Monday, December 03, 2007

Rebecca Walker's Baby Love (or, How Pregnancy Can Apparently Short Circuit Your Brain)

I am a sucker for memoirs about pregnancy and motherhood. (I'm also a sucker for books about the lives of the Manhattan elite as detailed in books like the Nannies Diaries and Admissions, but that's another post). Perhaps it's because I found the state of being pregnant and being responsible for someone else's life to be profoundly perspective shifting (and continues to be so). I'm always eager to read about someone else's experience of that shift.

For these reasons, I picked up Rebecca Walker's latest book, Baby Love. In it Walker, daughter of Alice Walker and author of a famous essay in Ms. calling third wave feminism into being, details her pregnancy and the birth of her son. She also details the growing estrangement from her famous mother.

I want to like this book. I really do. There should be many more books about the craziness that is pregnancy (the way you practically inhale whatever food is placed in front of you, when you're not throwing up after smelling someone's too strong perfume; the way you question every life decision you've ever made; the way you want to do nothing but lay on the couch and watch birthing shows on TLC, even though every episode leaves you in a puddle of hysterical tears; the way you are convinced every other day that getting pregnant was a really really bad idea). This books offers up those kind of details, but it also comes to the following maddening conclusions:

--2nd wave feminism's deep ambivalence about motherhood, and the children they mothered, have left a generation of women deeply scarred and lost (this based on Rebecca's incredibly fucked up relationship with Alice)

--women are daughters until they become mothers; in other words, until you have grown a person inside your body, you are developmentally incomplete

--the love you have for a biological child is necessarily different from the love you have for an adopted or stepchild; it is impossible to love them the same way

--your connection to your child is forged and is irrevocable the moment you find out you are pregnant; biology dictates it

There are so many things appallingly wrong with these conclusions that it's hard to know where to begin. I will say this though: it is sad that Rebecca Walker, a woman who is an icon to so many young women, a woman who has made a career asserting the necessity of continuing the fight for gender equality, would write a book basically telling women that they are incomplete if they don't have biological children and are damaged in some way if they don't instantaneously fall madly in love with their unborn child. There are many criticisms to be lodged at the second wave, but surely, if it gave us nothing else, it gaves us the knowledge and the courage to believe that we are so so much more than our wombs.

And on a related note, Walker's brand of earth-mother, power-of-the-womb nonsense begs the question of fatherhood. Perhaps this is my on personal soapbox, resulting from the way Brian and I parent our kids and the decisions we've made about how to organize our family, but it kills me whenever I read an account of new parenthood that focuses only on the mother. I refuse to believe that my husband is the only father who went on his own perspective-shifting journey when he found out he'd be a dad, who has a deep, unshakeable bond with his children, whose idea of father-ing extends well beyond throwing a football and the ocassional disciplinary lecture. Rebecca Walker knows better than this, yet her book gives no indication that she remembers that fact.

In the end, I supposed that Rebecca Walker is allowed to have whatever experience of pregnancy that she has. She can only be the person she is , after all, even if that person is awfully self-absorbed and frustrating.


Cassie said...

Ugh ugh UGH. I applaud you, Conseula, for responding in such a sane and thoughtful manner. I haven't even read the book, and these conclusions got me completely steamed. It's the same old B.S. that says if you're not married, you're not a "real woman," only the adventure continues because now you can't be a "real mother" or a "full woman" because you don't reproduce. It also demeans all the other kinds of care-giving and *parenting* (not just mothering) men and women do every day--for their partners, their parents, their sibs, their friends, their friends' or partners' children, their pets, their colleagues, themselves even. And while I think it's probably true you love each child differently, that doesn't mean you love them less meaningfully, whether they're all or mixed biologically conceived, adopted, fostered, etc.


The sad part is, she's not alone in these sentiments. I've had horrific moments at family gatherings or wedding or baby showers where I got versions of these arguments launched at me as everyone goo-goo'd over brides or new moms. "So...when are YOU going to 'settle down' [ed note: hate that phrase] and get married to some nice boy?" "You look like a natural holding that baby. When are YOU going to find someone nice and have kids?"

Hello, people! I'm perfectly fine, thanks, and I'm not going to "settle" just to get hitched and pop out a baby because it's getting late on your timeline. I want to do that with the right person, at the right time. And I want to validate the choices other people make not to do those things.

Surely we can do better than this as a society.

Okay. Rant over. ;) Thanks for your post.

claire said...

Cassie's right about that "natural" comment people make about women holding babies -- a comment that men never get, just showing that Conseula is right -- men are never going to thought of as having these deep bonds with their children

Biffle said...

your description of you being pregnant gives me the willies a la alison.

Alison said...

Shut up, Biffle.

Rebecca Walker makes me sad. "Becoming the Third Wave" is such a great essay--every time I read it, I want to get out there and change the world. And then she went downhill from there.

And I find it odd that she can claim that women should/do immediately love the unborn child. The abortion clinic I went to had a wonderful essay from Rebecca Walker on the wall, talking about her own experience of having an abortion and how grateful she was/is for having the choice not to give birth when she wasn't ready. So she KNOWS you don't automatically love the fetus.

Lori said...

I share the "sadness" expressed by most of the previous posters. Actually "disappointment" might be a better word (smile). Thanks for having the nerve to put into words so much of what I thought upon reading excerpts and hearing RW's statements about the book.

Faith said...

Yay! for your post. Her comments have bugged me since the book came out (although I must concede that I haven't read the book yet). So if a woman adopts a child instead of bearing one, that means that she's "developmentally incomplete?" What crap. I know plenty of developmentally incomplete women who bore children!

It seems like Walker is intellectually "acting out" as a way to get attention. Thanks for providing a truly thoughtful take on motherhood.

Also, this is my first visit to your blog, and it rocks!

lt said...


Just wanted to say that I love your blog. I agree with everything re: Rebecca Walker. Have you read Black, White Jewish? After that one I knew she was troubled but came away thinking Alice Walker was a horrible mother. The whole family sounded terribly sad which probably explains Rebecca's current state of being.

Rock On Afrogeek!