Sometimes writing is about helping those around you; other times, it has to be about helping yourself so you can go on to help others in the future.
That’s what Jill Valentino discovered in 2012 when, in the midst of dealing with secondary infertility, she began an anonymous blog as therapy. It was something she needed to do, a way of verbally processing what was going on even if no one was listening.
“I didn’t share it with anyone, I just would write, and put it out there in cyberspace,” Jill said. “I only had five entries, but they were certainly therapeutic, and I’d re-read them up until we finally fell pregnant in late 2013, and had our second daughter in 2014.”
Jill is a teacher, mother, wife and writer. She has two daughters ages 9 and 22 months and spends her days surrounded by children in her third-grade classroom. She’s also been diagnosed with narcolepsy without cataplexy — cataplexy is an episode of muscle weakness triggered by intense emotions.
So the hardest part about being a writer is that she struggles to find time to sit down and just…write.
In addition, when she is writing, her process is somewhat drawn out, as she edits and revises until a piece is sparkling.
“Oftentimes, it seems like writing a piece I deem good enough for publication is analogous to climbing a mountain,” Jill said. “In my head I get that voice of self-doubt, saying ‘I can’t do this. I don’t know what to say.’ I hear my writing when I read it back to me, and it needs a certain ‘rhythm’ before I am satisfied.”
Jill has written for The Mix at Hearst, a network of freelance contributors to Hearst magazines, and therefore most of her published work is in the autobiographical essay genre. She’s also writing a contemporary novel and hoping to write op-eds and reviews in the future.
Through The Mix, Jill wrote a piece for Good Housekeeping in which she explained that she originally hated motherhood.
During the first few months of my motherhood journey, I felt myself mourning my pre-baby life. An introvert by nature, I now had little to no time to myself. Also, mothering instincts evaded me. Her cries all sounded the same and I had to guess what she needed. Once she was fed and changed, I couldn’t understand why she was still upset. There were times where I had to just put her in her crib, crying, and go into the next room and cry myself because I felt like I had no idea what she wanted or what I was supposed to do.
The story has a happy ending — Jill’s “baby blues” went away on their own and she soon discovered the joys of motherhood, going on to have a second child years later after a struggle with secondary infertility.
While Jill was writing the essay, though, her nine-year-old daughter, “S,” walked in on her and saw the title of the piece. “S” then left the room, clearly upset.
“I let her read all articles I write that she is featured in,” Jill said, “and after reading the whole thing she was no longer upset, but I was, because I never want my children to doubt my love for them — even for a second.”
“S” said one of the best things about the fact that her mom is a writer is, in fact, getting to read the articles she writes.
“It is nice to actually read something my mom has written because she likes to keep a lot of her writing private,” “S” said. “I honestly think everything she writes is pretty good but if I had to choose a favorite it would be ‘7 Things I Never Knew Required Cleaning Until After I Had Kids.’”
Jill’s struggles with narcolepsy, Crohn’s disease, secondary infertility and postpartum depression give her fodder for writing, but she remembers her childhood as a happy one, growing up in the Hudson Valley region of New York, where she lives now with her husband and children.
Growing up, her family was far from rich, but Jill has fond memories of sitting at the table with her father on the weekends, doodling while he did homework for night school. She remembers going to the local park and feeding the ducks as well as accompanying her mother to work.
“At home, we had one air conditioner in my parents’ bedroom,” Jll said, “and when it was unbearably hot and humid which tends to happen in summer time in New York, all four of us would cuddle in my parents room, order pizza or fried chicken, and watch TV.”
As a child, Jill said she was jealous of her friends for their classic looks, compared to her curly hair, short stature, glasses and early-developing body.
“Eventually I learned to just embrace who I was when I was a teenager, and I’ve been much happier since,” she said. “I love being ‘the smart one’ now, and my daughter who is nine has a similar label in school and she also loves it (she is also beautiful and much less awkward than I was, thank goodness).”
She got into writing as a senior in college and then she didn’t think about it much for the next 10 years, when a falling out with a friend over email made her realize that she was good with words.
Since then, she’s been chronicling her life through writing.
“The best thing about having Jill as a writer is that she has a reason to share all the wonderful, amazing things in her head,” Jill’s husband, Michael Valentino, said. “We’ve been through so much and it would be a shame for her not to share that. She really found her voice as a writer in grad school and I’m super happy she’s got an outlet now.”
Michael added that his wife is “scary smart and driven” and he admires her confidence.