Olivia Folmar Ard

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Stories to Soothe a Postpartum Soul

Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.
— Madeleine L'Engle

After I gave birth to my daughter last October, I temporarily misplaced myself. Throughout my pregnancy, I'd grown accustomed to sharing my body with another person and existing in perpetual discomfort, but giving birth transformed my physical self into something I didn't recognize. The first time I looked at my postpartum body, I wept—not, as you might suppose, from a place of vanity, as I've never thought particularly much of my appearance, but from a shocking, unexpected fear. I felt like I'd lost my grip on who I was in all the fuss and bustle, and as the days passed in a cloudy blur of pain, exhaustion, and anxiety, I started to worry I'd never relocate it. 

Would I ever take a trip again? Would I ever make it to the store again? Would I ever be able to lose myself in a novel again? Would I ever write again? Would I ever enjoy anything again? These seem silly in hindsight, four and a half months (and many, many restful nights) later. Maybe to you, they seem a little selfish. But in those early days, when my maternity clothes were too big and my regular clothes were too small and the simple act of pouring a cup of coffee required a pep talk, a little selfishness helped me remember that I, too, was a person. And it reminded me that one of the best things I can do as a mother of a daughter is exemplify individuality in the midst of a family unit—I am her mother, and her father's wife, but I am also just Olivia. That's important, too.

As the weeks progressed, my daughter's days and nights righted themselves and we discovered that, to our delight, she was quite accomplished in the art of sleeping ten hours in a row. She stopped crying as much as, over the weeks and months, she realized we (or someone who cares for her) will always be there to make sure she's fed, warm, clean, dry, and comfortable. And somewhere along the way, I found myself again and remembered who I was. And since I'm a writer and a lifelong devourer of the written word, it makes sense that stories played a big part in that. 

Here are the stories that have helped me come to terms with motherhood, pull myself together, and establish a new, wonderful, hectic and happy normal. There is no rhyme or reason to this collection, other than that I happened across them during a time where I was in desperate need of healing. I hope they inspire and comfort you, as well.

Call the Midwife (Television Series, 2012-)

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I found Call the Midwife one night not long after bringing our wee babe home from the hospital. Those first couple of weeks, she would not sleep at night unless one of us held her, and even if she had slept, she still needed to eat every 2-3 hours. I was so exhausted, I worried about drifting off with her in my arms and dropping her, so I turned to our Netflix watch list. Call the Midwife had been there for a while, and it seemed as good a time as any to indulge. From PBS: 

Inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, Call the Midwife follows the nurses, midwives and nuns from Nonnatus House, who visit the expectant mothers of Poplar, providing the poorest women with the best possible care.

I think if I'd watched this show any sooner it would have horrified me, but it was oddly therapeutic to watch rather graphic, often traumatic birth scenes in the weeks following my own easy, uncomplicated experience. Beautifully done with incredibly talented actors presenting an array of stories both cheerful and tragic, this show simultaneously warms and breaks my heart, and makes me incredibly grateful for how far both society and medicine have come in their treatment of women. I watched all six seasons currently available on Netflix during my six weeks of maternity leave. 

 

The Mindy Project (Television Series, 2012-2017)

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From Hulu: 

A single-camera comedy, starring Mindy Kaling, that follows a skilled OB/GYN navigating the tricky waters of both her personal and professional life, as she pursues her dreams of becoming the perfect woman, finding the perfect man and getting her perfect romantic comedy ending.

I found The Mindy Project in a search for something light and short to watch during feedings, and as a fan of The Office (U.S.), and therefore of Mindy Kaling, I wanted to give it a try. It's not my usual taste and I stopped watching somewhere in season three, but it served its purpose well. I enjoyed watching a workplace comedy with a strong, independent, goofy female lead. I had many a good laugh while watching, and as we all know, laughter can be medicinal. 

 

Wonder Woman (Movie, 2017)

Moana (Movie, 2016)

Hidden Figures (Movie, 2016)

These movies have all been so buzzy, I'm going to assume everyone has seen them, or at least knows the basic premise. I didn't discover them postpartum, but I did revisit them. During those early weeks of recovery when something as simple as putting on a pair of jeans or taking a walk felt like a Herculean task, I needed to see Strong Women Doing Hard Things, and these movies delivered.

 

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (Book, 2017)

 

  From Knopf Publishing Group : "A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country's civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game—and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN's newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

From Knopf Publishing Group: "A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country's civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game—and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN's newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

I've been a fan of Tom Hanks for as long as I can remember (he was in Toy Story, so I can honestly say that), so I thought this collection of his fiction would be the perfect way to start reading in earnest again. The stories aren't perfect, but they are comforting in a way Tom Hanks always seems to be—familiar, predictable, and masterful.

 

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang (Book, 2017)

 

  From St. Martin's Press:  Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn't like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.   That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn't like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow overnight, Weylyn's unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn't care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she's known that a relationship with him isn't without its risks, but as anyone who's met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you'll wish he'd never leave.

From St. Martin's Press: Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn't like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was. 

That tornado was the first of many strange events that seem to follow Weylyn from town to town, although he doesn't like to take credit. As amazing as these powers may appear, they tend to manifest themselves at inopportune times and places. From freak storms to trees that appear to grow overnight, Weylyn's unique abilities are a curiosity at best and at worst, a danger to himself and the woman he loves. But Mary doesn't care. Since Weylyn saved her from an angry wolf on her eleventh birthday, she's known that a relationship with him isn't without its risks, but as anyone who's met Weylyn will tell you, once he wanders into your life, you'll wish he'd never leave.

This book was purely delightful. I don't want to say much, for fear of spoiling, but I do credit it with getting my creative juices flowing again and inspiring me to start working on my current project (which I hope is half as whimsical, melancholy, and heartbreakingly lovely as this masterpiece).

 

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer (Book, 2016)

  From Back Bay Books : She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn't even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning.   Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They've killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon.   When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it's her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous.   Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

From Back Bay Books: She used to work for the U.S. government, but very few people ever knew that. An expert in her field, she was one of the darkest secrets of an agency so clandestine it doesn't even have a name. And when they decided she was a liability, they came for her without warning. 

Now she rarely stays in the same place or uses the same name for long. They've killed the only other person she trusted, but something she knows still poses a threat. They want her dead, and soon. 

When her former handler offers her a way out, she realizes it's her only chance to erase the giant target on her back. But it means taking one last job for her ex-employers. To her horror, the information she acquires only makes her situation more dangerous. 

Resolving to meet the threat head-on, she prepares for the toughest fight of her life but finds herself falling for a man who can only complicate her likelihood of survival. As she sees her choices being rapidly whittled down, she must apply her unique talents in ways she never dreamed of.

This book was a total departure from my usual reading habits, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Given my anxiety disorder, thrillers aren't my go-to for obvious reasons, but the situations in this book are so over-the-top I was able to enjoy the twists and turns while giving my own worries about real life a rest for a bit. It also falls into the Strong Women Doing Hard Things category, which is apparently a must for me after giving birth.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Book, 2014)

 

  From Knopf : One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender,  Station Eleven  tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

From Knopf: One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor's early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor's first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

This book is a strange, melancholy take on the post-apocalyptic genre that focuses on more than survival. The Traveling Symphony's motto, borrowed from an episode of Star Trek—"Because survival is insufficient"—speaks to me deeply as a writer and as a consumer of art. The idea of people risking their lives to perpetuate art, history, and philosophy while life as we know it disintegrates is incredibly moving.


The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (Book, 2017)

  From Harper Voyager:  "Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.   But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.   In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.   After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

From Harper Voyager: "Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles. 

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound. 

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences. 

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for . . .

The magic, mysticism, drama, intrigue, and beauty of this book proved a worthy exercise in escapism while at the same time provoking deep, philosophical contemplation. I regret only that I have become so invested in a series before all the books are available to read.

 

The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger (Book Series, 2009-2012)

  From Orbit:  Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.   Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire—and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.   With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?  The Parasol Protectorate is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

From Orbit: Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. 

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire—and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

The Parasol Protectorate is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

This series is delightful in its silliness, hilarity, and melodrama. Steampunk + paranormal romance = a great amount of fun. 

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