Project Update #10, 26.02.20

As the deadline for Writing in the Community nears, I have decided to take the time to reflect on my project: how it has developed over time, the lessons it has taught me, and how the project will continue beyond Writing in the Community’s deadline.

First of all, I am thankful for this unit and the demands/aims/criteria of this assignment. If we had not been required to run a project, I would not have started asking for features from SSNAP and the staff at the NICU. I may not even have made contact with them at all – or, at the very least, about 9 months, my arse.

What the course of this unit and project has show me is huge: I have learned so much from liaising with SSNAP and trying to get the features for 9 months, my arse written.

Regarding the features from family, this didn’t go quite to plan. I was hoping to, at this point, have more than three features. And with those features, I feel that Gemma’s is the only one that will truly benefit the book. As I have alluded to in previous posts, my parents didn’t go as deep into their feelings as I had quite hoped – especially my father. I feel like their points haven’t been developed quite as much as they could.

For example, in my father’s original draft, he wrote: “I also have thoughts like ‘why us?’ and ‘what have we done to deserve this?’” However, he didn’t go on to build on this at all – he moved onto the subject of sadness, raising another point. Therefore, when editing his feature, I followed these questions with: “Questions that simply cannot be answered.”

As explained in the previous post, these features did not get the chance to be built on by my parents (as Gemma and I left the ‘system’) – therefore, when editing, I have had to do with them what I can. In this case, round the point for my dad by highlighting how these questions are frustrating and confusing because they have no answer(s) to them.

In comparison, Gemma’s feature was 1) a lot longer, but 2) more detailed.

I believe a huge part of this is that, unlike my parents, she is not afraid of showing her hurt and feelings to myself – as, after all, we share in this hurt and these feelings and we have guided one another throughout both. Likewise, she is more invested in the project as a whole. Being her partner, I am telling her story – as well as mine. This book’s purpose is not just that of my own, but that of Gemma’s too.

It is this reason I believe that Caz and SSNAP are fully behind the project too, willing to all write features and transform the initial plan for 1000 – 2000 words into something far bigger. After all, this book provides their charity with the chance to raise awareness and money for themselves and the unit. This project has the ability to change/benefit their charity for the good.

However, it is this same investment, this same sense of longevity, that has led to SSNAP taking longer with their features. Rather than write in time for the assignment deadline, they – as I have told them – realise that the book’s project and purpose go beyond the deadline. Therefore, Caz has appeared to prioritise getting more people onboard than getting words written.

And, honestly, I am glad for it.

Whether the lack of features/words hinders my grade for Writing in the Community, Caz’s desire to broaden the project has pushed me into writing 9 months, my arse quicker than I was initially writing it. Now, knowing that people are behind it and invested in it, I want to not just do myself justice, but to do right by them too.

Likewise, I am thankful for this project because it has opened my eyes to other books out there – either about premature birth, or about family dynamics and systems. This has transformed 9 months, my arse into something bigger than I first intended. Due to mine and Gemma’s own experiences as time has gone on, but also due to me learning of how common dysfunction and family troubles can be, 9 months, my arse would have been lacking if it didn’t touch on this subject, helping to answer the question: what do I do with my family in such a traumatic, life-changing experience?

Lastly, Writing in the Community’s encouragement for collaboration led to Gemma reading and then editing and adding content and/or notes for 9 months, my arse – a process which, during the early stages of our grief, family fallout, and the book’s creation, helped Gemma immensely in finding a sense of purpose and a way in which she could channel her thoughts and emotions. And where the book has helped Gemma, she has helped the book too. Naturally, there are parts of our story that I have forgotten or missed, and she has been able to bring these parts back in. She has, being from a medical background, been able to help keep the medical content more accurate.

Though starting this blog post at the end of February, I am finishing it now in early March, writing one final update as Caz (from SSNAP) has emailed all her colleagues and NICU staff interested in helping with the project. Though Writing in the Community is coming to an end, my project and 9 months, my arse will continue and develop as life changes and SSNAP and the NICU staff start writing their features.

Project Update #9, 24.02.20

Things are still slow between SSNAP and I. Thus, the project remains slow as a whole. However, regarding the features from family members, things have grown to a point where I couldn’t work with them further – as I will explain.

In both John and Linda Friel’s book and Philippa Perry’s, the idea of systems is alluded to. In Perry’s book, we’re told how “Children are individuals, but they are part of a whole system too.” Meanwhile, in John and Linda Friel’s book, we’re given a longer statement: “For true health to occur in the new system that hopefully emerges from a crisis such as this, every member must change if the system is to remain intact. Sometimes, when only one or two members of a system become healthier, their only alternative to maintain their own health is to leave the system.”

Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gemma and I have had to act in such a way, temporarily withdrawing from the system that my parents are in. Though this has hindered my plans to get my parents to delve deeper into their features, 9 months, my arse has benefited as a result.

It has led to me seeing more value in the section of the book that addresses the life after our tragedy – in a hope to help others through such dramatic, changing times in their lives too. For example, I have written a chapter called: I picture it like circles. In this chapter, I speak about the thought process Gemma and I had before we left the system and why we left it.

Referring to the statistic in John and Linda Friel’s book, wherein they state that 90-95% of family systems are unhealthy/dysfunctional, it is evident that such a chapter is needed. With such a high statistic, you can argue that there is a high chance that readers of 9 months, my arse will be in a position to question, or a position in which they are already questioning, these systems – if they have not left a system already.

Furthermore, my counsellor highlighted to me that, in such emotional events (like the birth and passing of a premature baby), any dysfunction simmering under the surface can come out. Thus, readers of any book could be a position to question the system they are in – but readers drawn to the content and subject of 9 months, my arse could be in an even stronger position to question them.That is, assuming people experiencing or people who have experienced something similar to myself will be attracted to a book that addresses said experience.  

The more I read and hear about family relations, the more it comes clear that, in a book that is designed to benefit those who have gone through traumatic events, family must be addressed.

Project Update #8, 19.02.20

As well as 9 months, my arse, I have made Caz aware of the song that I have written with the aim to release and promote the charity, pre-term labour, and mine and Gemma’s story: To You, Our Son. Where I had not heard from her or SSNAP since our discussion about who else could write features for 9 months, my arse, I thought it best to make contact again – keeping aware that, 1) there is only so much I can chase her and the charity due to the book being a long way away from being finished, 2) they are a charity and the work they a providing me is charitable itself, and 3) they are currently in the process of finding a new charity director and, due to it, are busier than usual.

I approached Caz with news on the song – and she loves it. I explained my plans for the charity promotion, and she said that she and the charity would love to help promote the song too. Reading her email, it has really made me start to realise how writing can have more purpose than to simply entertain, or to make you – the writer – income. Your writing can move people, and it can help people too.

Caz, for example, highlighted how ‘absolutely beautiful’ To You, Our Son is and how it blew her away: ‘I love the music and lyrics are incredibly moving.’

Regarding 9 months, my arse, I have started adding another section to the book wherein I reflect on each counselling session as I have them – having started last week (11.02.20) and just been to my second one (18.02.20). Considering that the book is supposed to be a healing process for myself, but to also as honest as it can be, I believe that this section is necessary – especially where, in the book, I will most likely suggest or promote the benefits of counselling in such a situation, knowing that (as it was for myself) it can be a daunting idea and an easy one to put-off or convince yourself you do not need.

Looking back at my previous updates, I have asked a lot of questions throughout the process of writing 9 months, my arse, working with SSNAP, and asking various family members to write features for the book. During this time where SSNAP are busy, thus the project has slowed, I will turn back to these questions and begin answering them.

Let’s begin with those asked about my parents’ features they have written and sent me:

  • Have my parents held back on their features to protect myself?
  • If I read of my parents hurt, would I be likely to succumb to the same feeling(s), with or without knowing it?
  • Are my parents [still] in a position where they think I will do what a kid does?
  • In other words, do they still see me as a child?

Looking back to the articles mentioned in Update #5, plus the two books, Adult Children; The Secrets of Dysfunctional Families by John Friel and Linda Friel and The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry, these questions can be answered somewhat.

Both books mentioned show the huge connection between parents and their actions and how their children are affected. In the former by John and Linda Friel, “At least 90-95% of us” are “adult children of dysfunctional families” – an astonishing number. Therefore, when in Perry’s book we’re told that “Children do not do what we say; they do what we do.” Evidently, if my parents show they hurt, then there is a sense that I will hurt too. If my parents show the full extent of their hurt, then I will feel the full extent of it too.

In my 7th update, I reflected on the parts of Breathe, Baby, Breathe! I had read, asking in the blog: ‘In the case of preterm labour then, can the man be there for the woman to the fullest extent if he does not know how to cope with the situation himself?’ This came after the observation that, from what I had read so far, Breathe, Baby, Breathe! offered little on the man’s perspective throughout premature labour.

When reading and researching on the subject of a writer’s readership, it comes clear very quickly that readers want to relate to your writing. Therefore, it is good to know who you are writing for, so that you can make your work relatable for your targeted readers. This is seen in Alastair Fowler’s How To Write, for example. He tells you – the writer – to ask yourself when writing and editing: will your reader understand what you are writing? (p.107-108). This is followed by questions of a similar nature – all with an emphasis on your reader’s capabilities of understanding and literary ability.

With this in mind, when Annie Janvier chooses to write her book for mothers going through what she went through, her writing naturally caters for her chosen readership. Therefore, it is still readable for a man – a father of a premature baby – but there is less relatability there. When Janvier is under bed rest alone, what is her husband doing? What is he feeling? As a man reading these parts of Janvier’s story, I cannot help but wonder what her husband is thinking and feeling – after all, if I were to find myself in this situation, it would be his shoes I would be walking in.

Though Breathe, Baby, Breathe! gives the man an insight into what the woman maybe going through or feeling, which in turn, will help the man when in a similar situation, he has nothing to compare his own thoughts and experiences too. Janvier often warns women reading about various things that may happen or be thought, and she tells women it is OK to think particular thoughts they would feel guilty or shocked thinking. However, she does not say: “And for the men reading, Keith was thinking or doing this.”

Therefore, a man who reads a book written for the women in situations similar to that of mine and Gemma’s, he will still go into similar situations with questions about his own well-being, experiences, and conscience. This is why I want 9 months, my arse to offer an aid for these men – but also allow the women reading to have the same insight the likes of Janvier offer to men on women.

Meanwhile, Thomas Larson focuses on memoir in his book, The Memoir and the Memoirist: Reading and Writing Personal Narrative. In it, he says that a reader of memoir needs to trust in the narrator (p.123). Therefore, can the likes of Janvier be trusted if she offers parts written from her husband’s POV? After all, she is not her husband. I suppose she could tell her readers that she has written these parts with the assistance of her husband, or that she is simply relaying what he has told her. But will the reader always wonder – whether they are aware of it or not – if Janvier is wielding the pen, then will she still be implementing her own POV into it? It could come down to the little features of writing, such as word choices. Her husband could describe their baby with one word, and she chooses another – for example.

Reflecting on this, Larson’s claim that readers want and need to trust the narrator in memoir is part of the reason why I have wanted and will keep wanting to have other people write features, rather than me write them instead. I want these features to be written with their words. Their thoughts. Their experiences. I will simply edit these features minimally, ensuring that they are grammatically correct and structured. Any further edits I would either avoid or communicate with the writer first, allowing them to have the final decision.

Project Update #7, 13.02.20

I have not heard back from Caz since our last correspondence regarding the nursing team and other members of staff. Since then, I have been working on the book myself alongside Gemma writing her own feature and adding to my book too – editing parts and adding details I have missed.

During this time too, I have received my copy of the book, Breath, Baby, Breath!, recommended to me by Dominic – one of the consultants who had dealt with Gem and I during our time in Oxford. So far, the book has provided statistics on the subjects of preterm labour and premature of birth, but more-so, it has given insight and/or provided the point of view of a neonatal doctor going through the experience of a neonatal patient – Janvier is a doctor-turned-patient.

However, being from the female’s POV, it highlights how 9 months, my arse needs to create the chance for readers to learn more of the male’s experience. She often refers to her husband, Keith, but with the narrative so far (given, I am on part 1 of 6) being driven by her own diary entries written at the time of the story/experience, we do not learn much of Keith’s state of mind. All we know is that he is helping with their other children, running errands. Therefore, for a man reading the book, all you can relate to is how your partner may be feeling. However, as most how-to-live-a-happy-life books say (‘The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, for example), you need to work on yourself first, so that you can work on others. In the case of preterm labour then, can the man be there for the woman to the fullest extent if he does not know how to cope with the situation himself?

It is this question that has me inspired when writing 9 months, my arse. I want people to read the book, to read the features written, not just by myself, but by others too, and hear of a variety of POVs, opinions, thoughts – ones that will 1) help the men during such times, but 2) make people aware of all the different people involved and how they too are dealing with an incredibly complex situation, both mentally and physically.

Where Breathe, Baby, Breathe! is written by a doctor, it includes more academic style features wherein the reader learns about the scientific and medical side of preterm labour too. Though this is great and insightful, and with the likes of Dominic interested in writing for 9 months, my arse, I’m hoping that my book will teach people a little about the science and medicine, however I want it more to focus on the side that Janvier even admits to not being prepared or knowledgeable about: the emotional side – the parenting side of preterm labour. The questions. How do we cope with life after, if the baby survives or if it does not? How do we cope with life inside the NICU? What if our baby is disabled? Will we be OK mentally? Physically? Though there are plenty of resources out there, and plenty given to you while you are experiencing the premature birth of your child and the build-up to it, there is not enough on how your life will be affected by it. There is not enough on how to handle life after: how to handle the bad, but also where to find the good.

Project Update #6, 30.01.20

After more back-and-forth with Caz from SSNAP, she has suggested the idea of asking some of the nursing staff and chaplain team to contribute – to which she has offered to speak to the matron. Without hesitation, I have said yes to the offer. As the collaboration with SSNAP is progressing, I can envisage 9 months, my arse featuring an entire section dedicated to the charity and the unit, raising awareness but also giving a huge insight into their world and every-day battles.

Building on this concept/idea, I have gone back to Caz wondering whether she thinks there are any other members of staff or departments that could offer an interesting insight, i.e. cleaners, receptionists, caterers. Being a writer and creative thinker, I am aware that it is not always the stereotypical ‘protagonists’ with the most interesting and/or useful insight and stories – sometimes it is the fly-on-the-wall or the side-characters.

Gaining the insight of all these different people involved in SSNAP and the NICU unit will offer more options if I choose to “frame” their section of the book with a storyteller or storytellers – an idea taken from Jane Roger’s chapter, Introduction to the Novel, from The Handbook of Creative Writing. She suggests that you write a day in the life of your protagonist and then write it again from a different POV: the storyteller, for example – someone watching the protagonist. With this in mind, I could choose what I want the main focus to be of this section of the book – whether it be SSNAP, the unit, or both – and then use this storyteller technique to write about it, using one of the feature writers as the storyteller and the information and stories taken from the features to create the story.