the baby doesn’t really make an appearance until the end, everything that leads up to it, and even after, sort of doesn’t matter. But for any woman who has given birth, or witnessed a birth, or wanted that experience for herself, I think we can all attest to everything that led up to that moment, regardless of whether it was a vaginal birth, c-section, hospital or home birth.
There’s research that suggests sharing birth stories with other women reduces fear about giving birth, less fear leads to better birth outcomes for mom and baby. Postpartum depression and anxiety disorders are correlated to difficult, traumatic birth experiences for mothers. There are physical, emotional, and mental benefits to sharing birth stories. I think this is why it is so so so important to create space and opportunities for women to write out and document their birth experiences, if only for themselves. And, if they feel open to it, to share them with others.
I think a lot of the above applies to stories of motherhood in general as well. I’ve already said how varied motherhood is. It’s such an intersectional experience that isn’t documented enough. My mission with Motherscope is to continue to find ways to shine a light on the stories we don’t often hear. For women who naturally are drawn to writing (like me), I don’t worry about my story getting lost. But, I think of the women (like so many I know personally), who would never think to write or share their stories, no matter how fascinating, inspiring, brave they are. To share your stories of motherhood is to preserve yourself, to leave your imprint on this world, if for no one else but for your children, and those who will wish they asked and listened more when you are no longer here.
Purchase an issue of Motherscope here.
I Love You More Than Coffee is now available!