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The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood

by Kerry Clare, ed.

“Mom” is such a loaded word. Girls grow up absorbing, as if by osmosis, the mother-child relationships around them; then, suddenly, it’s their turn to enter motherhood (or not, as the case may be). I am not a mother yet, but after nearly three years working at a parenting magazine (not to mention three decades of living), I know one thing: every woman’s relationship to motherhood is unique and complex. This notion of mutability is at the heart of Kerry Clare’s anthology.

The editor of the Canadian books website 49thShelf, as well as an essayist and prolific blogger, Clare has curated 25 thought-provoking, brutally honest essays in a collection that explores, in the words of her introduction, “the intractable connections between motherhood and womanhood with all the necessary complexity and contradiction laid out in a glorious tangle.” Heather Birrell reveals her lack of trust in her husband with their first child. Myrl Coulter reflects on what it was like to be a “girl in trouble” in 1968, in particular the expectation that she would give her baby up for adoption. And Christa Couture confronts the most devastating experience for a mother: the death of her two children, under different circumstances, both when they were still babies. There are stories of stepmothering, infertility, solo parenting, miscarriages, abortions, wavering on wanting to have children, and firm convictions to never have children.

Some motherhood stories are, however, noticeably absent: the woman who raises her grandchildren; the mom who uses a surrogate to do what her own body can’t; and the single woman who wants a child fiercely, but knows she can’t do it on her own. Structurally, the transitions from essay to essay could be improved. Similar themes or events (such as step-parenting, or the deaths of parents or children) are sometimes – but not always – in close proximity, which can make for long stretches of heavy reading. A short graphic essay that appears near the end of the book could have worked better as a welcome interlude at the halfway mark.

Nevertheless, this is a powerful collection of stories by Canadian women of various ages, and every woman will benefit from reading it.