Mother-talk diverse and challenging

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October 24, 2014

The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood

Edited by Kerry Clare

Goose Lane Editions,

314 Pages, $22.95

Reviewed by Janet Ralph

The thoughtful, honest and sometimes humorous voices in this anthology speak from a wide array of perspectives. Featured writers range from a woman who presents her rational argument for why she chose to say “no” to babies to the woman who followed her instinct and produced four children with no regrets.

Readers will learn about the agonizing decision of whether to continue an unexpected pregnancy and the disappointing lack of results from months of treatment at a fertility clinic. Other essays report on twins, miscarriage, grieving the death of babies, step­parenting and the contemporary development of single and gay women choosing to have children with the aid of a sperm-donor clinic.

Some voices are as warm as a “heart to heart” with a close friend; others carry an undercurrent of anger or defensiveness because their choices are still criticized by some segments of society. One story feels aloof, another sad; one is sarcastic, another funny. Editor Kerry Clare’s compilation fittingly ends with a story written by a grandmother.

One of my favorite essays, because of its creativity and journalling of personal growth, is 
“Junior” by Maria Meindl. She tells a story about illness, daughterhood, self­knowledge and Junior, who is a unique kind of baby. I also admired Heather Birrell’s “Truth, Dare, Double­Dare” because of its superb style and ruthless honestly. Birrell eloquently clarifies the essence of the struggle in deciding to continue or end a pregnancy: “We found ourselves grappling with this perhaps most fundamental and mysterious intersection of biology, emotion, instinct and great complicated need.”

In “Dog Days,” Diana Fitzgerald Bryden beautifully sums up the experience of caring for babies when she writes of the “early days of constant interruption and blinding love, visceral engagement with the life of an infant as well as the attendant boredom, frustration and fatigue.”

Two additional perspectives I would have liked to see included in this conversation: those from an infertile couple (or single) who desperately wants a child but can’t afford the expense of adopting a baby from another country; and a woman who chooses to continue a pregnancy and give the baby to a person who wants but cannot produce a child.

The adoption choice is briefly touched on by Clare in her story “Doubleness Clarifies.” She uses the words of a young protagonist in Lynn Coady’s novel Strange Heaven to dismiss the option:  “Yes, but real human beings shouldn’t have to go through that.”
 In Clare’s story of choosing abortion to end her pregnancy, she defends her choice on an intellectual level but doesn’t give readers insight into the emotional aspects of her experience. Modern motherhood is complex in ways our grandmothers could never have imagined, yet the deeper elements of the experience remain the same.

The M Word is a book I would have benefited from reading when I was a young mother more than 30 years ago. I have recommended it to my daughters now as they ponder their motherhood choices.

Janet Ralph is a Victoria reader and writing student. 

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