Many thanks to Nichole Dupont at Berkshires Week for writing, and to the editors at the Berkshire Eagle for assigning, this very gracious and thoughtful article about my work! It appears in Berkshires Week today, both in print and online; I'm reprinting it here with gratitude.
Poems held her in her son's first year
By Nichole Dupont, Special to Berkshires Week
Barenblat, published poet and rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel, holds
her son, Drew Zuckerman, now 3. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Barenblat)
-- When you're a new mother, your infant upends your world. And when
you're breast-feeding at 3 a.m., trying to soothe a colicky baby to
sleep, the night may seem endless.
Isolation and winter don't help either, according to Rachel
Barenblat of Lanesborough. Yet, through the thick fog of sleep
deprivation and a tenacious case of post-partum depression, Barenblat,
who is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams and a
published poet with an MFA from the Bennington writing program, managed
to write a poem a week during the first year of her son's life.
"Waiting to Unfold" (Phoenicia Publishing, 2013) is a lyrical
collection of poetry that slices to the heart of parenting, capturing
everything from the banality (and humor) of changing diapers to the
ferocity of maternal protection to the nerve-ending jag of self-doubt.
But more importantly, Barenblat said, the book is a letter to her
now three-year-old son, Drew: a chronicle of memories that would
otherwise have been lost through the chaos and ritual of raising a
"It's a little astounding. I find myself grateful to have written
these poems," Barenblat said. "I would have forgotten all this, but
when I read the poems it takes me back, right to that moment in time. I
recently gave a reading to a group of senior citizens, mostly women, who
haven't had children in the house for 50 or 60 years, but they said the
poems made them remember. There's something universal in this whole experience of mothering."
Despite what this modern culture of helicopter
parents and do-it-all women would have us believe, Barenblat said having
a newborn in the house isn't "all rainbows and unicorns." Many of the
poems from her collection address the shadowy specter of postpartum
depression. In "Besieged," she writes:
Seven weeks in
I am rubble, strafed
by a round-cheeked pilot
who attacks at random
with his air-siren wail.
These words are music to Jane Shiyah's ears. Shiyah is a recently
retired school councilor (from Lanesborough Elementary), and also a
member at Congregation Beth Israel. She has taken to memorizing lines
from her rabbi's poetry book, almost a means of spiritual comfort.
"I wish there had been a mother-mentor who put this book in our
hands when I was a new mother," Shiya said. "It touches on everything
that's a challenge. There's so many things that women don't talk about
-- miscarriage, depression, nursing. When you have a baby, there's
nothing you can do but respond, no matter how exhausted you are. And
here is Rachel, who is a rabbi, who has enormous faith, and even that
wasn't enough when she was going through her hardest time."
But Barenblat did get through it, thanks in part to her her
husband and her mother-in-law, who held Drew while his mother slept, and
to Barenblat's own mother, who, on a visit from Texas, when Drew was
just two months old, told her frazzled daughter that something was
"She said ‘this is harder for you than it should be. You need to
get help,' " Barenblat recalled. "At the time I didn't think things
would get better. I thought that our lives, mine and my son's, would be
like that indefinitely. It was an unbelievable relief when I got help.
Within a matter of weeks my life had changed completely. I was no longer
trapped in a bubble."
What Barenblat was able to put into eloquent, published words,
most mothers don't allow themselves to even mention. This is why Liz
Friedman, program director of MotherWoman -- a global support and
advocacy group which is sponsoring book-related events, wants a copy of
"Waiting to Unfold" to make it into the hands of mothers (and everyone
working with new mothers). Just recently, Friedman brought some of the
poems into a training she headed that focused on perinatal emotional
crisis, which effects at least 50 percent of new mothers.
"We're trying to create an environment where women can speak and
providers -- WIC administrators, pediatricians, OBGYNs -- are equipped
to handle postpartum depression," Friedman said. "And what is always
important for us as providers is to know women's stories. [Rachel] is
putting a voice in our lived experiences. She names it. And there's a
whole lot of love in that book of poetry."
And a whole lot of Drew. According to Shiya, since the boy's
birth, her gentle rabbi has a new kind of spirituality, no matter the
"During the services, or in Torah study, there is always some
reference to something about her and her son," she said. "She cannot
separate her two lives. Nor should she. He belongs there, even when he's
not there. He reminds her of something beautiful."
If you go ...
What: Poetry reading
When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
Where: The Book Loft,
332 Stockbridge Road,
Information: (413) 528-1521 www.thebookloft.com,
Rachel Barenblat's blog: