Black Milk by Elif Shafak differs from most mothering memoirs. This prolific Turkish author relates her experiences and thoughts through two main mediBlack Milk by Elif Shafak differs from most mothering memoirs. This prolific Turkish author relates her experiences and thoughts through two main mediums in this book: through discussion and analysis of female authors who tackled the "motherhood question," and through internal conversations with her "harem within," the 4-6 internal identities that Shafak calls her "Thumbelinas" that represent different parts of her being.
Most mothering memoirs are fairly linear: pregnancy, birth, baby, toddler... maybe some discussion of struggles and thoughts, or on raising a child. Changes. Realizations. Shafak takes a different approach. The first 2/3rds of the book are pre-baby (most pre-husband), when she lives in different parts of the world, is writing, and thinking about the possibility of motherhood for herself. She tackles the question I feel most mothers have (at one point or another): "Can I be a mother and be [ ]?" Shafak's Thumbelinas argue amongst themselves as she travels, writes, falls in love - can Shafak be Shafak (writer, thinker, reader) and be a (good) mother?
Shafak discusses many of the great female authors from all over the world, looking at both their writing and their lives to analyze how they dealt with the possibility of motherhood and all of the roles that accompany it. Shafak looks at dozens, from Sylvia Plath, the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, Jane Austin, Zelda Fitzgerald, to Toshika Tamura and Sevgi Soyask. (I've earmarked about forty more books I want to read just from reading through Black Milk!).
Very little of the book is actually about her own experiences of motherhood, more about her thought process getting there. It isn't even clear if her pregnancy was intentional (although you get the feeling it might not have been), just that it happens (at page 177, so about 2/3rds of the way through the book). She doesn't write much on the actual experience of pregnancy, and nothing on birth, but plunges into the first six months after her the birth of daughter, when she experienced postpartum depression.
As mentioned earlier, Black Milk is very different from most mothering memoirs. It's very intellectual (in all of the right ways) and is a very thorough discussion on some of the questions I've been asking as a new mom. It seems impossible at times to balance the demands of a child, a household, and the individual. We make sacrifices, no matter what we choose. Shafak's discussion on identity and decision highlight the many and varied tensions that women and mothers (especially those women and mothers that write) must face.
Four stars for this book as, although it was beautifully and thoughtfully written, I feel the final third felt forced or rushed? Her discussion on postpartum depression didn't seem as well penned as the rest of the memoir....more
I actually read this little gem of a book twice(!). Carmen Gimenez Smith is a poet, mother of two, and an assistant professor at New Mexico State UnivI actually read this little gem of a book twice(!). Carmen Gimenez Smith is a poet, mother of two, and an assistant professor at New Mexico State University in the English Department. Bring Down the Little Birds is her memoir that simultaneously works through trying to balance a family through her second pregnancy, her teaching, and her writing, while coming to terms with the fact of her own mother's cancer and failing memory.
She is really a beautiful and profound writer, and quite funny at times. She is honest with the sacrifices she makes for her family and children. Gimenez Smith writes poignantly about the internal conflicts that come with motherhood, like the dualism of selflessness and selfishness mothers are forced into. She also writes about the physical and emotional work that comes with having children, how easy it is to be unable to find yourself in mundane tasks like changing diapers and washing what seem to be eternally-full laundry baskets.
I really can't do this book justice in a few sentences. Gimenez Smith is a thoughtful and moving writer. She is able to capture the very essence of the largest conflicts within modern motherhood. Read it, love it, pass it on....more
I picked this up in the feminist-mothering section of the library at Columbia. I gave it a good shot of about fifty pages, but there just isn't anythiI picked this up in the feminist-mothering section of the library at Columbia. I gave it a good shot of about fifty pages, but there just isn't anything great here. I feel like maybe I should read more, but I'm bored and I don't feel like I'm going to read anything that will speak to me or enhance my understanding of the challenges and moments of grace in mothering.
I'm annoyed that there doesn't seem to be any depth here. It's like I'm reading small blog posts, and the themes are loose at best. Yes, the writing is clear, but it just isn't interesting. I probably would keep reading if I didn't have all of these other amazing books on mothering at home right now (go thesis project!). ...more
I've been looking forward to reading Valenti's book for several weeks. This is a great little book (and a pretty fast read, I got through it in aboutI've been looking forward to reading Valenti's book for several weeks. This is a great little book (and a pretty fast read, I got through it in about three hours) for anyone that is just beginning to explore the concept of finding happiness in mothering (though Valenti prefers the term parenting, which I completely get, this book is primarily about mothering). Valenti is an engaging and interesting writer and is sure to make you think about why we have children, the idea of what it is to be a good mother, and how we're all struggling to make sense of ourselves as parents.
However, after reading many, many, many books and articles on feminist mothering, empowered mothering, and the state of mothering today, this book was much the same. See how I still gave it four stars though? If you haven't done the extensive (and ridiculous) amount of reading on mothering that I have (for my graduate work), give this book a go! Really, really!
My two actual complaints about the book: Valenti could be more thorough in her reporting/research. The example off hand is her breastfeeding chapter. While I've certainly mellowed in my fanaticism for breast-feeding, I still think she might've give more research going both ways. This is one example of where she is very one-sided with her research and doesn't give a true, full picture. I generally agreed with all of her overall analysis, I felt I was only getting one side of an argument in a few places in the book.
My second complaint is never really addressing two of the three themes on the cover - why people choose to have kids and finding happiness in parenting. She covers both of these topics (most women feel obligated to have kids as society pushes women to have children; and people without children are happier than those with children, and working moms are happier than stay-at-home moms), but she doesn't really fully engage with either topic. I would've liked to see more discussion on WHY people choose to have children (or is the only reason because we believe we must, or 'oops!'), and more about what it is to be happy and be a parent (or, in particular, a mother).
It was fun reading this after working on the 50th edition The Feminine Mystique for my book club; there are so many parallels and women are still facing such crisis, even a half a decade later. ...more
This is the quintessential medical guide to pregnancy. It has information on getting pregnant, diet, weekly changes your body is going through, weeklyThis is the quintessential medical guide to pregnancy. It has information on getting pregnant, diet, weekly changes your body is going through, weekly updates on your baby's development, birthing options, testing choices and pros and cons, and (very) basic infant care. It's technical yet easy to read, and chock-full of useful information. I would highly recommend this pregnancy guide over the "What to Expect" genre. ...more
What Babies Say Before They Can Talk is a fantastic book about communicating with your baby. Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. While Paul HolWhat Babies Say Before They Can Talk is a fantastic book about communicating with your baby. Admittedly, the title is a bit misleading. While Paul Holinger does spent the last third of the book reviewing nine facial cues that babies give to communicate - interest, enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear, shame, disgust, and dissmell (a reaction to bad smells)- , the majority of this book is filled with excellent parenting advice, not only for babies, but for toddlers and even small children.
The general theme is this: try to interpret and listen to what your child is thinking or feeling, and respond with care. Simple, right? Not so; I think this takes some real discipline on the part of parents, especially when babies get a little older and are into everything. Holinger gives an example of a baby playing with the ribbon on a wrapped box, potentially ruining what an adult would value - it's looking pretty on a box. Most parents would chide a child for playing with the ribbon, and some would discipline the child for touching it. Holinger asks the parent to step back and ask why the child is touching the ribbon. The baby is probably interested because it feels nice and the mechanics of the ribbon are interesting and confusing - the baby wants to figure out how it works! In this example, by disciplining the child or scolding her, a parent may not be disciplining the baby's playing with the ribbon, but actually discouraging playfulness and creativity. Holinger suggests that a more appropriate response is to try to validate the child's curiosity ("Look at that interesting ribbon you found! It sure is soft, and look how pulling on one end makes it longer!"), and then, if needed, distracting them, or re-directing their attention, always letting them know why something is inappropriate instead of just saying "No!" ("I see that you're very interested in that riboon, but it's part of a present for your grandma, so we shouldn't play with it. But look at the bow on my shoe laces and the way these strings do the same thing, let's play with this instead.")
Holinger, using the backing of many scientific studies,* argues that parents should encourage children when they're interested, verbally affirm what they think a child is feeling or thinking, and be careful to always offer explanations when a "no" is given.
Holinger is a clear writer and the book was a fast and informative read. I really enjoyed reading What Babies Say Before They Can Talk after finishing Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina (I also strongly recommend reading this book). Medina has a chapter on always validating a child's feelings and making sure they feel heard and respected, and I feel that Holinger's book was a more in-depth exploration of this topic. Holinger was also more liberal with actual parenting advice, whereas Medina more lays out what scientific studies show, and makes suggestions for parents.
Also, while the book says it is aimed at parents of babies from birth to speaking, I think it will be most useful for parents of babies from 12-30 months.
*A note on the studies - I would assume that they are all peer-reviewed studies and Holinger has an extensive list at the back of the book, but I would have appreciated the explicit statement that they are peer-reviewed studies that are sound, as well as consistent citations and references to the studies throughout the book, which are not given....more
Anne Enright makes me want to be a writer. Unfortunately, she is so amazing at capturing the small moments and parents' feelings and thoughts during tAnne Enright makes me want to be a writer. Unfortunately, she is so amazing at capturing the small moments and parents' feelings and thoughts during the first year of a baby's life, I realize I would be a writing failure. She has a way of identifying things I didn't know I felt about motherhood. I would like to think we have similar souls, but I think it has more to do with a moderate amount of snark (and me wishing I was cool too).
This has been the most enjoyable parenting memoir I've read so far in this new journey. I love it and would strongly recommend it, even if you don't have any babies of your own. (I forced my husband to read it against his will, he loves it as well)....more
I purchased this book following the recommendations of other new moms on babycenter.com (great website, by the by). My husband and I sat down to readI purchased this book following the recommendations of other new moms on babycenter.com (great website, by the by). My husband and I sat down to read it together, but after an hour going through some of her material, decided it wasn't worth continuing (I think we read the second and third chapters). Leaving her annoying writing style aside (for the sweet love of god, I'm not your 'luv' and don't like being talked down to), no part of her book is based on scientific studies or fact. The one study she does cite doesn't remotely support what she wants it to. From the good research that's currently out there, as discussed at kellymom.com and other websites, some of her basic ideas cannot be supported - letting your baby cry it out sometimes (harmful, does not equal independence!), feeding your baby every 3-4 hours (newborns typically feed more often in the beginning and babies cluster feed during growth spurts), formula feeding is just as good as breastfeeding (studies consistently show that breast milk is better for the baby in the short and long term)... I could go on.
The helpful things she does have, like the feeding and activity chart, and the list of baby's cues can be found online for FREE. ...more