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To Have or Not to Have a Baby
on April 22, 2008
Rebecca Walker writes honestly and eloquently of the many feelings and beliefs she has carried over the years about becoming a mother. The subtitle of her book, choosing motherhood after a lifetime of ambivalence, together with her main title, telegraphs the denouement of her story; namely, that her ambivalence takes a decidedly positive turn at some point in her story. Her change of heart is not a simple matter, and she shares the complex and often subtle experiences that ultimately change her.
The book is written as a diary in a style that is informal and pleasantly conversational. The topics are many, such as working versus motherhood, fears of having a baby, indecision (once deciding to have it) as to where to have it (at home or in a hospital), the complexities of relationship, and so many more. None of theses are new issues, to be sure, but each is pondered thoughtfully from differing aspects and the reader is invited to ponder them as well.
I was impressed by Walker's willingness to share her vulnerabilities, to reveal the lessons she has learned over time such as her tendency to "mother" others--to shower others with the emotional support that she craved but had not received as a child. She credits Glen, the man with whom she eventually would have her child, for much of her increased self-understanding, for his help with her moodiness, her depression, her sometimes disabling insecurities. He is consistently present and supportive, though never agreeing simply to please her. His intelligent rebuttals to some of her ideas bring an additional depth and dimension to the story.
Walker makes no secret of her antagonistic relationship with her own mother (author Alice Walker). Not an easy thing to display one's deep and continuing hurt by a famous mother for all the world to read. In the very first chapter of her book, the author reveals her mother's astonishing indifference to her announcement that she is pregnant--an indifference and often outright nastiness that is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of this book. There can be little doubt that this hurtful relationship is a significant factor in Rebecca Walker's deep-seated ambivalence toward bringing her own child into the world.
But Baby Love is not without humor. After a visit to the maternity department of a shop with "... haggard-looking mothers being dragged around by whiny, unruly kids," she calls Glen and laments, "Am I going to be trapped behind a stroller for the rest of my life, at the beck and call of some badly behaved toddler screaming for his sippy cup?" Perhaps this scene amuses me only because it brings back similar feelings of my own from so many years ago.
I never fully understand Walker's change of heart when I suddenly come upon her pleasure over being pregnant and later her euphoria over her son, who has become everything to her, or her euphoria over motherhood--which she now feels she can embrace wholeheartedly while still accomplishing great things, a concept that I, being of her mother's generation, continue to question.
She writes of the maturity that comes to her with the experience of pregnancy and motherhood, of her willingness "...to walk through fire" for her son. She talks of what it feels like to become a mother without having had a proper mother, "...what becoming a mother without a mother feels like." She names her son Tenzin, after Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a name that I suspect will not easily be accepted by his peers, not to mention an impossibly high standard to lay on any child. But then again, I think, Why Not? Who knows what this child will accomplish?
Walker and her partner, Glen, are serious thinkers. She writes, "...how few people break away from the expectations of their parents to live their own, authentic lives. Guilt and fear keep so many of us ensnared. Who can stand the emotional blowback that comes from choosing a different path?" However, as she points out, "If we aren't diligent in our efforts to mature, at some point cutting the cord of familial expectation, we become infantilized by it." I can think of few psychological insights more important (and harder to actually apply) than this statement.
This author's desire to be true to herself informs every page of her writing. I hope she is writing the continuing chapter of her life from the point where Baby Love ends. She is a skilled writer, a human being eager to live her own truth, and she has hooked my interest in the continuing flow of her life. I have my wallet out to buy her next book.
by Duffie Bart
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women