All over the world women are finding their voices. From speaking out against sexual assault to workplace inequalities, we have reached a point where the great disparities among the sexes are being acknowledged and challenged. Among these voices, we are hearing from mothers. For so long, there has been such a narrow definition of motherhood. A definition that includes only happiness and baby cuddles and lullabies. But what about those for whom this definition doesn’t fit? What about those, who, when they become a mother, find themselves unhappy or struggle with the immensity of this change? Is it any coincidence that now, when women are making themselves heard, we are seeing such a boom in motherhood memoirs?
Recently there is the Giller Prize nominated Motherhood by Sheila Heti. As with Heti’s other writing, this novel blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction as the narrator, a writer in her late 30’s and in a serious relationship, considers having a child. Though this is a huge, life-altering decision, it is rarely given much critical thought, but Heti’s narrator understands the immensity of this decision and carefully weighs her options, wondering if she’s willing to sacrifice her art for a child, and which is more important.
A lighter read, Meagan O’Connell’s And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready is a less heady, perhaps more relatable book for new mothers. Based on her experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, O’Connell does not shy away from the messy, ugly, devastating parts of the topic while keeping her sense of humour intact.
In Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy, Angela Garbes writes about women’s bodies through a mix of science and personal experience. Her book offers fascinating facts about the placenta, the transfer of cells between mother and fetus, and the wonders of breastmilk. Garbes encourages women to trust themselves and ask questions of their health providers, allowing pregnant women and new mothers to make informed decisions.
Two classics in the motherhood memoir genre are Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. Lamott’s book takes the form of a diary of her first year of motherhood. Told in a sarcastic and witty way, Lamott struggles as a single parent but has a community of friends and her faith to help her. Cusk’s book is more thoughtful and philosophical. She writes about sleeplessness and colic and breastfeeding, but also how to navigate this new identity for herself.
Whether you’re a new mother trying to find your footing or a seasoned pro, there is something so satisfying about recognizing your own experiences in someone else’s writing. As women become increasingly empowered to share their truths, I can only imagine the writing that is to come.