Expecting or thinking of having a baby? Coming to terms with the realization that you’re gradually making the decision not to? Regretting your decision after becoming a parent, or not becoming a parent? Whichever topic or area of self-analysis is on your mind regarding parenthood, then this book is very much aimed at you. Or perhaps it should absolutely be avoided at all costs! It all depends on how you look at it, your attitude toward childbirth, parenthood and even your own experience of childhood, but most of all your sensitivity to reality. First off, let me say that, all the former banter aside, this book is an absolute triumph. An outstanding collection of the highest merit and quality, and a composition worthy of the utmost respect for every single contributor.
Every possible aspect of conceiving, carrying, birthing and raising a child is addressed in the most candid, merciless, unyielding fashion, from the viewpoint of the would-be parent, the child and even complete strangers. In this respect, there is no single, universally acceptable viewpoint of parenthood regurgitated here; it is brutal and honest, vividly graphic, grim, depressing, and as utterly realistic as it gets. From my own personal point of view (that of one who has no children by choice), it was fantastic to see that I and others like me are unusually represented, too. As you may have guessed, this collection of deep-reaching, gut-wrenching narratives is not your usual run-of-the-mill, cotton-wool-lined approach; in contrast, its entire premise is that it focuses on those “shameful” unspoken considerations of parenthood: the concerns; the stigmas; the elephants in the room; and the so downright taboo that to see them published in print is a rare thing. To see them all together in one anthology is a movement. And a rare treat it is, too. The narratives are not fictional; they are prose from the heart and soul, from people who have lived the very best experiences of childbirth/parenthood/childhood, to those who have lived the very worst. Every one of them opens their heart with the conflicts and the truths that most are too blinkered to consider – and too afraid to ever do so publicly.
It is notable that this book is a British production; I think it would have proven controversial for God-fearing American publication – although there are plenty of Stateside contributors – in much the same way as We Need To Talk About Kevin. It may prove uncomfortable for a rose-tinted society and its belief in the ultimate blessing of parenting. This premise is similar to Shriver’s observation: do all people really want children? And, perhaps far more importantly, should all people really have children? Of course, we all know the answer to that inside; this book simply answers it, openly and ruthlessly. The question is answered by a diverse collection of female, male and non-binary writers from different corners of the world, and from the context of their own experiences of bad parenting; biological incompatibility; mental health issues; sexuality stigmatism; religious expectations; guilt; regret; fear; sadness… there are those who desperately want children; those who definitely do not want children; those terrified of their ability to raise children; those who would rather foster others’ children, whom can be given back; and even those who are terrified of their own potential danger to a child. Setting the premise firmly, the narratives open with an horrifically honest depiction of childbirth, right through its most physically agonizing and biologically humiliating moments. They then pass through various different lenses, some more controversial than others; the more notable of these include an author who “knows” she will be an abuser, because she comes from a family of abusers, and even a mother who fantasizes about killing her crying baby and herself. None of this is intended to shock, but perhaps to provide catharsis for the author. In some ways these narratives actually offer and provide a means of support for the vastly different attitudes people nowadays have toward parenthood.
Be warned though, it is severe, and the subject matter is raw, as well as the writing. Moreso, it strikes me as a thousand times more honest than the sickly-sweet standard fare about parenthood; all of the writers are incredibly brave. And as if to somehow emphasize their credibility, all of the twenty-odd narrators are amongst the cream of observational writing talent. This collection provides an open mic for them to share their thoughts, fears, feelings and experiences on neutral ground. You won’t read this book to judge the diverse writers for their choices, but rather to support them. But, if you are already pregnant, my advice would be to steer clear, because it could terrify you. From a literary point of view, it is tremendous. From a social commentary point of view, it is essential. My sincere congratulations, admirations and indeed some thanks go to all who worked on it. I wish each of them enormous success, and indeed peace, with their choices.
In : Book Reviews
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