February 28, 2013
In an earlier blog, I talked about featuring other writers in this space from time to time. Today I’m spotlighting Natalia Erehnah, who recently published her book Swan Mothers: Discovering Our True Selves by Parenting Uniquely Magnificent Children. Her book is fabulous on many levels. Swan Mothers is filled with wonderful insight, compassion and understanding as the author takes us on a journey through parenting special needs children. What enhanced the book even more is that the story is not only told through the author’s perspective but features other mothers, who in their own words, tell their stories so the reader is treated to various perspectives.
I’m the mother of a beautiful daughter who has special needs so this really hits close to home. I have to say that I was inspired and invigorated by the message of hope, acceptance and support throughout. Natalia Erehnah also shows various tips and techniques to handle stressful moments and highlights alternative methods of treatment. There are times when parents simply become overwhelmed by challenges that seem insurmountable. And yet in reading Swan Mothers, I felt comforted and strengthened. The book provides a pathway out of the darkness. I asked Natalia some questions about her book and writing process.
Can you talk a little about how Swan Mothers came to life and also how easy or difficult it was to reveal personal family details, i.e., did your role as a mother ever interfere with your role as a writer?
In the fall of 2009, I moved to Wisconsin with my family. Having recently earned diplomas in Homeotherapeutics and Bioenergetics from the Institute of Natural Health Sciences, I hung a virtual shingle and began learning how to run a business by listening to free teleseminars. During one such teleseminar, the speaker proposed writing a book, and I immediately knew I would do so. Synchronistically, a Facebook friend posted that her writing coach was offering a writeshop for writers who were “at any point in the book writing process.”
At the writeshop, I was the only person who did not have a clear idea of what she would be writing. I knew that it would be related to my parenting experiences, autism, and the natural health sciences, but had not written a single word. I began writing in that writeshop, and went back for more, eventually joining a writers’ group led by Julie Tallard Johnson. Throughout the year-long meetings, Swan Mothers was written, critiqued and edited.
I made motherhood and writing work together by writing while my children were away from home, either at camp in the summer or at school. Now that I am homeschooling again, I find it much more challenging to create space for writing.
Regarding revealing details. I am a private person, so I am surprised to report that it was easy to share my story. I believe that ease came because the events relayed had been resolved before I started writing. The only aspect of concern was that my story was about the journey of parenting, and thus, revealed information about my family. I used pseudonyms for my children’s names and a pen name to afford my family some privacy.
The story of The Ugly Duckling is told throughout the book in snippets at the start of each chapter and obviously ties in with your book title. You also use the tale of the classic hero’s journey and compare it with the Swan Mother’s hero journey. It is a nice juxtaposition that connects with the overall personal stories of raising a child with special needs. What led you to this structure?
During the second writeshop I attended, my writing coach related the process of writing a book to embarking on a Hero’s Journey. The term Hero’s Journey was new to me. As Julie explained the phases of the journey, I realized that this archetypal pattern described my journey through parenting perfectly. The structure for Swan Mothers came together within minutes. While writing, I was looking for a story to use as a model for explaining the Hero’s Journey to readers. As I read The Ugly Duckling in Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, I was highlighting, underlining, circling, and writing notes in the margins. I had found my story. The title emerged later, during another workshop.
(My writing coach, Julie Tallard Johnson, has published nine books, including Wheel of Initiation: Practices for Releasing Your Inner Light and The Thundering Years: Rituals and Sacred Wisdom for Teens. In November 2013, Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are will be released. She publishes a free weekly e-zine for writers which I highly recommend. You can subscribe at her website: http://julietallardjohnson.com/).
What discoveries did you make, either as a writer or as a mother, during the writing of Swan Mothers?
I was surprised how easy it was to write a lot in a short period of time (I wrote all of the “My Story” sections in two weeks while my children were at camp), and how long it could take to write even a few book-worthy words. I discovered that it was almost impossible for me to write at the times I set aside for writing, and that if I did not write at those times, I did not make progress with the book. Writing could flow easily or seem stalled for days or weeks.
I discovered that meeting with a group and having a good writing coach was vital to my process. Committing to write a certain amount of words per month, knowing my partner would be reading, helped me stay on track.
Due to the support of my group and coach, and to the fact that the book wanted to be written, writing was mostly easy. The road to publishing was more challenging.
I love your opening sequence and will quote a few lines when closing. You have a very engaging style of writing. What writers have inspired you?
I fell in love with books as a child, and the writers who inspire me include my childhood favorites: Madeleine L’Engle, Katherine Patterson, E. L. Konnigsburg, and C. S. Lewis.
I read for pleasure, and will read almost anything with a good story line. My current favorite authors include: Elizabeth Cunningham, Kathleen McGowan, Paulo Coelho, Marc Allen, Judith Prager Simon.
What other books would you recommend for anyone who has a connection with a special needs child and is searching for support and more information?
Drug-Free Approach to Asperger Syndrome and Autism: Homeopathic Care for Exceptional Kids by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, Robert Ullman, Ian Luepker and Bernard Rimland
I list many of my favorite resources in the appendix of Swan Mothers. I also suggest seeking out bloggers and authors with the same or similar diagnoses as that of your child for an invaluable perspective on what it is like to live with a diagnosed condition.
You have a website at www.swanmothers.com and a Facebook page titled Blessed by (Autism) Uniquely Magnificent Children, as well as a Facebook Swan Mothers Group (request to join). What’s next in store in terms of your writing and your efforts in helping parents of special needs kids?
I am developing workshops and retreats based on Swan Mothers. I dream of a camp-type setting for retreats, where mothers can explore their parenting journey.
I am also working on two fiction books which weave together the stories of a modern-day woman, Anastasia Sophia, who is discovering herself through journaling (in the first book) and blogging (in the second book), and Talitha, who lived so long ago that archeologists have not yet discovered evidence of her people.
Thank you for inviting me to blog with you!
You’re very welcome Natalia! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight. I’ll close with a few opening lines from Swan Mothers:
For years I was visited by this recurring dream. I am driving south on a bridge in the Florida Keys. My children are in the minivan with me. The sky’s blueness is intensified by the whiteness of scattered, puffy clouds. Brilliant sparkles dance on the surface of the turquoise and seafoam waters. I am content, immersed in the peace, might, and splendor of the ocean around me.
Suddenly, my car is driving on air, as if on an invisible road running parallel to the bridge. I look around, terrified, and the pounding of my heart jolts me awake.
Why is my heart pounding? Why did I panic? Nothing was amiss. The car was not plummeting toward the water. The sea and sky were as blue and beautiful as the moment before. My surroundings seemed the same. Yet the bridge had disappeared from under me.