New Mother Need Mothers in Karen Russell’s “Orange World” an Essay by Nancy Paton

Fear Contaminates New Motherhood in Karen Russell’s “Orange World”

In Karen Russell’s 2019 short story “Orange World,” becoming a new mother means discovering new worlds governed by fear. In her forties and on the brink of another miscarriage, Rae, whose pregnancy is diagnosed as geriatric and at high risk for genetic anomalies, makes a deal with a devil to save her baby. Three months and a healthy son later, she breastfeeds the devil, who resembles a “mutant red raccoon” (246) every morning at 4:44 a.m. as she is convinced that this is the only way to protect her son. The guilt from giving in so easily to the devil pushes her out of the Orange World “where most of us live” (236) and into the Red World, a mother’s worst nightmare with “babies falling down stairwells and elevator chutes. Speared by metal and flung from passenger seats. Drowning in toilet bowls and choking on grapes” (237). Rae enters the Green World, “a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention” (236), a world we all wish to live in, when she bands together with a group of moms with similar devils. Russell uses the devil to highlight the fear, desperation, self-doubt, and guilt accompanying new motherhood. Russell sets “Orange World” during a vicious Portland winter and then enlightens Rae on the three-color coded surreal worlds that accompany new moms while her mother is on the other side of the country; this emphasizes the struggle between her old self and new self, which causes an extreme form of isolation and fear. These techniques, with the friendships Rae, forms with a hilarious group of moms, helps stress the story’s core message: the only way out of this treacherous Red World and into the “the ideal” (236) Green World is by authentic friendships with mothers who have gone through or are going through similar trials and tribulations.


“Orange World” suggests that the fears new moms feel during pregnancy and in the early weeks following birth may appear diabolical. Yes, fear makes emotionally vulnerable people, like new moms, easy to control; however, Rae makes a deal with the controlling devil on the brink of another miscarriage; therefore, in “Orange World,” it is the fear of losing her baby and never being a mother that brings the devil to life. After the deal with the devil, Rae does ponder over this severe mistake, “Why hadn’t she thought to appeal to heaven? Rae wonders now. She took the first deal offered. She’d done a better job negotiating for the Subaru” (238). Russell does this to show that she understands that we are all capable of bargaining with the devil and selling our soul to him; that is why Rae’s devil is recognizable to mothers and anyone who has spent time worrying for a loved one.

Deep down inside, Rae knows that her deal with the devil was made due to her desperation; however, three months into new motherhood, she cannot break this deal due to the fears that now manifest themselves in the ritual of night feeding. Russell uses the daily morning feeding ritual to underline those routines governed by fear are hard to break: “‘But I’m not ready to wear it yet. I’m afraid of it! I don’t want my family to suffer” (257). Furthermore, Russell makes Rae feeding the creature seem endearing. She gives the creature almost human vulnerabilities to highlight how quickly and easily most of our bad habits become part of us. Russell understands how we excuse our devils and learn to live with them, “[t]o deviate from the pattern she established would be to risk other deviation” (249). Russel uses this statement to explain why so many of us choose to live with the devil we know.


New motherhood produces isolation from the world previously accustomed to by the new mother. A struggle between the person she once was and the person she now must be is something many new moms feel. After the birth of her son, Rae’s isolation from her old self is accentuated by the extreme Portland winter through which Rae navigates. This geographical setting shapes the plot and intensifies Rae’s loneliness in the new terrain of motherhood. However, it is not Portland nor the intense winter that causes alarm in her life but the three surreal worlds that manifest themselves due to the struggle between her old self and her new self. Rae, like most of us, lives in an Orange World up until the birth of her son, “Orange World is a nest of tangled electrical cords and open drawers filled with steak knives. It’s a baby’s fat hand hovering over the blushing coils of a toaster oven. It’s a crib purchased used” (236). However, the realization of this Orange World does not occur to her until she becomes a new mom and imprisons herself in the pits of the new terrifying Red World. Veteran moms speak of a “Green World, a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention” (236); however, only when Rae faces the isolation from her old world, and tackles the loneliness she feels in her new world, will Rae discovers this Green World. Russell uses these three color-coded surreal worlds to show the struggle between the old self and the new self for new mothers. However, more importantly, these worlds give hope, showing that a new mother can live in this ideal Green World that veteran moms live with time and support.


Russell uses Rae’s mother and husband to show how new mothers need connections but not with their family and friends. Rae’s mother is on the other side of the country. Due to the time zone difference, Rae’s mother cannot give Rae the lateral support she needs. She needs her mom physically close to her. Furthermore, Rae’s mother is dealing with her own fears of death, hope, and love due to the severe labor of caring for her elderly dying mother; therefore, she is emotionally and mentally unable to help her daughter. When Rae’s husband notices that she is too tired to feed, “‘You must be tired.’ [says Rae’s husband] ‘It feels good to be food.’ [says Rae’s] ‘What-’ [says Rae’s husband] ‘I said. I feel lucky to know what it means to be food before I am dead.’” (253). Even though her husband notices there might be a problem, he cannot help her as she tricks her inner self and him into thinking that what she is doing feels good, that she is happy being food for their son. What makes it harder for him to help Rae is that now she has spiraled into a martyr complex statement about where many new moms can end up, made by Yvette “Women like you love to play the martyr, don’t you?” (261), and simply he does not understand this. Even though her husband is physically right next to Rae, he is just as far away in knowledge and understanding of Rae’s situation as her mother is in physical distance. Russell uses these two different types of family relationships to stress how the need for connection does not mean a need for connection with a family member or a friend because the only person that can help a new mother is someone is a another mother who is physically, emotionally, and mentally available to her.


A need for connections with other mothers is the beating heart of “Orange World.” To help articulate the importance of close friendship with other mothers, Russell first shows that it is common for new moms to be afraid of other moms; she then adds the new moms’ group, “Every adult face looks freakishly huge to Rae” (244). The new mom’s group is another foreign landscape that new moms need to navigate through. Rae was once a “science journalist” (253), and by trying to be the person she was before her baby came along, she cannot come to terms with the new world that the baby has brought. Rae does not want to admit to her old self that she cannot do this independently; she was independent and successful in her old world; therefore, Rae does not need help, and the last thing she wants is to be a part of this new freakish foreign world filled with moms. “Veteran mums seem so smugly certain of everything. Yvette with her cloth diapers and her homemade yogurts – how does Yvette know for certain what this devil can and cannot do” (248), and that is why it takes so long for Rae to go and meet with the group of mothers. However, it is when she finally opens up and is honest about her devil that she starts fighting her fears off one at a time, “Yvette doesn’t bat a false eyelash. Indeed, a look of naked exasperation flashes across her carefully made-up face. ‘That fucking thing. It’s been coming south of Powell?’” (247). Yvette’s matter-of-fact reaction to Rae’s devil demystifies Rae’s creature into just another motherhood problem a mother needs to solve.


Rae is continually advised to make hard choices, first by her mother and then by the mother’s group. Russell understands that letting go of one’s false beliefs, one’s fears, is hard. Russell repeats this sentence twice in the story, “If you believe that, what else do you believe?” (242, 262). Russell is questioning our beliefs. The devil represents that toxic inner voice of self-doubt and guilt that plagues pregnant and new mothers. He is that inner voice that we all bargain with during times of need. However, Russell goes further and makes us question this voice, “Who are you bargaining with? Rae wants to ask. Who do you imagine is listening?” (264). Russell clearly states in “Orange World” that it is just a voice, the devil isn’t real, he can be fought. Rae can fight her guilt, shame and be free from these false fears, as can all new mothers. However, to do this, they will need to make authentic friendships, as Rae makes. Russell uses Yvette as the voice of reason, “It’s easier to believe in the devil than “admit that you are powerless like the rest of us” (261). Yvette has four children, and having lost one of them, even after bargaining with the devil, makes her the all-wise and all-knowing mother, but more importantly, the mother that new desperate, lost, and alone moms need to seek. Russell uses Yvette to let new mothers know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Mothers like Yvette will help new moms govern the new world they are in, [“Yvette says] ‘Does a problem go away on its own?’ Yvette says. ‘It does not” (257). Russell uses hilarious dialogue within the mother’s group highlights the importance of genuine friendships with other moms, “‘Don’t read anything online,’ one mother counsels. ‘They’ll tell you your baby is going to die and sign off with an angel emoji’” (248). Russell clearly states that information and support found online is the wring type of connection. This fake connection spirals a new mom into the Red World. It is only through real face-to-face physical connections that new moms enter the Green Worlds, “Marie and Rae sit side by side. Under the table, Marie takes her hand. It feels a little traitorous to make a new friend when she is out of touch with everyone she loves. But it’s happening to them, a friendship” (255). Through Yvette, Maria, and the other moms, Russell emphasizes that only real connections with real moms can help new moms out of the Red World and into the Green World.


A pregnant woman is expected to know how to be a mother because she is a woman. However, the fact of the matter is that being a mother is foreign territory to new moms, and sadly, being the perfect, all-knowing mother as soon as the first baby is born is a myth that new moms need to be aware of. Many fears arise with the expectation that accompanies new motherhood. These fears escalate exponentially for new mothers, like Rae, who have had difficulties conceiving or have had miscarriages. In the first part of “Orange World,” Russell explores this landscape of new motherhood without a family support network or a strong group of mothers around to help. Russell shows how desperation, guilt, and self-doubt can lead to isolation and loneliness and push new mothers like Rae into a terrifying Red World. However, in the second part of the story, Russell’s true message shines. A new mother does not need her mother or a family member to help her navigate this scary uncharted terrain. New mother need any mother who can physically, mentally, and emotionally be available to her during the first few months. “Orange World” emphasizes the importance of close, authentic friendships with veteran mothers if new mothers are to live in the Green World.

Work Cited

Russell, Karen. “Orange World.” Orange World and Other Stories, Vintage Contemporaries, Vintage Books, A Division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, 2020, pp. 235-266.




Fiery Falcons of Fujairah

FIERY FALCONS OF FUJAIRAH A short story by Nancy Paton

Here is the first one thousand words from a short story that is four thousand word and was inspired by Laline Paull book Bees. I wrote this for World Wildlife Day, and will share the rest with you when I publish my book of short stories very soon.

From a traditional Arabian campsite, the smell of Arabic coffee, wrapped in an elegant apple-flavored Shisha bow, flows through the air, seconds before the spring sun crests the tawny dunes.

After week-long episodes of hefty rain showers, orderly and dedicated Fatimah awakens. After forty days of being glued to her nest, which she hijacked from a raven—Fatimah’s soul is illuminated.

In this tranquil valley, at the foot of the majestic mountain that has been her permanent home since birth, the never-seen-before lush wild greenery takes her breath away. Fatimah reflects, Everything is as nature intended. It’s a perfect day for my little ones to step foot on this earth.

Miraculously, this time everything had gone to plan. Well, maybe not everything. Her partner did leave her a few days after she had announced her pregnancy to their family and friends.

But Fatimah was used to partners abandoning her. She was not fazed by being a single mother and doing it on her own. She had watched her mother and aunties do it with ease and poise years before he had come into her life—so many single mothers. So many strong females in her life paved the way and prepared her for the task at hand.

She admits she thought he was different. To her, they appeared to have had an electric bond. It felt as if she had known him her entire life. They wanted the same things. They talked of growing old together, of having a big family.

Even though her clock was about to stop ticking, they had high hopes to fit as many chicks in as they could before it stopped. She raved on about him with praise and adoration to her sister Faaiza.

But as always, Faaiza was right. And like many before him, one day, when out hunting, he never returned. He disappeared into the sharp, swallowing air without a trace.

For a while, Fatimah told herself he was caught up on business. He would send word and return to them as soon as he could. Then she convinced herself he must have been killed in some horrific accident, a natural disaster.

But no accident had been registered. His family and friends were alarmed by his disappearance but later declared, “these absurd times change even the best of our kind.”

She could not stand the theory her sister asserted, “he left you for another bird.” He was nothing like the companions she had before him. Not to ponder too long on her previous unfaithful partners, she persuades herself that their souls had connected.

Fatimah was brainwashed from birth to believe that since the beginning of time, once her kind found their soul mate, they flew as one for life. He was her soul mate; she was sure of it. He would never have left her this way; It was definitely a horrific accident.

It would have been nice to have found eternal love, but in these rough, tumultuous times, that was an impossible dream to realize. Since earth commenced its corrosive decline, this was not a woman’s destiny.

She reminds herself, This was never about the happily ever after, till death do us part. This was always bigger than all of that. After many failed relationships, her true purpose was illustrated to her.


She was to nurture her children to safety. Her species survival depended on it. From that realization, she had only one intention in all her escapades: to be a mother. The clock was ticking, and this was her last chance.

She was going to do everything in her power to get pregnant, even if it meant being alone. She was not going to feel guilty for being a single mother, and that is when he came along.

For a split second, she thought there might be more. Gently feeling her little ones, she assures herself one last time. This time it is different. I might be alone, but I have been blessed.

I am having triplets. No complication. No miscarriages. All three are thriving and on time. All things considered, this is a perfect day.

She will not dwell in the sadness of past horrors. She will stay confident for her three little chicks, who were only a few seconds away from being by her side.

Upon this high rock outcrop, with her unique vision, Fatimah views out for miles. Bobbing her head, back and forward. Rocking her head, forward and back. Swaying and swinging, rotating it two hundred degrees to the left. With a precise slow movement, she investigates the unexpected camp before her.

Usually, she enjoyed watching new prey, even though she acknowledged there was no hope for them in this harsh, ungrateful, destructive world. But this day was no ordinary day for her. She had been waiting for this day since maturing into a woman.

The yearning for being a mom became an overwhelming obsession, an uncontrollable desire. But many treacherous years went by without any luck.

One horrific tragedy followed another more catastrophic disaster. With every grotesque discovery. A heartbreaking loss. So much pain. So many tears. So many precious souls never stepping foot on this earth.

And so, with her wide worrying eyes, she polices the wretched settlement before her. She senses a painful ending to this glorious day. She calls upon Faaiza, who isresting nearby, “Something isn’t right.”

A pair of Emirati falconers hold a peregrine falcon
A pair of Emirati falconers hold a peregrine falcon

Summer’s Renovations a Gothic Short Story I wrote for Tell A FairyTale Day

Snow White's Renovations a Short Story By Nancy Paton

Summer’s Renovations a Short Story By Nancy Paton

Here is the first one thousand words from a short story that is eight thousand word and was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s graphic book Snow, Glass, Apples. I wrote this for Tell A Fairy Tale Day, and will share the rest with you when I publish my book of short stories very soon.

Summer's Renovations a Short Story By Nancy Paton
Summer’s Renovations a Short Story By Nancy Paton


Snuggled and cradled in between a handful of goose-downed silk-covered pillows, Summer takes off her royal blue velvet eye mask, takes out her earplugs, and puts on her long red velvet dressing gown.

She shuffles out of her queen-sized, four-poster bed and over to the pair of large white casement windows touching the mahogany floor.

On cue, THE SEVEN march out silently from the caretaker’s home and toward the Castle’s west wing. No hard hats. No hard boots. With long shaggy scruffy hair and long beards.

It has been days since they slept. It has definitely been days since they washed. But still, they work with a twinkle in their eye. Drilling, hammering, and banging with all their might.

Opening one of the windows to allow the fresh, crisp morning breeze into her stuffy renaissance bedroom, she takes a better look at THE SEVEN with their hammers, buckets, shovels, and spades, who diligently and vibrantly work for her day and night.

Since moving in the day after her picture-perfect mid-May Wedding Day, Summer has enjoyed watching THE SEVEN follow their daily rites. Her life is so controlled, so uneventful. Her life is so mundane.

Observing THE SEVEN in secret for the last seven months has been the only thing that has kept her from running away into the dark winter night.

Summer fantasizes about their own special, unique powers day and night. Sometimes they are her sweet saviors who whisk her away into the light of a happily-forever-after.

Other times, they are his wicked slayers who will be the death of her in the night. Either way, she is grateful for their daily presence whirling around in her head. Their busy lives, stories, talents, and dreams have kept her from jumping out of this window into her grave.


The fog covering the estate lifts, the sun peeks through. Her perfect fancy intense seven-carat pink diamond engagement ring takes in the tiny ray of light, blinding her sleepy eyes with the reality that she is in.

Summer marvels at the fairest land as far as her eyes can see. It’s all hers: perfectly trimmed secret maze gardens, endless rows of grapevines, and at the outskirts of the property, a border to keep all in, formed from the most profound, darkest pine forest she has ever seen.

She does not know what lies in the wood. She has never been allowed to venture as far. Knowing Paris is only a two-hours away, she feels it awaits her return; she remembers the music, the cameras, the runways that once filled her life and delivered Prince charming with all his delight. 

After all that she now knows, after all that she has experienced, would she go back to that life that brought her such primitive joys at one point in her life?

Summer heads to her antique gold-coated vanity. Her two best friends await. Two pre-filled syringes lay next to her jewelry box. One with Progesterone, designed to help keep his baby alive. The other, they tell her is a miracle potion to create a superhuman that the Prince desires.

Her nosey handmaiden, who is no older than Summer and forever pleasing His Highness, always places them the same way just before she wakes. She has had so many that she now self-injects them both into the upper thigh muscle. 

How happy she should be. The most promising little boy, thanks to him, is growing inside of her. He made it clear from the start that the first two allowed to grow in her womb would be boys.

Until the youngest turned four, there would be no talk or thought of a little girl. Only after two boys, she would be allowed the girl she so desperately wants—a girl to be her friend, a girl to keep her company in this dark den.

She expects him tomorrow. He will take her to her doctor for more probing and checking. He was around to make sure the right egg was implanted inside, but he did not hold her hand or tell her it would be alright. No, that’s not his style.

Since that day, he has hidden in the dark, waiting for his first heir to pop out. Maybe once he sees her being a good Mummy to his boys, he will play the father in this charade. She will love his boys. She will bring them up admirably. Perhaps His Highness will play happy family. 

He’ll stay the weekend to ensure she has been an obedient little girl and then back to business engagement abroad on Monday. Two whole days together. How will she cope? They barely have spoken since he made this Castle her home.

The foreman marches in front and controls the pack. Summer believes his round spectacles and long white beard make him the wisest of the bunch. Even though she’s heard him mix up his words a few times when talking in English to her interior designer, she has seen him keep HIS SEVEN in line when speaking in their native tongue.

She has seen how they look up to him. In her eyes, the foreman is the al-wise, the all-knowing one. He is a father to them and now a father to her.

One by one, she watches them waddle inside to start at nine. Now, out of sight but never out of her mind.


The tiler runs out with his first broken tile for the day. He is the clumsiest of the lot. On average, he is sneaking out with a few broken tiles several times a day.

Summer has never actually seen him break anything, but she has been lucky enough to see him hide most of his breakages. Summer has never seen or heard him speak either.

She appreciates his silence, his thoughtfulness, his kindness. She should have told her Prince months ago about all the broken tiles and the extra money it has cost him.

All these fractured, expensive tiles might be the reason why their renovations have been taking so long; however, it’s their little secret, and she likes the guessing game it forces her to play. How many tiles will he break and hide today?

Once, a fire in the caretaker’s house was left unsolved. From what she could see from way up here, he was the one who started it all, but his sweet face and shy mannerisms made it easy for her to forgive him, made it easy for her to keep this little secret between them—so many secrets in just six months.

So many secrets fill this house. Dirty little secrets she must hide. Mysteries that keep her alive.

Summer puts on the clothes laid out for her and then takes time wandering the dark corridor haunted by hideous family portraits staring at her.

Such nasty-looking humans, such frightfully deformed creatures, no wonder His Highness was looking for something magical to clean these monstrous genes away.

She cannot wait for HER SEVEN to start working up here. She cannot wait to rip these walls and make these paintings disappear.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and hopefully this will inspire you to write a spin off  story of a fairy tale that you know and love.

Writing a Horror Film and loving it.

Horror Movies - Nancy Paton

I have been watching horror films since as early as five years of age, just don’t tell my parents though as it wasn’t them who allowed me to watch them. Older cousins and slumber parties were the usual culprits for watching from behind the sofa or duvet.

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