This Book Club offered all of us a topic that each of us had been considering and ruminating over in our own time, but hadn’t all come together to discuss before: the choice of whether or not to have children. Motherhood by Sheila Heti is a memoir of the last few years of the author’s thirties, as she considers whether she should become a mother. It is a strange, at times difficult and confronting read, but ultimately it was strikingly moving and affecting.
The book is written as a stream of consciousness, with Heti inviting the readers along as she wades through all her fears and desires, as well as wrestles with the expectations and pressures society places on women to reproduce. Her discussions of the complex relationships between parents and children, as well the ways in which hope and trauma are passed from generation to generation are deeply affecting. She asks what our obligations to our parents are, and what our relationship to the hopes they have for us should be.
Gosh this book hit me in my feelings. I’m totally not in any way looking to have a child any time soon, but this book tugged at all the thoughts that go through my mind when considering the possibility. Heti brilliantly captures the opposing forces of biological urges and intellectual decisions. She describes choosing not to have a child as, at times, a battle a woman must have with her own body, at one time identifying the way her menstrual cycle is affecting her desires and naming the chapters after the phases her body is going through. It’s a strange thing to realise that if you chose not to become a mother, you may have to overcome your own biological impulses.
At times I felt deep sympathy for Heti’s plight, and at other times intense anger for her when she comes up against society’s sexist expectations of women. A particularly confronting moment is when she recounts the story of terminating an accidental pregnancy as a younger woman and her doctor, despite ostensibly being an impartial healthcare provider, attempts to guilt her into keeping the unwanted pregnancy. It’s an all to familiar story of an attempt by a male dominated society to control a woman’s body, and her recounting of this incident had me burning with anger.
Heti’s style is extremely engrossing, if at times a little overbearing. I really got a sense that I was listening to her thoughts. The book is filled with poignant insights into the history of the mothers in her family, and her description of the burdens she feels she carries for them is both devastating and beautiful. While sometimes Heti’s intense stream of consciousness is hard to get through, especially her continual use of a coin flipping technique to answer her existential questions, the journey she takes us on is ultimately incredibly satisfying and cathartic.
What Motherhood does so convincingly is grapple with all the opposing ideas and forces that contribute to making the choice of whether to have a baby. I do not know whether I want to become a mother, but I sure am glad I was able to experience this book. Heti has created such a thought provoking read that I feel everyone, a parent or not, would gain something from it. Though strange and at times strenuous, this book was a wonderful, incredible and complicated experience that I expect I will find myself coming back to again and again.