A Writer’s Responsibility

The main thing I decided to change in this most recent revision of Finding ‘Ohana is the way that Naali dies. This actually happens to be one of the changes that my creative writing professor, Susan Palwick, recommended when she read the short story that was the beginning of my Finding ‘Ohana journey.

“Very few women die in childbirth today,” she told me. “It would be much more believable if you had her die in a car accident or because of a brain aneurysm.”

At the time, I was not ready to make that change. I was a young and inexperienced writer, and I wanted the drama. So I added a heart condition to Naali’s character and left it at that.

In the past two years or so I’ve become interested in natural childbirth, and my original cause of death for Naali started bothering me more and more.

As much as popular culture would have us believe otherwise, labor and birth are not scary. Or rather, they don’t have to be. Many women grow up seeing horror stories of labor in the media, and therefore approach their own birth experience from a standpoint of fear.

Fear then disrupts the woman’s ability to manage her pain. The pain becomes overwhelming, and adds to the fear, causing a cycle that is difficult to overcome.

But if we can approach labor and birth knowing that it is a natural and beautiful process, we can manage our pain on our own, without medication, and rise above it.

 

My own labor and birth three and a half months ago only solidified my believe that natural labor is not scary. I knew how to manage my pain. I swayed, I sang, I leaned on my husband and listened to him telling me that I was strong.

There were things about my son’s birth that I certainly wish had been different. But they all happened once we got to the hospital, once we had medical interventions. The part of my labor that was natural, when I was at home with my husband and my midwife, was exactly as it should be.

 

I hold very strongly to the belief that as writers, we have a responsibility to present our readers with positive messages. Actually, this is true of all artists. We cannot in good conscience produce art that will perpetuate negative ideas. We need to constantly analyze our own work to ensure that whatever messages it has are ones that we can wholeheartedly support.

I do not want to add one more negative birth story to the world. My novel will no longer include a character dying in childbirth. Finding ‘Ohana is not about birth, it’s about death and mourning, identity, family. So as much as I would love to include a positive birth story, it will have to wait for a future work. For now, at least this novel will only reflect beliefs that I am proud to hold.

 

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2 responses to “A Writer’s Responsibility

  1. I agree with this idea! All creators of art should feel a certain responsibility. Unfortunately not everyone agrees with this idea. They usually disagree whenever their favorite work is criticized for this reason. I found some interesting writing on this topic that you might enjoy reading:

    http://rhunt4.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/do-writers-have-a-social-responsibility-to-contribute-and-change-the-world-they-live-in/

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/17/e-b-white-paris-review-interview/

  2. Thank you for your response, and the additional links! I especially enjoyed the first one. It made me realize a larger point, which I included in “The Writer on Wheels” comments:

    I think that not only artists, but all people have this responsibility. If there is something wrong with the way the world works, it is our responsibility as citizens of the world to right that wrong. Everyone has a different method for doing this – for some it’s teaching, protesting, painting, etc. For me it’s writing.

    All acts are social acts. Nothing exists in a vacuum. So everything is impacted by, and in turn impacts, its environment. Our responsibility, then, is to ensure that our impact, be it writing, painting, protesting, teaching, etc., is a positive one.

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