Why so white?
Motherhood books and memoirs, and all that we blame ourselves for.
Why are most motherhood memoirs and books so white?
I mean, there is nothing wrong with it of course, but as we know there is a danger in a single story. Is it that there is a dearth of women of colour writing about their motherhood experiences? Or is it that we do not hear about these books, because of course there is a bias in what we read, what is promoted, what is reviewed.
There are some exceptional books on motherhood that I have read (and devoured), so many excellent books. Some of these include:
One of my favourites is The Republic of Motherhood by Liz Berry, a collection of poems as an ode to new motherhood.
'I lay down in Motherhood’s bed, the bed I had made
but could not sleep in, for I was called at once to work
in the factory of Motherhood. The owl shift,
the graveyard shift. Feedingcleaninglovingfeeding.
I walked home, heartsore, through pale streets,
the coins of Motherhood singing in my pockets.'
Which one is your favourite? Do share in comments below. I have some more on my bookshelf that I will share over the next few issues.
But we are still missing many diverse, intersectional perspectives on motherhood. Even as my book (M)otherhood was out for submission in the USA, so many editors loved the book but some of the rejections were because they already had a book on motherhood, or because they already had an Indian author on the books: ‘we already have a book on the uterus’ (I mean…) and ‘I have just taken another book on parenting, so unfortunately I can’t’. How will we ever see more diverse stories if editors are not willing to take risks, to take on stories that they can’t identity with because it doesn’t align with their own backgrounds and experiences, or because these stories do not fit in with their expectations of what a person from a minority community should write about, how they should behave and present themselves.
My writing of (M)otherhood, a hybrid memoir and a scientific and historic examination of the social and political constructs of mothering and motherhood took me down many paths, many rabbit holes, and I found so many historic and modern texts and poems about motherhood, women, choices and fertility. There is still a lack of inclusive discourse on this though, and I really hope this books sparks a conversation. I will continue to share some of these poems and research studies over the next few weeks with you. But I am also posting some of the things from my book over on instagram on a dedicated account. You can follow it here:
I talked about motherhood and writing in the previous issue of this newsletter. I first saw this image on Sinead Gleeson’s instagram, whose book ‘Constellations’ is one of the best writing I have read on body and illness. This is called ‘Self Organization’ by Courtney Brown who used a 1938 Underwood typewriter affixed with sculpted bronze tentacles. It feels like my life, and my head.
And I can relate to this so much, as I reach into the deepest crevices of my mind, writing a book, promoting another, editing other short-form essays and journalistic pieces, writing talks and workshop content. I think so many of us are suffering burn-out and while it is easy to say ‘step away from work’ or ‘do not work so much’, the only thing that sometimes keeps my anxiety at bay is productivity. When I am working, when I am busy, even though I am exhausted, I don’t have to think about other more stressful things. I don’t have to think about grief and loss, and how at the moment I am not really trying to process all the trauma from my father’s death, or what is happening in India at the moment, my whole timeline on social media filled with people dying far too young, thinking of a whole generation of children who will grow up without their grandparents. I am trying not to think of that country, my homeland, motherland that now only exists in my imagination, that is burning, and will never be the same again. So, I work, and I try and write, and I keep myself busy.
Today, I edited a piece that I have been writing about grief while sitting next to the bath. Of course this meant that I was trying to edit and think while talking to a babbling little child, balancing the laptop precariously, getting up every few minutes to deal with a minor catastrophe that seems huge for a small child, like a dinosaur losing its tail, or the purple duck not blowing as many bubbles as it used to!
More often than not I end up feeling guilty about it. I feel like I am neither working most efficiently, or being the best mother I can be. I am distracted, and I am not giving either my work or my child my full attention. When my child is asking a question, and I am preoccupied, I nod and agree while not listening to her properly and then I suddenly stop in my tracks because this is not how I should be, how I really want to be. I sometimes feel like time is rushing past me, and I am not seeing them grow up fully even as I am with them all the time, especially in the last year. I feel like I am not listening to them fully, not doing as many activities with them as I should be. And this seems like such a paradox because I am always there for them, and I feel so claustrophobic in my role as a mother at times. And then I end up feeling so guilty for thinking like this, for feeling like this.
The cycle continues. There is no easy way to be.
This made me laugh:
Some things I have loved reading about bias, writing, identity:
Why Won’t Nike Use the Word Disabled to Promote Its New Go FlyEase Shoe? by Jaipreet Virdi and Liz Jackson
The Weight of Memory: On Motherhood and the Ghosts of Racial Violence From We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane. Published by the Feminist Press in April, 2021
I am writing something about peri-menopause, and would love to hear your experiences if you have experienced an early menopause, or if you did not get enough support from the medical professionals.
I know from my own experience that I have blundered on through it having experienced premature menopause. I thought it was something that only happens to much older women, and so I just did not pay any of my symptoms enough attention. I just ignored it all as I was dealing with the early days and months of motherhood, mothering twins, and just trying to survive. I tried to talk to my doctor a few times, and often was told that it was either thyroid hormone imbalance or that I was working too hard and was exhausted. I thought it was stress and exhaustion too. I also thought at times that I was lazy because I wasn’t exercising enough. One of the nurses told me that it was easy to find yoga videos online and that I need to make an effort. At the same time, I was dealing with chronic illness and often felt too exhausted to go for a run or for a walk, or do yoga. I felt like I was fighting my body all the time, but always ended up feeling guilty for it as if I wasn’t trying hard enough, not exercising enough, not eating the right things, not doing the right things. It eventually comes down to it, doesn’t it? We end up blaming ourselves for everything that is wrong with us.
I would love to hear of your experiences.
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