I’ll admit that I was apprehensive when Carolyn suggested I choose The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood as my next book. Mother’s Day was on the horizon so this essay collection was a timely choice, but I am, in our modern parlance, child-free (or child-less, depending on your view). What business do I have reading a book about motherhood?
This book, I soon learned, is so much more than reflections on Baby Björn products, home versus hospital births and essays on the infinite joys of finally becoming a parent. The collection’s editor, Kerry Clare, writes in her introduction:
In fact, it seems that outside the zone are most of us, those whose relationships to motherhood are complicated – we’ve lost children, we never had the ones we longed for, the children we have are not biologically ours. We are the women who’ve had too many children or not enough, or we didn’t have them properly. Women for whom motherhood is a fork in the road, encountered with decidedly mixed feelings. There are those of us who made the conscious choice not to have children, and yet find ourselves defined by what we’re lacking instead of the richness of our lives.
The M Word touches all of these topics and more. Whether you’re a mother by choice or by circumstance, a woman without children by choice, circumstance or tragedy, or simply someone who has yet to decide which path to take, you’ll find yourself in one of these stories. And not always the ones you’d suspect.
Essay collections are often a hard-sell when I recommend a book, but this one has real appeal. These are not simply essays by mothers, they are essays by writers at the top of their games. An IMPAC award winner rubs pages with a National Newspaper Award winner, while Journey Prize nominees and GG finalists pop in and out of this anthology. These 25 voices are fresh, diverse in tone and, frequently, brutally honest.
While this book is light on the Atlantic content we usually highlight in this space, it does feature a powerful essay from Nicole Dixon, an award-winning short story author from Cape Breton Island. “Babies in a Dangerous Time: On Choosing to be Child-Free” meditates on the pressure women feel, all too often from other women, to pro-create:
You have to explain why you don’t want to have kids because people are never happy with the simple answer, ‘No, I don’t want kids.’ They look at you. They raise their eyebrows. They call you anti-kid or assume you’re barren. They tell you, actually say to you, as if they know your mind better than you do, ‘Oh some day? Don’t worry. You’ll change your mind.’
Dixon doesn’t apologize for her child-free status. She highlights, using a mix of personal prose and pop culture references, the times she’s pondered crossing over into motherhood, and the reasons that she’s decided to stay put.
Whether you’re a mother or not, almost a mother, or mother-like; female or otherwise gendered, this engaging book will make you think about the many ways we do or don’t become parents and the choices our parents made before us.
The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood
edited by Kerry Clare
$22.95, paperback, 310 pp.
Goose Lane Editions, April 2014