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New online publication tells stories of motherhood in Nova Scotia

Second Story Women’s Centre launches Understorey Magazine

by Natascia Lypny

A piece of pebble art by Sharon Nowlan accompanying Kristen Amiro's poem 'Reunion.' [http://pebbleart.ca]
A piece of pebble art by Sharon Nowlan accompanying Kristen Amiro's poem 'Reunion.' [http://pebbleart.ca]

LUNENBURG — A new magazine produced by a women’s centre in Lunenburg hopes to offer an alternative, feminist perspective on motherhood.

Called Understorey Magazine, the free online publication produced by the Second Story Women’s Centre delivers tales of motherhood — and childlessness — in all its forms.

The name’s meaning is twofold: “under-story” — giving a voice to motherhood stories that so often go untold — and “understorey,” a reference to the variety of plants that make up the forest floor, which, like mothers, provided sustenance and strength.

The first issue, which is already available online, contains poetry, essays, fiction, a book review and artwork from local contributors, including former Halifax poet laureate Lorri Neilsen Glenn, award-winning filmmaker Sylvia D. Hamilton and South Shore poet Alison Smith.

“I think that we have the potential to expose our readership to a wide spectrum of perspectives around motherhood, including non-mainstream methods of parenting and different ways of thinking about what it means to be a mother,” said Elisabeth Bailey, community relations co-ordinator with the women’s centre.

She describes the publication as “explicitly feminist” in how it approaches the topic of motherhood and some women’s choice not to have children.

For editor-in-chief Katherine Barrett, the magazine for women is “a place to go, to read and to see parts of their life expressed … to build a community not just of writers but of women and mothers.”

Barrett brought the idea to the women’s centre last year. For the past few years, she has acted as an editor with the U.S. magazine Literary Mama and the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, jobs she says have exposed her to the power of everyday stories.

Her interest in the topic of motherhood is rooted in personal experience as well. Barrett didn’t have children until her late 30s, when, 14 months after having her son, she gave birth to twin boys.

“That experience of being childless until my late-30s and then having three children very close in age was a bit of a shock and I hadn’t really thought too much of the experience of mothers before that time but earned tremendous respect for all mothers and just how challenging and difficult and unseen it is,” she said.

When her twins turned two, she moved the family to South Africa, another grueling experience. Over the course of her four and a half years there, she met incredibly resilient women and was “surprised that even though their lives were so different — vastly different — than mine we still found common ground to talk about, especially around motherhood.”

Now living in Lunenburg, Barrett is hoping to bring that sense of togetherness to Nova Scotian women by exploring the topic of motherhood. One way in which Bailey sees the publication succeeding is in its broad take on the subject.

Take Kristen Amiro’s story, for instance. The English and history teacher at Dartmouth High School has two daughters, was adopted and has reconnected with her biological mother. The 36-year-old’s poetry, two exemplars of which are in the first issue of Understorey, centre on adoption, having two moms, and what it means to be a mother herself.

“12 Weeks Along” takes the reader through Amiro’s thoughts after she Googled images of fetuses following an ultrasound that indicated she was 12 weeks pregnant. “There you are/ with your comma-shaped body/ your ball-point eyes/ your scotch tape skin/ your paperclip limbs …”

“Reunion” retraces what it was like for Amiro, at the age of 27, to meet her biological mother for the first time. “That first day was such a trip because we look alike and we’re both trying to interview each other in a sense, but you’re so distracted by seeing someone who looks like an older or younger version than yourself,” she said.

Amiro said she thinks the magazine will serve Nova Scotia well, giving women a place to share their motherhood stories.

“(Motherhood) has such an effect on a woman’s life from whatever perspective, as a daughter or mother, aunt or niece or someone who’s trying to have babies or not, or someone who’s decided they don’t want to — everyone has their own slant on the topic, so there are so many stories to tell.”

Barrett is aiming for four issues of Understorey each year, and hopes to eventually offer an editing service and writing workshops.

The first issue is available online now, and Second Story Women’s Centre (18 Dufferin St., Lunenburg) will be hosting a launch party on Nov. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The project is funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage.


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