Review: Baby Love

Baby Love: Choosing motherhood after a lifetime of ambivalence

 

By Rebecca Walker
Souvenir Press, £15

 

How does a woman preserve her sense of self after becoming a mother? This is the question that shapes Rebecca Walker's provocative pregnancy diary.

"Mine is the first generation of women to grow up thinking of children as optional," she writes. "We learned that children were not to be pursued at the expense of anything else. A graduate degree in economics, for example, or a life of renunciation, devoted to a Hindu mystic... Children smelled of betrayal and a lack of appreciation for the progress made on behalf of women's liberation."

It was an attitude partially inherited from her mother, Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, whose own ambivalent attitude towards Rebecca is painfully exposed here. The two became estranged after Rebecca, the product of Alice's marriage with Jewish lawyer Mel Leventhal, criticised her mother's parenting in her autobiography, Black, White and Jewish - and Rebecca does not spare us the details.

But while the question will strike some as self-indulgent, it is likely to strike a chord with the great many women who are putting off childbirth until their late 30s in order to pursue careers. Even women who have desperately wanted children can sometimes struggle to balance their needs and interests with those of their families.

Unfortunately, Walker never satisfactorily answers the question. She does a nice job charting the challenges of pregnancy, from morning sickness to financial stress, struggles with the role of the father and input from the wider family (including an attempt by her father to get her to name her baby Samuel, David or Moishe), changing body image, and, of course, childbirth.

She is insightful on the long-term psychological toll of an abortion at 14, and is honest about the limits of her maternal feelings towards a teenage son she adopted with a former lesbian partner. Inappropriately honest, perhaps, given the child is now old enough to read her book.

Somewhere along the way she finds herself transformed with love for her unborn child, so that when Tenzin finally arrives, she can finally declare, "I am a mother and a partner now... I have no regrets." She laments her lack of free time, but her priorities have fundamentally changed.

This is a little too pat. The book stops shortly after Tenzin's birth, but a child's impact on a parent's identity only begins, not ends, with the delivery. This book could more usefully have been written several years down the line; perhaps even decades.

    Last updated: 3:17pm, February 18 2011