Described as a ‘novel’ which I now understand to be a word encompassing various literary forms, Motherhood prises open the narrator’s years-long ambivalence about becoming a mother – I assume, we assume, she is a close version of Heti. The narrative takes the form of a long stream of coherent consciousness, musings, reflections and dreams about what it means to become a mother, pitted against a life of creation through writing. The diary-like enquiry is ponderous and rigorous – the book doesn’t veer far else – and such is her bafflement at times, she turns to psychics and a version of the I-Ching for answers to some of the big and small questions provoked by the event marked as pivotal in a woman’s life.
We learn about Miles, the partner of the narrator who has a daughter from a previous relationship and has seemingly less interest in fathering again – he leaves the decision up to her. She writes about their sex life which is, strange to me, overshadowed by the risk of pregnancy that ‘pulling out’ inevitably brings. We meet various friends who have children, or are pregnant, who offer their varied wisdom – and in sections that I enjoyed most – we also learn about the narrator’s mother, who mothered in a way that was informed by her own experience of being mothered, with its tragic historical links to the Holocaust.
Despite reproductive freedoms gained, women are still judged for deciding not to be mothers – just as those who silently grieve their loss of a desired motherhood can be too. This is a powerful addition to the growing canon of women’s writings about their reproductive bodies, and I hope it sheds further light upon the unjustified sense of failure women can often feel.