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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother
A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother
Rachel Cusk
Picador, 2003
228 pp., $19.00

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Spiritual Midwifery
Spiritual Midwifery
Ina May Gaskin
Book Pub Co, 2002
480 pp., $19.95

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Navel-Gazing: The Days and Nights of a Mother in the Making
Navel-Gazing: The Days and Nights of a Mother in the Making
Jennifer Matesa
Three Rivers Press, 2001
272 pp., $14.00

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Maternal Impressions: Pregnancy and Childbirth in Literature and Theory
Maternal Impressions: Pregnancy and Childbirth in Literature and Theory
Cristina Mazzoni
Cornell University Press, 2002
256 pp., $63.95

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Agnes Howard


Where Babies come from

In Navel-Gazing, her cheekily titled memoir of pregnancy, Jennifer Matesa recounts a conversation with her midwife, Nancy. "Birth will change you," Nancy assures her. "You're not going to be the same after giving birth. This is a big deal."

Having babies has always been a big deal, but medical technology and a culture of choice afford many women the luxury of making a big deal of it. One reason pregnancy assumes such proportions is that Americans expect it to be a planned event. Though worries about biological clocks are still heard often enough, the traditional notion of a "childbearing age" is nearly obsolete, perhaps replaced by the metaphor of motherhood as maternity leave. That is, having babies does not occupy decades of female maturity, but is a project for a discrete slice of time taken off from other (often professional) pursuits. It is "intentional," in the idiom of the day.

A handful of recent books colorfully display these trends in childbearing. Written by professional women—academics, journalists, writers—they are noteworthy for their focus on "becoming" a mother—that is, on pregnancy. All reckon in some way with tensions between feminism and motherhood, simultaneously praising pregnancy and resisting the "essentialist" view of women as biologically determined baby-makers. Bookshelves already groan with works on pregnancy, dispensing advice on adding fiber to the diet, sterilizing formula bottles, and teaching baby to sleep the night. But as these writers justly lament, there is more to say about having a child, and it may be that the only way to get at this is to tell your own story.

Jennifer Matesa worked with a photographer colleague to produce Navel-Gazing. It is a diary with illustrations, mostly of the mother and her belly: pregnancy as a work of art. While the subject of her book began as an "accident," like the babies in several of these books, the notion that pregnancy is a choice so predominates that Matesa holds in reserve the possibility of a ...

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