The m Word

Sunday is mother’s day, and if you’re still hard pressed for a gift, buy your mother this book. Miranda Hill, a Canadian author (with a second home in Woody Point), best summarized this collection of varied musings on motherhood, all of which are penned by Canadian writers. “Books on motherhood make me wary — the doctrines, the camps, the divisions! But The M Word is different. [It’s a] lively, provocative, engaging, and moving conversation with those committed to mothering, those committed to not mothering, those conflicted by mothering, and those who wonder what mothering means, anyway.”

What’s clear from reading this collection is that motherhood isn’t the precious gift we’re to believe it is. It’s equal parts sacred and sacrifice. It comes with a cost, but that cost has a payout that does something far more complex than merely evening things out. Motherhood, or contemplating it, levelled the twenty-four writers who share, with skill and honesty, their stories of pregnancy, abortion, motherhood, stepmotherhood, or remaining child-free. The stories are frank, not sugar coated, and all the better a read for it.

Journey Prize winner Heather Birrell, for example, uses wonderful language and structure to quite simply lay out how becoming a parent changes your life, period (not for the better, not for the worse, just, drastically). She also explores the toll motherhood can take on a relationship, and, career.

What’s interesting is the contrasting views in these essays. Unlike many moms, mother of four (and GG-nominee), Carrie Snyder, dispels the notion of motherhood being about self-sacrifice. “As a mother of four, it may be perceived I have a self-sacrificing character; but I’d like to present another perspective. Sacrifice implies making offerings against one’s will. Losing out on chances, making choices that benefit others, rather than oneself. That was never me. All along I’ve associated motherhood with emotional wealth, with richness of experience, an expansive and expanding adventure.”

Saleema Nawaz, a fabulous voice in Canadian fiction, applies the structure of a well-crafted short story to her essay, which tackles stepmotherhood. Her piece includes everything from the anxiety and overthinking associated with first meeting a new partner’s child, to her strategies to infiltrate her future stepdaughter’s life in a manner that would be positive for their relationship. It’s a great and wonderfully honest examination of the realities of dating someone new who has a child, from wondering if they’ll be open to having a new child with you, to enduring hostility from the blood mother. “Bananagrams” is a great portrayal of both navigating dating someone with a child, and, stumbling into parenthood without the nine-month warm-up of pregnancy.

Kerry Clare, who compiled this collection of essays, contributed a piece that tackles an unexpected pregnancy – or in her words, an unwanted pregnancy. “An unwanted pregnancy is a destiny threatening to devour you.” Her story speaks candidly of an abortion, before moving into how her abortion clarified her desire to, seven years later, have a child when the timing was right.

The M Word is anything but your typical motherhood book. It even includes a great piece from Nicole Dixon on why she chose not to be a mother. If reading this book nails one thing home, it’s that women all get something different out of the experience of playing mother to a child. While we children all get one fundamental thing from our mothers — a lifetime of unconditional support, even after many years of required rearing — what our mothers get in exchange varies greatly, and is much more complicated.

I do know I’ll be handing this book off to my mother with much reverence, not only for all she’s done for me, but for all the ways this book has made it clear I’ve changed, warped, and altered her life in a way that neither one of us will ever understand. These pieces were written by some of the country’s most well-articulated, intelligent female wordsmiths, yet they all read with an air of bewilderment at what exactly being a mother means, and how it changed their lives. That’s the takeaway from the read: it’s an interesting topic when handled with honesty and well-worded passages.