A young poet expresses personal tales of the highs and lows of pregnancy in Bangkok.
Megan Ross is a writer and poet who left her home in South Africa to move to Bangkok, staying for a year and a half before returning to Gonubie, in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa.
While residing in Bangkok Megan Ross worked as an English teacher and, quite unexpectedly, as she admits and explores throughout her writing, became pregnant.
In her debut collection of poetry, Milk Fever, Megan explores the uneasy truths about unexpected motherhood and all its emotional detritus. Described as a “deft and experimental exploration of the angst, joy, and self-reckoning of young womanhood”, Milk Fever is a collection of poems that brings together the evocative with the provocative, and the feminist with the personal, in a bold and startling style.
Thanks for talking to us, Megan. Can you tell us when you first came to Bangkok and what your first impressions were?
I first arrived in Bangkok in February 2014, after travelling for a month through India. I took a bus straight up to Chiang Mai, thinking that I would look for work, but, after a very serendipitous dinner with two South African friends who were teaching English in Bangkok, I was convinced to move South to the capital. My first impression? Admittedly, it was a sensory overload but it was also a place, and a pace of life, to which I instantly took to. I was in awe of the people, the sounds, the colours, the smells, and tastes. It was busy and full of an energy. It was love at first sight.
How does the city differ from where you grew up?
I grew up in a sleepy surfing and fishing suburb of East London (a city in South Africa). Where I am from there is a clear, starry night sky, whereas, as I soon discovered in Bangkok, a sky can be the territory of enormous cranes and buildings and glamorous roof tops. I had never seen that many skyscrapers, or a city that came alive at sunset or the street life—a culture of eating street food and shopping until late at night—that I encountered in Bangkok. Thai public transport made all kinds of freedom possible; in South Africa, most people who can afford to, will drive cars, and our public transport is not as developed and so in Bangkok there is this sense of being a part of the flow of the city, in adjusting to its rhythms and letting it move you, rather than the other way around, that I had never thought possible. In Bangkok, everybody from the elderly to very small children can enjoy the city at night, and there is so much to do. It’s very, very exciting.
Were you already writing poetry in Bangkok?
Funnily enough, I was writing short fiction and what were the beginnings of a novel. It helped that I had a great job, and was living in the bustling hub of Sathorn: there was plenty of inspiration, and I had the time and space too.
Can you recall your feelings when you first found out that you were pregnant?
I was absolutely devastated. Which is not something you’re supposed to, or often allowed, to say. Babies are supposed to be welcomed into one’s life the second their presence is discovered. However, I was an independent, happy, adventurous 25-year-old and I knew how becoming a mom would have to change that. However, when my son was born and in the months that followed I was able to create a motherhood that worked for both of us, one in which I am able to work and still care for my son, and that is largely in part because of help from our families and the fact that childcare is affordable in South Africa.
Did you consider staying in Bangkok to start a family?
I stayed in Thailand until I was four months pregnant but my partner was at home in South Africa. I really wanted to go home to my mother. However, in retrospect, with the kind of healthcare and resources I had access to in Bangkok, it might have been a better decision to have stayed in Thailand. I have thought of returning with my little family many times!
Writing about pregnancy is an intimate and personal thing. Was this an easy process for you?
I like to think I am an open person, and because of this, I find writing to be a relief. When we take what is inside of us and bring it out into the world, make it external, and, in a sense, separate from us, it is like losing a heavy load, or sharing it, somehow. Writing the collection was, at times, a scary process but I had this urgency in me: to create, to make sense of, to translate a physical and emotional transformation into art. I was like creating a new body in which I could walk around this entirely foreign universe—this world of motherhood—with ease.
What does the title “Milk Fever” mean?
“Milk Fever” works on many levels. It is a colloquial term for mastitis, a painful, uncomfortable infection of the breast that can happen during breastfeeding. It is also the juxtaposition of two very different energies: milk is a life-giving, entirely personal superfood created in order to nourish another’s body. Fever is an unpleasant, painful, sometimes hallucinatory phenomenon that despite its discomfort, occurs in order to kill infection. To save the body. So, in many ways, the title was about how singular my experience of motherhood has been: how feelings of love, resentment, pain, and joy can co-exist. How something can be painful and beautiful at the same time and why we should not pathologise women who don’t instantly take to being mothers. It is essentially an expression of my experience of postpartum depression.
Do you have plans to continue with poetry or experiment with other forms of literature?
I am currently writing a novel, and have a rough draft of a collection of stories. I’ve been writing short fiction for years now, although the idea of a novel still frightens me, even though I am a couple thousand words in! I love to experiment, however, and enjoy doing so with form and content and language.
Buy Milk Fever here: www.amazon.com/Milk-Fever-Megan-Ross/