Poems & Essays

10 Feb

Book Review: Becoming Mother

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Reviewed by Dana Schwartz 

In Becoming Mother, author Sharon Tjaden-Glass takes her readers on an intimate journey through her pregnancy and first year postpartum. But don’t be mistaken – this is not simply another guide for new mothers. Tjaden-Glass explores pregnancy, labor, and new motherhood with an unflinching gaze and deep introspection. There is conflict in her story, as there is for every mother, new or not.

The book is divided into six sections, beginning with pregnancy, and most of it is written in the present tense, with breaks in between for reflection. This unique structure creates a sense of immediacy and also offers the reader breathing room during transitions.

Not unlike active labor.

One thing I particularly appreciated is how the author maintains a sharp focus on the mother’s experience even after the baby is born. Instead of the newborn taking the spotlight, we remain with Sharon.

Though she is elated by the birth of her daughter, 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. 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 childbirth or mothering. In fact, Sharon blows up the assumption that mothers should opt for one approach 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 her painful struggle with breastfeeding. She goes into great detail about this specific challenge and how she initially feels like a failure. Even readers who don’t share this particular issue can 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. For example, how many of us fully intend to enforce strict sleeping rules but end up bed sharing in order to get what little sleep we can. Becoming Mother offers a crucial reminder for all mothers, at any stage, that it’s always okay to change your mind.

Sharon captures the beauty and awe of new motherhood as well as the less glamorous but realistic aspect of anxiety and loss. The first year of motherhood is a trial by fire. No matter how much preparation or research you do, nothing can truly prepare you for the changes in both body and spirit, yet most of us try to find answers ahead of time. We take classes, read books, scour blogs, and ask friends. I remember on the last day of my childbirth class, one father asking our instructor the question burning in all of our minds. “But what is it like?”

We all knew what he meant. He wanted details, minutia, a play-by-play. The truth.

This is what Sharon’s book does – she invites the reader along on her journey and doesn’t hold back. She offers the truth, her truth, of course, but with universal sentiments and 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.”

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.

 

Sharon Tjaden-Glass blogs about pregnancy, motherhood, grief, and the writing life at http://www.becomingmotherblog.wordpress.com. She wrote her first book, Becoming Mother, because it was the book she would have wanted when she was pregnant with her first child.

 

Reviewer Dana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. She has published short stories in several literary journals, was a contributor to The HerStories Project on female friendship, and will be in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015). She also writes about motherhood and the creative process on her blog, Writing at the Table.

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