Today I am talking about Motherhood by Sheila Heti which I finished reading this weekend. Originally published in 2018, this was a book which wasn’t on my radar until fairly recently when I saw Leena Norms mention this as being one of her favourite books on Youtube. And with the book dealing with a woman who is trying to decide whether or not she should become a mother, it felt like a read that, as a woman in my early thirties, would strike a chord with me.
*As a content warning, this book and my review of it deals heavily with views around womanhood and motherhood and how we decide what path to take and the subsequent associated challenges. This is obviously a subject which is a sensitive and difficult one for many so wanted to make anyone aware who may find discussions around this topic upsetting in any way*
Whether I want kids is a secret I keep from myself – it is the greatest secret I keep from myself
Intrigued by the premise of Motherhood I picked it up last month on one of my many visits to Waterstones to give the blurb a read. And the moment I read the above quote which was on the back of the book, I knew I had to read it. It was a sentence that really hit me, and captures what I, and no doubt many others, feel with regards to the prospect of parenthood. This year I turned 33 years old, and whilst I for the most part enjoy my ‘childfree’ existence, I do feel the societal pressure to marry and have children. Just in the last couple of weeks I have seen tweets regarding advice from the World Health Organisation for women of childbearing age not to drink, and results of a YouGov poll in which people considered what age was too old or too young to become a parent. Of course, attitudes surrounding womanhood and gender norms are gradually changing, and we know that ultimately, it’s a matter of individual choices and circumstances, but there is still an expectation, ingrained deep in society, for most women to fulfill roles as mothers, and we are often given a shelf life, and a timeline with which to adhere.
These issues are explored through the plight of Motherhood’s protagonist, as she asks a myriad of philosophical questions, as a woman in her 30’s considering whether or not she should have a child. My closeness in age to narrator immediately drew me into her story and I found this to be a compelling and relatable read which explores a complex and emotive issue in a way that feels very fresh. Throughout the book, questions are answered through the flip of a coin, an unusual narrative device which certainly adds an extra level of intrigue to the choices made as our protagonist struggles to make a moral and meaningful choice.
How hard it is to understand what the other has done – when it looks to me like she has been stolen, and when it looks to her like I have stalled. We both look so cowardly and so brave. The other one seems to have everything – and the other one seems to have nothing at all
The above quote is one of many that jumped out at me as I was reading. I was struck by the concept of taking different paths in life leading to a friend feeling she has stalled while another has been taken away, as naturally, as a parent, your life is changed significantly, priorities and lifestyles change. The feeling of stalling, or being left behind, is one that I struggle with. Even though, as a woman who once burnt her hands making beans on toast, the thought of being in charge of raising a child is a prospect that terrifies me, I can’t deny that when I watch the children of my friends and family grow up so fast, I am hit by a twinge of sadness that my currently non-existent children will not be able to grow up alongside them. I had a moment during lockdown (possibly exacerbated by the general anxiety of living through a global pandemic) where I felt emotional seeing a clip on a Louis Theroux documentary where he is reading to his children. It was a moment that, as silly as it sounds, overwhelmed me. When I was younger, and had an image in my head of being a Mum, I would picture myself reading bedtime stories to my child, to pass on my love of reading. Whilst this of course is almost a romanticised image of parenthood, shortly before I tuck them in and smile at them from the door like on the TV, this was a random moment where I was suddenly hit with an overwhelming feeling of sadness that this might never be something I experience. Something which I am sure is felt by many, including the many wonderful people I know who have experienced heartbreak and anguish on their continued journey to parenthood, something they are still fighting for.
Ask only whether you are living your values, not whether the boxes are ticked.
Another quote that stuck with me, and one that I want to take with me, as I remind myself that its ok not to follow convention, that a path that might work for others might not be the path for me. It doesn’t matter if all the boxes are ticked, as long as you are pursuing what truly makes you happy. The fact that myself, and the narrator of this story, have doubts and uncertainty around whether or not to pursue motherhood is an indication that we know it’s not for us, at least not at this point. I sometimes imagine a different life, I wonder if relationships had turned out differently, if I felt more loved than maybe I could have the capacity to love and raise another. But that’s ok. At the moment I am content with my childfree existence, I enjoy my hobbies, and I can be a mother in other ways, in the way I care for others, and try to help others when I can.
This blog post has escalated into quite a longwinded half review, half therapy session! But certainly, if you are interested in attitudes to womanhood and specifically motherhood this may be an interesting read for you as it was for me. I have seen some criticism aimed at this book for the narrator being a little annoying and some of the content being tedious and this is something I can see but as the content feels very relevant to me at this point in my life it wasn’t something that bothered me.
As always, I’d love to know your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it, and I should be back with another review soon!