Love Works Like This by Lauren Slater
I read Lauren Slater’s memoir Lying years ago and was fascinated by its radical ambiguity. When I saw Slater’s motherhood memoir recommended by Meg from A Practical Wedding, my favorite wedding and marriage blog, I knew I had to read it. Meg was going through a hard pregnancy and she found the book very comforting. When she wrote about her new baby, Meg talked about the first two chapters of this book and how much she related to them. Slater makes a pro/con list about having a baby, and her con list is much, much longer, enumerating the things that I also fear and dread: loss of time and sleep and language, mountains of baby gear and disgusting child culture. I felt like I could have written this list myself. A single item lies on the pro side: learning a new kind of love, somehow outweighing all the rest.
As someone who’s in the middle of a physically easy pregnancy, but anxious about losing my identity and higher brain functions to child-rearing, I found it reassuring to read about a woman who’s even more wary of motherhood than I am. “Given the choice between writing a book and having a baby, I think I’d rather have the book,” Slater says. When I pushed back against the ideology of total motherhood, I met resistance from family members and internet trolls, in addition to my own complicated feelings of guilt and inadequacy. It made me feel good to see a woman take an even bolder stance than I would.
Slater struggles with some severe mental illnesses, and much of the conflict in the first half of the book is about whether or not she’ll take her meds during her pregnancy. She’s worried about the effect they’ll have on the developing baby, of course, since there is so little research on this topic. She goes off them and has some scary episodes of antenatal depression, and then decides with her doctors to re-stabilize herself by going back on her medications. This delicate balance between self-sacrifice and self-care seems to be a theme in pregnancy and new motherhood. Reading about the way Slater navigated this high-wire act helped me to feel ok about the compromises I’m preparing to make.
Once the baby arrives, Slater is surprised at how good she feels. I can’t help but feel envious, even a bit resentful, of her privilege: she can afford a full-time live-in nanny, no wonder having a newborn is easy for her. The other reason it’s relatively easy is because she had already processed her angst about motherhood during her difficult pregnancy. There’s definitely something to be said for front-loading emotional work this way, and I’m trying to do the same myself. I’d recommend this book to any pregnant woman, especially those who are particularly ambivalent, career-focused, or who struggle with mental illness or other health problems.