Apologies for the unusual blogging silence since the Spring – I’ve been busy with the effort of growing a tiny human being over the last 20 weeks and I found it very hard to sit down and think about ‘writing life’ while I was still in the throes of morning sickness (which many pregnant women recognise as something of a misnomer – ‘all day sickness’ perhaps). Since I shared the news with friends, I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of other women, many of whom have loaned or given me books to read on topics ranging from hypnobirthing and meditation to parenting. But alongside this, I’ve been trying to draw up my own ‘alternative’ reading list, which has one foot firmly in the territory of fiction.
Before I ever thought about the possibility of pregnancy myself, I’ve always been interested in how literature and motherhood intersect, and now seems like a particularly exciting time to be aware of those connections, especially in the poetry world. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to hear Hollie McNish in Sheffield, reading from ‘Nobody Told Me’. I’ve long been aware of the ‘Writing Motherhood’ project and the anthology of the same name edited by Carolyn Jess Cooke.
I thought I’d share a small selection from my own reading here. This isn’t intended to be exhaustive – there’s a wealth of literature I haven’t mentioned and a wealth that I hope I’m yet to discover – but a tiny, alternative sample of novels, poetry and non-fiction books that explore issues of pregnancy, birth and motherhood in interesting ways. Here’s what I’ve been turning to:
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This pocket-sized book is aimed at parents-to-be of girls, but I think the questions it asks about how we think of gender, intersectionality and equality are just as relevant to boys. It is uncompromising, funny and subtle.
Moon Milk – Rachel Bower
Hot off the press, this new poetry collection from inspirational Sheffield-based academic, activist and mum-of-three Rachel Bower is poignant, celebratory and elegant, unearthing the magical in our everyday experiences of pain, loss and recovery. There’s a huge amount of warmth and generosity in the poems.
The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
A novel about a re-wilding experiment in the Lake District with a pregnant protagonist. Sarah Hall’s writing is always electric and this book is especially gripping in its exploration of freedom and desire. A refreshing portrayal of both pregnancy and childcare.
Expecting Better – Emily Oster
This is a non-fiction book, but I’ve included it because it’s such a welcome antidote to the anxiety and regulation that (can) surround pregnancy. Enlightening and calming, Oster’s book analysis the facts around received wisdom and medical advice and tells mums-to-be they can probably relax a bit.
The Republic of Motherhood – Liz Berry
I’ve admired Liz’s bold, beautiful poetry since she published her first pamphlet with tall-lighthouse press and motherhood is a subject she writes about with unparalleled eloquence and passion.
Incarnation – Clare Pollard
A powerful, visceral collection of poems alive to the connections between the personal and the political. ‘Incarnation’ makes me think about the responsibilities we have and how we navigate them.
An Aviary of Small Birds – Karen McCarthy Woolf
It might seem strange to have a book which pivots around the stillbirth of a son on my pregnancy reading list (especially as someone who needs medication for anxiety!), but I firmly believe that conversations about miscarriage and stillbirth should be part of the discourse around pregnancy (and that art is best-placed to frame that discourse in powerful ways). I have always found this collection of poems heartbreaking, inspiring and haunting. This is a brilliant book.