Essential Reading: Desiring Motherhood
Every October Literary Mama focuses on the theme of desiring motherhood, so we have collected a plethora of books highlighting multiple aspects of the topic. It just so happens that last October I read We Need to Talk About Kevin. I was managing my own feelings about having a child, or even attempting to have one. I was 37, and while I had always assumed I would be a mother, I had never assumed I would wait so long. Reading Lionel Shriver’s words felt like reading my own diary. All my worries and fears were encompassed in letter format and featured a 37-year-old protagonist debating the merits of pregnancy, making her partner happy, and motherhood itself. While a majority of the book deals with a darker subject matter, the beginning of the book focuses on the desire (or lack of desire) for motherhood. I found myself nodding along with Shriver’s brutally honest writing. By reading this book, I realized that my thoughts weren’t evil, and that my analysis of maternal desire was normal. Some months after finishing Kevin, I found myself less scared (though still completely terrified) at the idea of having a child of my own. In April, my husband and I conceived our first child. I am currently in my third trimester, which has brought with it a slew of new fears. As usual, I turned to books to alleviate my panic, trying to find the same solace that I found in Shriver’s words.
Since becoming pregnant, my fear-focus has switched from making the decision to being in the throes of preparation for both childbirth and labor. I have long dreaded the actual act of giving birth, which I intend to do naturally at a birth center. I’m finding peace in Ina May Gaskin’s Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. The first half of the book is comprised of personal birth stories from many different women with varying experiences. The second part of the book is comprised of 14 chapters outlining the labor process in a way that no other pregnancy or childbirth book I’ve picked up has been able to. I found the focus on the mind/body connection, the science of labor, and even what to pack if you are giving birth at a hospital or birth center to be helpful and soothing. Gaskin also includes a glossary of terms that I found incredibly valuable as a layman dealing with medical jargon. While Gaskin doesn’t sugarcoat anything, she also doesn’t use scare tactics to drive her point home, instead using an almost maternal coo to soothe her readers while providing pertinent information.
The third book I’ve found supportive in quashing my fears of actually having and raising a child is Jessica Mills’ My Mother Wears Combat Boots: A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us. I see this book as the third in my series of preparation. If Kevin was the before, Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth the during, Mills’ book is the after. She breaks down motherhood from birth to newborns to toddlers. Her advice transcends the usual baby and parenting book guides in that it concentrates more on an alternative lifestyle with chapters on cloth diapers, gender-coding, and even the debate of children watching television. This book enlightened me on several topics I hadn’t even considered. Her humor and wit combined with her knowledge provide for an easy, yet thought-provoking read.
Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek offers another pick that may help to quell anxiety about motherhood: “Ariel Gore’s The Mother Trip: Hip Mama's Guide to Staying Sane in the Chaos of Motherhood lifted me from ‘the mama blues’ more times that I can count. Part memoir, part parenting guide, Gore offers glimpses of how a smart, funny, politically-conscious mother handles internalized expectations of mothers in our society. In bite-sized essays that read like a best friend’s letters, she tackles subjects such as ‘learning to be unacceptable,’ managing the ‘time of no time,’ and ‘The Maternal Feminist Agenda.’ Whenever I felt like life was spinning out of control, this little book helped to restore my equilibrium.”
Colleen Kearney Rich, Fiction Editor, writes, “I heard Belle Boggs read from her new memoir The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood at the Fall for the Book Festival here in Virginia. It is called a memoir, but I found it to be so much more. I was fascinated by some of the research she has gathered. For example, in the chapter ‘Baby Fever,’ she discusses the Coen Brothers film Raising Arizona and research by Finnish family sociologist Anna Rotkirsch on the phenomenon she calls ‘baby fever.’ Boggs tells the reader fairly early in the book that there is a happy ending for her and her husband—that they have a daughter thanks to IVF—but she also writes, ‘I became interested in the stories that don’t get told, the ones that some people don’t want to hear. I became interested in trying.'”
Creative Nonfiction and Fiction Editorial Assistant Lisa Katzenberger continues to explore motherhood and birth through fiction: “In Eleven Hours, Pamela Erens tells the story of a woman’s first experience of childbirth. Lore enters the hospital alone and with an intricate birth plan, determined to have an unassisted, natural experience. Her nurse, Franckline, who is newly pregnant herself, knows what Lore will succumb to, but supports Lore on her journey. ‘Having a child is usually just a long patience,’ she warns her. Erens flawlessly captures the experience of childbirth—the fear, the surprise, the other-worldly pain. Through gritty and realistic descriptions, Erens drills in on the finer details of labor. A 40-second contraction is explored for not only its physical pain, but for its fight and emotional trauma. Lore’s love triangle is shared with the reader slowly, each pause in labor bringing a new dimension to the story of how Lore ended up in a hospital determined to be both father and mother to her child.”
Is there a particular book that has helped you with your own fears on the subject of motherhood? Share it with us in the comments below or tweet us @LiteraryMama or follow us on Goodreads for more books on the subject of desiring motherhood.