Pregnancy, Miscarriage & Poetry: writing through the changes – an interview with Amanda Mahan Russell

Continuing our effort to spotlight parents who are also pursing creative endeavors, this week we’re talking to Amanda Russell, a poet whose debut chapbook, BARREN YEARS, is coming out in June. Amandais a native East Texan who has been writing poetry for over 15 years. Currently, she lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and two children.

Photo by AprilMay Photography

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your first chapbook BARREN YEARS from Finishing Line Press. How long did you work on this collection of poetry? 

The earliest poem in this collection is “Sonogram (16 weeks).” It was written in 2010. I started to envision this bundle of poems in 2012 when I wrote the poem “Barren Years.” I have been working on this collection since then, so for six years. 

How are you feeling about seeing it finally in print?

Ecstatic! To be a writer has been my dream as long as I can remember.

What inspired this collection? 

This collection started coming together when I worked in a writing lab as a tutor. I had just graduated, gotten married, worked at Barnes & Noble. I had been struggling to find my path and then my spiritual father challenged me to make it a practice, to write every day. That was the start of what I began calling my “writing experiment.” On the way home from work I would stop at the grocery store – it had a really cool back patio – and I liked the feel of it, so I would stop there and keep my pen moving for 20 minutes. Several things came from that practice, including many of the poems in the book. Sometimes I’d just be writing “I have nothing to say, nothing to say, nothing to say,” and I wasn’t writing with any specific goal other than to write. But sometimes I’d have a topic. I continued it for three years, and then I’ve been off and on with it since my first child was born. And whenever I start writing again after a dry spell, that’s the method I go back to. 

BARREN YEARS covers a span of about five years of my life. The writing started out as just my own personal processing of these events. The most obvious event covered in Barren Years is miscarriage. I was 22, newly married, and pregnant with twins when it happened.  I was completely devastated. I had never felt such a deep sense of grief, guilt, and loss. It caught me by surprise and I had no idea what do with it. I kept thinking I should be able to snap out of it. But I couldn’t.

According to the Mayo Clinic, miscarriage effects up to 20 percent of known pregnancies. That percentage goes up as women age. Common convention that I heard regularly after my miscarriage was that it impacts 1 in 4 women. Had you heard these statistics before your personal experience? What do you think of this information now?

I had no idea about the statistics. I felt so alone, and didn’t even have the words to talk to anyone about what had happened to me. I didn’t know if other people had experienced this same thing, this same guilt. In fact, I came across the same data in a middle of the night internet search after the miscarriage. The first time I read it, I remember being shocked. And since then, I have been friends with many women who have also experienced miscarriage. Now I just wonder, why it is that the topic is not discussed more openly? Why do we isolate ourselves and suffer alone?

How did you feel as you were going through the miscarriage and the time after? What sort of support were you able to draw on to help you through this tough time?

As I was going through the miscarriage, I was drawing immediate support from my husband, as well as other members of my family – especially my mom and mother-in-law. But it was hard because I found myself unable to talk about it. I started sleeping with a Care Bear every night. I often carried it around the house when my husband was at work. I cried a lot. It took me quite some time to realize I was grieving and therefore needed to be patient with myself. I wanted to snap out of it, but couldn’t. I realized I needed something to take care of, so my dear friend, Linda, taught me gardening. Taking care of my plants, together with writing and many long talks with some of my spiritual guides helped me through. It took me a good five years to begin feeling like myself again. 

Many women struggle with feelings of guilt on top of their grief, feeling they must have done something ‘wrong,’ when, in fact, most miscarriages are the result of a chromosomal abnormality that occurs early in the pregnancy and is in no way preventable. The fact that it’s often a taboo topic means, however, that women struggle with these difficult emotions in isolation. What was your experience like? Was guilt a part of it?

The hardest thing for me was the lack of explanation and the helplessness of not being able to reverse it. I also felt a sort of distrust in my own body – how could this have happened without my consent? This was not my intention. 

The guilt was … huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief.

Amanda Mahan Russell

During the pregnancy I had a very hard time adjusting to all the changes that occur in the body – low energy levels, suddenly not liking things I’d loved – like apples – the changing shape of my body. I felt judged by people who had advised me to get on birth control before getting married when I desired a more natural approach to life. So, yes – the guilt. Was I not happy enough about being pregnant? Maybe I should’ve taken birth control? Maybe I would not have been a good mother? If only I had done…. 

The guilt was definitely there, and it was huge. And for me, at least, it lingered on until over the years I pieced together my innocence and worked through my grief. 

That is such a powerful phrase “pieced together my innocence.” Can you elaborate on that and tell us how you did it?

I had so much guilt. I had so many questions. Did I do something wrong? And no one had any answers. But over the years, the pieces of information came together really slowly, and finally I was able to see the picture in retrospect and I was able to come to internalize that my intentions were always good and the miscarriage wasn’t my fault. There was not anything inherently bad inside of me. But I had to do a lot of self-work to get to know myself better. I had to do a lot of work to know that the miscarriage was not my fault. 

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Books, Wine, and an Interview with Christina Wise


ID 2206930 © Alexandr Shebanov| Dreamstime.com

We’re excited to share this interview with Christina Tucker Wise! Julie met Christina through Pitch Wars in 2017 when they were both mentees. Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors are matched with writers to help prepare the writers for an agent showcase. Christina’s novel, EYE OF GODS, is coming out later this year! Christina is also a documentary writer, producer, and a mom of two. You can read her full bio here.

In our effort to spotlight people who are parenting and pursuing creative endeavors, we thought you’d enjoy reading some background on Christina’s projects and how she manages her time. She also shares a bit about a new card game, Blinders, that she and her husband created for anyone who loves wine. Win! They will also start their own streaming service this summer which will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. They’ll be starting their own streaming service this summer and will feature both educational and entertaining videos on food and wine. Thanks for taking time for an interview, Christina!

Christina Wise

You have a broad range of experiences in creative fields. What’s your background and how did it lead to your creative projects?

I went to school for Broadcast Journalism with the intention to be a reporter but found a passion for crafting the stories behind the camera. I started out my career in live sports, then moved over to celebrity news and covering red carpets for TV Guide Network. There I got to try many formats of television from hour-long specials, to quick news hits, to live TV. I realized I liked longer forms and really getting into the background of a subject. That’s also where I gained the confidence to write. I had a wonderful mentor who now writes for Ryan Seacrest. While that was my day job, in the evenings my husband and I made “Somm”, a documentary that follows four guys trying to become Master Sommeliers of wine.

The same year our documentary came out, 2013, another company bought TV Guide and they let me go. At the time we had a 10-month-old baby. So I decided if I was going to work and be away from her, I wanted to do things I really loved, which was documentaries and writing.

You and your husband, Jason, have written and produced documentaries together including Wait for Your Laugh, SOMM, and SOMM 3 What does your creative collaboration look like?

First, Jason and I both work together to come up with our initial concept for any film. Then he goes out and films with our subjects and half of what we envisioned changes completely. We have two girls and really want to keep some stability at home so he’s on set 100% of the time and I only make it when it’s a really important shoot or it’s daytime hours in Los Angeles where we live. Then I take whatever happened on set and write a script, then we both hash through the material in the edit bay until we get a cut we like.

Wait for Your Laugh, a documentary of the life and entertainment career of Rose Marie, received numerous positive reviews and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Do you have a favorite memory of working with Rose Marie?

This project was one of my favorite stories to tell. I’m a sucker for a good love story and her and her husband Bobby had a really sweet one that ended too soon. So I gravitated toward that aspect while my husband liked all of her mob connections. During the three-year process, we became very close with her and often would go visit just to see her, not for any work reason. She gave great life advice and told us not to stress about the little things we often do stress about. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, we went over and told her and said the baby’s due in September. She shook her head and said, “Nope, that baby will come in August. She’ll be an August baby like me.” Sure enough, she came almost a month early in August. We named her Madeline Marie in honor or Rose Marie.  

Movie Poster for Wait for Your Laugh

Rose Marie was able to share a lot of memorabilia with you. How did that help with your writing? Did anything surprise you?

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