Becoming Mother: Book Review

becoming mother cover

“New mothers need to hear the other voices of the postpartum period – ones that talk about the scary, the unpleasant, the embarrassing, and the downright soul-testing. We need to tell these stories because there is comfort in seeing that we are not forging an entirely new path. In fact, we are walking in the footprints that other mother have left behind.”

– Becoming Mother by Sharon Tjaden-Glass

When Sharon asked me if I’d be interesting in reading and reviewing her book, Becoming Mother, I immediately said yes. From what I read on her blog, and through our online conversations, her ideas about motherhood meshed with mine and I couldn’t wait for it to arrive.

But when it finally did, I stared at the beautiful cover and hesitated.

The idea of traveling back to my grief stricken pregnancy and intensely challenging postpartum period was like gazing into a deep well, whose cold dark interior I knew intimately, and for the most part, tried to avoid.

I had delved back there last year when I wrote an essay that is now part of the anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness. But it’s become apparent to me that the transformation into motherhood is not something easily exorcised – and maybe it shouldn’t it be.

When I finally took the plunge and began reading, I became instantly immersed in Sharon’s story of her pregnancy and childbirth. Yes, some of my painful memories rose up, but I forgot about the flip side – how light almost always accompanies the dark.

I remembered lying on the floor after huffing my way through a tortuous pregnancy workout DVD, and how the instructor would say in her adorable lisping French accent, “Now lie down and connect with your baby,” and I felt my future daughter flipping and gliding beneath my fingertips. Reading Sharon’s description of a similar moment, I was transported back to my own magical moment.

That’s why Sharon’s book is not just a guide for new mothers, but any woman interested in stepping back in time. There are gifts of memory and wisdom to be gleaned from retrospection, and realizing the complex and often contradictory feelings of new motherhood are not unique or unnatural, but a shared journey.

The Review

Becoming Mother is divided into six main sections, starting with Pregnancy and going all the way through the first year postpartum. Sharon writes in present tense pausing between sections with a thoughtful reflection. This unique structure keeps the pace brisk and offers the reader breathing room during transitions.

Not unlike active labor.

One thing I particularly appreciated is how the book maintains a sharp focus on the mother’s experience even after the baby is born. Instead of the mom getting shunted off to the sidelines while the newborn takes the spotlight, we remain with Sharon as she processes her physically and emotionally taxing labor and delivery.

With eloquence and clarity, she explains the ramifications of her doctor forcibly breaking her waters (without permission) and another doctor’s cold comments while stitching her up. These moments leave scars, as deep as any C-section, yet invisible to the naked eye. Sharon boldly pokes holes in the popular yet condescending mantra, “all that matters is a healthy baby” with her honest and wrenching account.

While she opted for, and succeeded in having, a natural birth, this book in no way fits tidily into any single style of mothering. In fact, Sharon blows up the assumption that mothers should opt for one style over another, encouraging women to pick and choose what works for them and their babies, and to honor flexibility over any dogma or parenting camp.

We follow Sharon into the heady and delirious days of new motherhood and for her in particular, the painful struggle with breastfeeding. She goes into great detail about this specific challenge, and what initially feels like failure.

A relatable and painful subject for many women, but any mother will certainly understand the hard-earned lesson of reality knocking against theory.

When we’re pregnant we make decisions and proclamations that often get thrown out the window when the baby arrives, thus, the crucial need for flexibility and self-forgiveness. It’s okay to change your mind, or your mindset.

Sharon captures the beauty and awe of new motherhood, as well as the less glamorous aspect of anxiety and loss with thoughtfulness and clear-eyed intelligence.

The first year of motherhood is trial by fire. No matter how much preparation or research you do, nothing can truly prepare you for the change in lifestyle, change in self, loss of identity, and the need to forge a new one.

Yet most of us try to find answers. We take classes, read books and blogs, and ask friends. Pregnant women, and their partners, are often desperate for knowledge. But most stories we hear tend to be on the extreme ends of the spectrum.

There’s the horror story variety: “My labor was 37 hours long and I almost tore in half,” and of course the classic, “You’ll never sleep again!”

While the other side oozes with pure joy and positivity: “I fell in love with my baby right away!” and, “I can’t imagine life without children.”

Neither extreme – no matter how true for the teller – is helpful for new mothers, most of whom are craving realistic answers that fall somewhere in the middle.

On the last day of my childbirth class, I remember one father asking our instructor the question on all of our minds. “But what is it like?”

We all knew what he meant by “it.” He wasn’t referring to the topic being addressed; he wanted to know what being a parent looked like, felt like. He wanted details, minutia. The truth.

I remember people laughing a little, nervously, because we all knew the question couldn’t be answered, certainly not in a few pithy lines on our way out the door. Yet we listened and hung on every word, hoping for some wisdom to carry us to the other side.

This is what Sharon’s book does – she invites the reader to come along with her on the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood and doesn’t hold back. She gives readers the truth, her truth, of course, but with universal sentiments and her own hard-earned wisdom.

“It’s not about being a good mother. It’s about being the right mother. For this child. In this moment… seek to be the right mother. Every day. And if you can do that, you can find peace in the chaos of motherhood.” (page 266)

Becoming a mother is not something that happens in an instant when the baby arrives. It’s something that continues to happen, for years, maybe for the rest of our lives as our children grow up, and one day, grow away.

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Being a Mom is NOT Enough (For Me)

Writing those words is not easy. Feels a little taboo, like something a mom is never supposed to admit.

Then there’s the whole people pleaser part of me that doesn’t want to make anyone mad. But this idea has been sitting on the back burner of my mind for a while now, simmering like a pot of water. Steam is escaping out of the edges and the lid is rattling. Time to look inside.

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: *floydgal* via Compfight cc

I believe being a mom can be enough, and is enough for some women.

Let me go deeper – I believe that being a mom is enough for some women at certain times of their children’s lives. Like for me, when my kids were infants, all I could do was nurture them and try to get enough sleep in between night wakings to stay alive. Writing was not on my priority list back then. Things like showers and sleep were.

During my daughter's newborn stage.

During my daughter’s newborn stage. A mommy nap.

But as the years rolled by there came a point when I realized I needed something else, something that belonged just to me.

I wonder about my own mother. Was being a mom enough for her? Unfortunately, we never had a chance to be moms at the same time and explore these types of questions. She died a year before my daughter was born.

Me and my mom, May 1977

Me and my mom, May 1977

She was a stay at home mom by choice, and I know that was important to her, in part because her own mother worked long hours after her husband died young. My mom never wanted us to experience the loneliness she felt as a child, and so even when she worked part-time or volunteered, she was always there to greet us after school.

This clearly influenced me. I wanted to offer my children what she did, and I have, while also trying to pursue my writing. My mom was an artist too, a talented sculptor whose beautiful and haunting creations outlived her.

susan schwartz masks

Unfortunately for her – and for our whole family – she was diagnosed with a severe form of multiple sclerosis when she was just forty years old, a disease that cruelly took away her mobility, one limb at a time, in rapid succession. Her deft fingers that sculpted vases and bowls, that painstakingly etched emotion into clay faces, were rendered useless. Her art endures though, as does her signature. And her love.

mom signature green

I’m soon to approach that milestone birthday, and I wonder if I’m holding onto a kernel of fear that something may befall me and derail my creative ambitions, like what happened to her. Perhaps that is what pushes me to write now with more urgency than before.

Or perhaps I’m finally ready to write with fervor.

I am fortunate that I have two healthy children, and the luxury of choice to stay home with them. I am grateful to my partner for supporting our family financially, for my health, and my ability to pursue my dreams.

me and kids winter 2014

I want to be their mother AND a writer.

And so, that’s what I’m finally trying to do.

today i will make magic happen