I’ve been really interested in essay collections (since I just finished writing what I hope is one) and have been making an effort to seek out collections by women. A few years ago I read some of Meaghan O’Connell‘s writing for The Cut and found myself laughing and nodding along. I’d been looking forward to her book for months.
Although I saw online that the description of getting the epidural in “Birth Story” made at least two (!) readers faint on the subway, I actually found myself feeling overwhelmed with the tender vulnerability of how closely life and death brush together during labor and delivery. Not nauseated, but actually baby-fever-ish. O’Connell is funny, but she’s honest, too. Her honesty, though, isn’t frightening and grim but intimate and a relief.
O’Connell explains that she started writing more seriously and with more focus after her son was born because she realized if she didn’t, he could become an excuse for any number of things she wanted to but did not do with her life. Although my early motherhood was different in so many ways than hers, this sentiment resonated so much that I wrote her my very first author fan email (!).
I started writing essays about motherhood and pregnancy because I felt like there was nothing out there like what I wanted to read–everything was either medical (potentially useful but not always what I was looking for), glib “aren’t kids jerks” (which is just not my vibe), or uncomfortably saccharine (I’m newly refusing to use the word “sentimental” as an artistic insult…more on that some other time maybe). This book was that. Along with Sarah Menkedick’s Homing Instincts, it begins to fill that void and I have been recommending these two books to every relatively-new mom I know.