Birth is a fundamental part of everyone’s human experience, so it’s no wonder that many people have vastly different experiences giving birth.
For Juneau author Emily Wall, bringing those stories to life, the good and the bad, was an art that was going under the radar — and she wanted to change that.
In her latest book of poetry, “Breaking Into Air: Birth Poems,” Wall compiles more than a dozen varying stories of childbirth mixed with her own experience as a mother to bring the poetry to life. The book, which also includes a poem co-written in the Tlingit language courtesy of X’unei Lance Twitchell, reflects on both the joys of childbirth and the pain of loss that can come with it.
“It’s a story about the incredible power of women, and their partners,” Wall said. “I hope it spreads the message that women are doing this incredible thing, and we should pay more attention to that in whatever way it happens.”
Wall has spent 26 years living in Juneau and the last 25 years teaching and writing poetry at the University of Alaska Southeast. As a mother of three, she said the idea to write the book came to her after the birth of her third child when during that time she regularly talked to other parents about their experiences with childbirth.
Wall said she found herself in awe of how “diverse and powerful” each story was, and it inspired her to write poetry that reflects each birth of the people she interviewed in its own unique way that embraces that no birth is the same.
“Some of these stories are beautiful, but some of these are terrible,” Wall said. “There has certainly been shame associated with it, and I hope the theme is to show what a powerful experience this is, and there is no right or wrong way.”
Wall said everyone and “their grandpa” will find something that connects them to this book. The stories vary from the happiness of a healthy birth to another detailing a lesbian couple’s journey to pregnancy through in vitro fertilization, but many stories share the reality of loss and the pain felt when things don’t go to plan.
Shayna Rohwer, a nurse, and mother whose birth story was one of the stories included in the book, said she found comfort and reflection being about to share her story and see her story being transformed into a poem.
“It’s such a cool project hearing from different people. I think in our culture we don’t spend a lot of time talking about the stories of our births and how impactful it is for the rest of our lives,” Rohwer said.
From her time as a nurse, Rohwer said birth stories are especially important to her, as she has firsthand seen the impact childbirth has on the patients she works with.
“Women remember the day that they give birth for the rest of their lives,” Rowher said. “To share and have someone write about it in another context is really powerful.”
Wall’s book, “Breaking into Air: Birth Poems,” is available for purchase at Hearthside Books and Kindred Post in Juneau, or online. Wall is set to host a book signing at the Merchants Wharf Hearthside for July’s First Friday, as well as a reading in September at the Douglas Public Library.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.