Monkeybicycle: Transformation, whether personal or social, repeats often in Salamandrine: 8 Gothics, though never in the same way. Motherhood would be the other word that repeatedly came to mind while reading this. Tell me about transformation and motherhood.
Joyelle McSweeney: Well I’m not sure if I was transformed by motherhood so much as revealed to be severely lacking. For me motherhood was an apocalypse, a rending of the veil, a rendering of the fail. I nearly died; that was a new thing. I developed a labor complication normally associated with heroin-addicted teenage sex-workers. I bled like crazy and my daughter’s placenta looked like hamburger meat, according to the nurse. A fittingly Midwest simile. I became so same, same. I had a sense of shame, that was a new thing. Becoming what other people thought of as steady and wholesome shamed me, dismayed me. My sense of myself as a 21st century fox, a pixie or a pixel, a moving picture, engaged with the world, a piece of information joining various smart fabrics in bouncy new bunchy ways was immediately stripped away, and I was left with a new image of myself as nothing more than a cultural/biological category: a mother, and, more paralyzingly, a ‘woman,’ subject to all kinds of restraints and nonnegotiable requirements that I had merrily ignored before, basically as a result of my class but also my male-type aggressive personality. As I lay dying, the Hoosiers in the hospital just called me Mom. To have a maternal body felt like a punishment, or, more specifically, a ‘sentence’, something continually pronounced.
At the same time, these Hoosier ladies in the hospital also started to seem at least half-divine. As I lay dying, they counted medical instruments in unison to make sure there weren’t any left in my cavities. They twittered like Yeats’s mechanical golden birds. “One and two is three and one is four and one is five”. My baby didn’t like being alive and tried to crawl away. They couldn’t test her hearing because she was reacting to everything in the room. She had eyes like a snake. No one had ever seen that before. The nurses went outside for their smoke breaks. They went on diets. A visiting male nurse from Nigeria had to show me how to change a diaper. I was so weak I couldn’t stand up if I was also holding my baby. But they were strong. I was enamored of all these superhuman ghosts. I loved them. I love them.