Rebecca Fish Ewan: The Geography of Motherhood

The 'Mother of All Bombs'


The first moment of my motherhood came while I was in an airport shuttle careening through traffic on a Los Angeles freeway, past midnight, heading for the wrong hotel. I was seven weeks pregnant and the jostling ride after six hours of plane delays and a cramped flight, something I would normally shrug off as typical of visiting LA, all of it felt like a threat to the tiny embryo inside my womb. I began spotting. When I returned home to Phoenix, I had my first ultrasound. I still have the ink sketch I drew of my daughter in my journal, a rice-sized creature hanging by the umbilicus, her arms and legs no more than nubs. My drawing marked her at 9.9 mm, beside my note that her tiny heart beat 145 times per minute. Numbers that told me all was well.

journal page 1998 for The Geography of Motherhood

To mother is to care for life that is not your own. To protect it from harm. To nurture it.


On April 13 of this year, the federal government of the United States, my mother country, dropped a bomb in the mountains of Afghanistan. It fell through the clouds, MOAB painted on its side. MOAB, not the starkly beautiful Canyonlands of Southern Utah, just the acronym, MOAB, Mother of All Bombs.

ewanWhen my daughter Isabel was almost two and a half, I drove North from our home in Tempe, Arizona, to Moab for a weekend desert writers workshop. Moab, hot, dry, expanse of stone,  desert that, like

Afghanistan, doesn’t encourage human life to dwell in its quarters. I was there to learn from Ann Haymond Zwinger, author of many books on the western landscape and wilderness. One night, we sat on the ground in the dark chill of November, eyes closed, listening, Ann’s voice cutting into the silence from time to time to remind us to smell the air, to feel it breeze across our cheeks. In my notebook, I made a list of questions to ask her about being a writer. At the top of the list: getting time in the field as a mother. Sadly, I didn’t write down her reply. Instead, in my notebook, I jotted other things she said during the workshop: “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” I also noted someone’s advice about skunks: to get rid of skunks, stamp your feet, because this is how mother skunks tell their young to leave. Danger is near, stomp, stomp.


The bomb we dropped on Afghanistan had a blast radius of one mile. It was made in McAlester, Oklahoma, the same town where the Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols stood trial for blowing up a federal building that housed a daycare center, killing 168 people, including 19 children and three pregnant women. Danger is near, stomp, stomp.

Bombs mean destruction. Bombs are never the mother of anything. To mother is to protect from harm.

When I was pregnant with my son, I spotted again. This time I had just miscarried, so my doctor took precautions. I lay on the table as he slid the probe across my belly, the jelly cold on my skin. I watched him watching the screen he had turned away from my view. I watched until he smiled and swung the screen round. He pointed to the tiny heart beating to tell me all was well. My doctor gave me pills made of peanut shells and told me to stay in bed for three months. I did, because this is what it means to be a mother.


Cartoonist, poet, author of A Land Between, Rebecca Fish Ewan just founded Plankton Press to celebrate micro hybrid nonfiction and publishes her zines, GRAPH(feeties) and Tiny Joys. Her cartoon/verse memoir ms. of a childhood best friendship recalls the tragic magic of seventies Berkeley. 

Twit/Igram: @rfishewan  Website:

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