Kate Zambreno on Giving Birth as an Act of Decreation
From the Thresholds Podcast, Hosted by Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In the second episode of our second season, Kate Zambreno discusses her new novel Drifts, giving birth as an act of decreation, writing and mortality, time and boredom, and the borderlessness of labor.
From the interview:
Kate Zambreno: It’s strange that the second part of Drifts deals so much with me being in late pregnancy, and I am again in late pregnancy. I’m supposed to go into labor in a couple weeks. I think that’s been the most potent threshold, a physical and spiritual and emotional threshold I’ve ever experienced, just in terms of the limits of the body. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to death. Pregnancy, they don’t really talk about it, but it’s a big mortality event, really. You know, in terms of like how sociologists measure mortality events, which is everything we’re talking about now with what’s going on with a pandemic. The day of labor is a pretty big event.
Jordan Kisner: You mean in the sense that there is a likelihood of mortality when delivering?
Kate Zambreno: Yeah. Thankfully, there are more conversations now how that’s related to race and class. It’s a very powerful boundary-crossing experience going into labor that can take many weeks, that has no end point really. There’s no real beginning point. There’s no real end point. And the whole time you are told to prepare your body for severe pain. I don’t know if there are many experiences in life where you’re told, the more pain you’re experiencing the better. You’re just going to do it privately for the great majority of it, even if it can go on for weeks and weeks.
Jordan Kisner: Labor, you mean?
Kate Zambreno: Yeah. I mean, your body warms up for labor for weeks and weeks. You start to feel off and strange, and these are all good signs. You stop sleeping. You start acting more like an animal. You know, you’re expected to nest or feel strange or have stranger dreams. And it goes on for a while before you actually… unless you have a specific day where you know it’s going to happen, whether you’re induced or you have surgery. It’s a pretty liminal period, and I don’t think I realize that. Now I’m going through it again, and I’m really struck by what an intense philosophical experience it is. I’ve also been reading a lot about illness, like Sontag on illness or Virginia Woolf on illness. … It’s interesting, Sontag writes that illness is an onerous citizenship of the night. But I think that late pregnancy period is like that as well. It resembles the borderlessness, in some ways, of illness.
This episode is brought to you by: Betterhelp. Get 10% off your first month by visiting betterhelp.com/thresholds; What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron, now available wherever you get books from Catapult; and, Luster by Raven Leilani, now available from FSG.
Kate Zambreno is the author of several acclaimed books including Screen Tests, Heroines, and Green Girl. Her latest novel, Drifts, was released in May 2020. Her writing has appeared in The Paris Review, VQR, and elsewhere. She teaches in the writing programs at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College.