Warning: today’s ‘Not a Review’ includes internal organs. But not until nearly the very end.
I’m not normally drawn to mothering books but I like Kerry Clare’s work, so it was impossible not to be drawn to her anthology, The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood. I knew I’d be in the hands of good taste and good writing, even if, as a Childless Woman, I couldn’t actually relate. Well, what happened was this: I found myself not only enjoying the read, but relating. In a major way. Because, as it turns out, the essays are both about mothering and not mothering, about the exultant and the reluctant, the non-mothers by choice, the stepmothers by circumstance, women who will do anything to be come a mother and those who will do anything to not. And in every scenario, the difficulties, joys, fears, the way life is changed for the better and sometimes for the not entirely better. There are celebrations, regrets, and such honesty that it’s really quite impossible not to relate.
In other words, there’s something for everyone. Even me. Because if you’re a woman, you fall into some category where motherhood is concerned. This, whether you like it or not. You have the parts. And if you don’t, that may be the problem, or the celebration, depending on your outlook, your personal goals.
And that it is so personal is what I most enjoyed about the book. The writing, yes, but I wasn’t merely reading, you see, I was being drawn into this conversation, being reminded that yes, I also have a story, some history on this subject. And let’s hear it, the conversation seemed to say, because as you can see, no woman is excluded from this club, for here is a truth: if you’re a woman it’s pretty hard not to have a few thoughts on the motherhood thing.
The book is arranged alphabetically, which happens to fit nicely with its ‘lettery’ title, but more importantly it allows for accidental juxtapositions rather than any kind of predictable narrative.
I read it backwards.
Michele Landsberg in the Afterword, on the surprising role of grandmother: “Even though I haven’t had to consider the effect of a child on my lifestyle, the negative or the positive, less is said about that—guilt? It’s interest/improving to help understand friends who’ve been through it because still decades later they talk about it.”
And on over-thinking, a beautifully rendered piece by Julia Zarankin. “If I have a baby in March, when should my husband begin taking driving lessons?”
Sara Yi-Mei Tsian considers the implications on her work: “Motherhood is a study in conflicts, which is why it attracts me as a writer.” and this… I just love this: “…there is a certain nugget of truth… that all writers would like to avoid. We cannot give voice to a character based on someone real without silencing, at least in part, the person who inspired us.”
Patricia Storms presents a graphic essay about the joy of “working for” kids and living without them. And how that’s not something a lot of people seem to understand.
Kerry Ryan on ambivalence about motherhood: “Do you have to have a maternal instinct from the get-go, or does it kick in with your breast milk? And if not, can you wing it, or is your child destined to become a serial killer?”
Heidi Reimer begins with ambivalence, then an adopted daughter, then gets to the “bone of my bone”, “the flesh of my fleshness” when she gives birth and experiences a different kind of love. “I had made a person! I would never do or become anything more important than this.” (Actually, that statement made me wonder about generations past. Did they feel this rush of omnipotence? Now there’s a conversation.)
To her credit, Reimer is painfully honest when writing about these differences.
“I am in love with Aphra, a feeling as effortless and unstoppable as breathing. My relationship with Maia is more akin to an arranged marriage: I made a choice I believed was right, and through that choice, over time a bond solid and close and beautiful as grown. A connection inextricable. If I am sometimes aware that this love was a choice, if that choice is sometimes taxed, so, too, are my relationships with almost everyone I love. Of the several people integral to my existence, Aphra is the only one who came from my body.”
On single motherhood: Fiona Tinwei Lam writes, “Not wanting to be married didn’t mean I didn’t want to have a child.”
And from Ariel Gordon, the need to protect her writing time and space and the choice to have only one child. “When it came right down to it I didn’t think I could be a working writer with more than one child. And I was unwilling to take a break when my writing and my writing life—the time I spent in the company of other writers at readings and conferences and retreats—were finally starting to gel.”
I admire her conviction, the wisdom to know her limits insofar as achieving her goals and how she sees there is more to give her child than a brother or sister to grow up with… but it’s interesting that the ‘maternal’ concern is still there. “And so, even though the girl won’t have siblings to lean on… I’m hoping that she can lean on the texts I’ve left behind.”
Nicole Dixon chose to not have kids for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is an over-populated planet and consumerism run amok. More diapers and toys don’t help the situation. She justifies her position with a desire to allow herself to be a good citizen in so many other ways. that parents may not always put first.
“People often think that saying no to having kids means saying no to life. My choice not to have kids, however, is a choice made from love. I’ve realized that the legacy I want to leave on the earth after I’m gone is as small a mark, as tiny a footprint, as possible… My choice not to have kids does not close me off from my community or my planet. Instead, it allows me to nurture my own life and to mother everyone’s mother, Earth.”
Most are young or youngish mothers. Myrl Coulter is perhaps the single entry from a very different generation, and this is nice to see. Her piece on unwed mothers in the 60’s is especially moving. She was eighteen and in love with a seemingly nice guy. But marriage didn’t make sense. She became a ‘girl in trouble’ and was whisked away to one of the maternity homes that existed from the 1940’s through the 80’s.
“To call these places maternity homes is highly ironic: maternity homes were not homes nor did they function to promote maternity. They were institutions to house and hide those deemed maternally inappropriate. Also known as homes for unwed mothers, they were busy places in those days. Winnipeg, a small city, had three.”
These girls were not just thought to have made a bad decision one night in the rumble seat, but their whole character was judged and they were vilified. They were also thought to be without maternal instincts yet, curiously, they were denied contact with the babies they delivered, which only proves that everyone, even judgmental pricks, realizes the connection between mother and child.
So yes. I read, I enjoyed, I related, I remembered, and the remembering led me to a few other words. The N-D word for instance, as in Near-Death, because it seems fallopian tubes are not a welcoming environment for growing children and near death follows for the host but, before that, after much mysterious pain, internal bleeding, a severe drop in blood pressure and eventually, in the Emergency Department through an increasing haze as one slowly drifts away, the words: you’re pregnant. The only time I would ever hear that sentence where the ‘you’ was me. I remember it was oddly euphoric, even as I lay nearly dying.
The S word is also in my repertoire. Stepmother. I keep forgetting. Easy enough to do in a society that likes its consumers clearly defined as demographics and that doesn’t apologize for the twisted version of things that results when we slap a narrow label on something as big as ‘mother’.
The bottom line is this: The M-Word does what the best conversations do… it shares the stories of others while reminding you of your own.
Small note: If forced to offer a quibble it would only be with the choice of colours for the cover. In an effort to leave the pink and blue behind as we move forward, I’d have preferred anything but.