It's hard to put into words what Mother's Day means as a collective because our experience and relationship with motherhood is never the same. For some it resonates sweetly, for some it's full of heartache, for some it's guilt-ridden, for some it's joyful and filled with deep love. And for some, it's all of the above plus more.
My own experience of motherhood has certainly been that. From years of uncertainty and despair at not being able to get pregnant, to an eventual pregnancy that took me everywhere from sheer wonder to chronic, overwhelming pain. Nothing would prepare me then for actually raising my little Jude (and now Heidi) and realising I am nothing like my version of what a 'good mother' should be; a nurturer, a baker of cookies, a selfless being, doting, fully attentive with my iPhone out of reach, a lover of finger-painting and slippery dips and kinder fundraising activities. To put it bluntly, I am NONE of these things. Learning to overcome the guilt and shame for being a terrible cook, a sufferer of chronic pain that means I can't always pick my kids up, a distracted and (at times) selfish mother, and a lover of my work is something I'm still trying to come to terms with.
We're in brave and new times and it's writers like Glennon Doyle and her most recent book Untamed that powerfully explore other versions of what a 'good mother' can look like. I find myself clutching to this book and others, including the dark exploration of motherhood in The Push, the raw honesty in Sad Mum Lady, and the brilliant dissection of motherhood within themes of race and privilege in Little Fires Everywhere, to name a few.
Perhaps this is you? Perhaps this doesn't resonate at all. And that's the thing about motherhood... As I vulnerably share my own story, and others around me vulnerably share theirs, it's always abundantly clear that it's an entirely unique experience.
So, today, as we honour this day layered in contradictions and deeply individual perspectives, we have chosen to explore themes of motherhood through books... a place that I often go for escape, clarity, reflection, sensibility and infinite wisdom.
To dig into this, I'm speaking with the amazing book worm herself, Laura Brading, from book subscription biz WellRead. Having been a subscriber for over a year now, I adore the books that Laura sends me each month. They've expanded my book consumption and helped me to rediscover my love of reading, which was ironically lost once becoming a mother... yep, I couldn't even get a page in without either falling asleep or hearing the cry of a hungry baby.
Over to you, Laura...
Laura Brading - Founder of WellRead
Tell us a bit about yourself - who are you and what do you do?
G'day. I'm Laura, co-founder and creative director of WellRead - a literary book subscription service. I live on the south coast of NSW with my husband Morgan and our kids Maggie and Sid. I studied literature at uni, went into book publishing and also worked as a bookseller, and then a couple of years ago launched WellRead. I’m one of those people who is constantly forcing books on people, who evangelically tells them they’re magic, and who cannot fall asleep without them – books are my life force!
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read. My mum called me the "readingest girl she knew" (Anne of Green Gables - if you know, you know). It’s always been a joy in my life and then became my work. I think my reliance on reading turned up a notch when I had kids as it was the easiest and most accessible way for me to escape domesticity and to experience something that reminded me of who I was and what I loved.
How has your experience of motherhood shape what you read?
Motherhood hasn't changed what I read necessarily but it's changed how I respond to books that depict the experience. The writer and novelist Rachel Cusk proclaimed that the “experience of motherhood loses nearly everything in its translation to the outside world”, but every now and again you connect with a book that so accurately and profoundly depicts the chaotic, complicated, painful and beautiful nature of it all, and it truly is a revelation!
What's your top 10 books that explore motherhood in all its forms?
- A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk: A competing narrative of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering that describes the “anarchy of nights, the fog of days…friendlessness and exile from the past”. As daunting as it is honest – you will feel seen!
- The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: Nelson’s hard-to-define memoir about falling in love with someone who is fluidly gendered, her journey to and through pregnancy, and the complexities and joys of queer family-making. It contains one of my favourite quotes about motherhood: “How does one submit to falling forever, to going to pieces.”
- Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I buy this book for every friend as they prepare for their first birth. Written by a midwife, it takes the fear out of birth and offers readers a wealth of information about birthing naturally via female-centred care. The birth stories contained within the book made such a huge impression on me – I thought of those women throughout my own first labour. Can actually say this book changed my life!
- My Wild and Sleepless Nights by Clover Stroud: Perhaps the truest account of motherhood I have read, this memoir is a raw, visceral record of a year in the life of a mother of five.
- Dept. of Speculation Novel by Jenny Offill: A short and magnetic novel about the politics of marriage and the minutiae of everyday life with children. It is honest and unsentimental and very funny, and I simply adore it.
- I am Not your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite: This heartfelt memoir by the founder of Make Motherhood Diverse reveals how Black women are largely excluded from mainstream portrayals of motherhood. It offers much-needed insight into the hurdles Black women face as mothers (the sections on medical trauma were brutal to read but essential to know) and expanded my understanding of racism. Also highly recommended following the author on Instagram – she’s amazing!
- A Mother Is a House by Aurore Petit: This gorgeous picture book offers a unique baby’s eye view of the first year, from birth to first steps. The baby sees their mother in every aspect of their day. As the pages go by, the child grows. The mother who was a refuge becomes a road, a story and a show. Refreshingly real and poignant, this is my go-to pressie for mums and bubs in the first year.
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: A delightfully engrossing and intelligent debut that challenges preconceptions of motherhood, fatherhood, femininity, family, gender, sex, relationships and misogyny. Set in New York, the book is centred around three women - transgender and cisgender - whose lives collide after an unexpected pregnancy. What ensues was described by The Guardian as "witty, elegant and rigorously plotted" and I couldn’t agree more!
- Mating in Captivity by Ester Perel: Life-changing! Perel, a psychotherapist and host of the addictive podcast Where Should We Begin?, examines the paradoxical relationship between domesticity and sexual desire and explains what it takes to “bring lust home”.
- Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: This teeny-tiny book is a letter written by Adichie to her friend who asked her advice on how to raise her baby girl to be a feminist. She offers up 15 suggestions and, as always with Adichie’s writing, they’re compelling and perceptive and wryly funny – you could underline the entire book!
The wonderful thing about these recommendations is they're insightful and thought-provoking for all, not just mothers. I've read a lot of these myself and I gotta' say, this lineup is pretty special! So do yourself a favour and indulge in the magic of turning the pages of a really good book.
Motherhood brings up so many different emotions for all of us, be kind to yourself and those around you today.
With a whole lotta love x