Wednesday, 30 January 2013


I finished Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood. I feel a bit mixed about the book on whole, and as it's the first book of her's I've read, I'm nervous that the other titles that she's written won't live up to my expectations. But I'll share my thoughts on this one, starting with the good first.

I enjoyed how this was such an exact journey of her path to motherhood, through pregnancy, labor & birth, and into discovering this new balance and sense of self that comes with being a mother. There are so many things about the entire process that women just do not share with each other. Because of judgement? Fear? Feeling that *this* feeling of joy/anger/resentment/exhaustion is somehow unique only to you, and to share that would be a risk. You don't want to scare the women who are thinking about motherhood, or pregnant, or even new. You don't want to risk being ostracized from whatever group you belong to (groups that are oddly, thrown together just because you are now a parent. People you would have never met or necessarily talked to before. Now you share this commonality, and are thrust into parallel lives that now mean FRIENDSHIP).

This particular quote I felt expressed similar feelings I had at the time:

"I was mourning, protesting a point of departure in the road that I could never retrace. An "I" would go forward, swept irrevocably on the by the tide of the natural order, and that "I" would sit on the sofa hour after hour and be someone's Lithium, someone's Lethe, someone's Popsicle- someone who would come to be a love of my life, but whom I did not yet know. And the "I" would reconfigure eventually around that need, and take joy in it, and spin a new identity. But it would never again be the "I" it had been before" (pg. 106).

...and honestly still have. Motherhood is both more complicated- and at the same time, simpler- than I could have imagined. The identity I had before is sometimes in conflict with who I am now. It's a strange journey for sure.

I also enjoyed Wolf's examination of both the medicalized and "natural" (I prefer the term unmedicated) approaches to childbirth in the United States; and the conflict she felt in what she wanted and idealized, and the one that she felt would make her feel safest. Unfortunately, the system failed her, like it fails hundreds of thousands of women every year. It is at this point, I struggle. I see so many women who go into have their baby with the mindset "I don't care what happens, I just want my baby to be fine and healthy", and sadly put both their physical and mental well-fair unknowingly in jeopardy. And instead of discussing this, it becomes par for the national standard dialogue of how we are expected to bring our babies into the world.

Without going into all the details about my birth experience, I have to say I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. By all the research I had read, having my baby in the UK was already a plus in my favor in achieving the delivery that we had hoped for. Which is why when I see the UK system glorified, I cringe. The midwives in the UK are underpaid and overworked. I don't carry the blame (at myself, and the system) that I did for the first year or so and anger and disappointment in myself. But I do believe that their system is stressed. That said, I would go back and have another baby in the UK. I am still terrified of having one in the US, especially in light of the fact that the currently government is pushing to place all rights of the fetus above those of the mother. But I digress....

What I wish, and what Wolf points out so well, is that both communities need to be working together to provide the best opportunities for birthing mothers.

"...there are for the most part only two doors that most of us have access to. Each camp- the traditional high-tech hospital route and the natural childbirth approach- has great skills to share with the other. Each camp needs to be talking with the other in a relationship of equality and respect, collaborating with the other and creating a birth culture and real choices for women out of the best that each has to offer. Women would be best served if all birthing establishments were shaped by the insights of both camps." (pg. 202)

That quote. THAT QUOTE. I believe it so much.

So the things I didn't like about the book....
Well, in the afterward, Wolf addresses the criticisms I (and apparently a LOT of readers) came away with after reading it. The biggest being that this is a very singular look at these "Misconceptions". For the most part, it's about white upper middle class women coming to terms with motherhood. And it causes a big disconnect (at least it did for me). So I'm not going to harp on it. I also hated that she referred to the Le Leche League as "fascists" because I think the work that they do is important. Sometimes, whether intended or not, Wolf stirs the Mommy-Wars pot, which is always disappointing.

I wish that women could for-go the judgement and present a united front when it comes to motherhood; parenthood. It's hard. And it's harder when you feel like you're having to defend and justify yourself at every turn.

So that's my review. The end.

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