New York Magazine

Should Sheila Heti Have a Baby?

In her new novel Motherhood, the author confronts an eternal female crossroads.

MOTHERHOOD will be published by Henry Holt on May 1.

WHY HAVE A BABY? For a woman in her 20s or 30s who’s accustomed to living independently, who feels no religious or familial obligation to bear children, the answer comes down to the vagaries of desire: Do you want it, does the other person, how badly?

The simpler question might be Why not have a baby? Here, the obvious practical issues—money, time—are easier to weigh. How to pay for the baby, who will watch the baby, where to put the baby, will the baby get in the way of everything else? And this assumes a partner on hand; without one, challenges multiply. There’s also the prospect of impending climate apocalypse, which at least one woman I know has cited as reason enough not to procreate.

Practical matters, however, do not concern the writer Sheila Heti, who takes up the problem of whether to have a baby in her engrossing new autobiographical novel, Motherhood. “I lived only in the greyish, insensate world of my mind,” she writes, and in this setting, the question is something more like this: What does it mean to have a baby? From there, a cascade—does a baby make you happy, what kind of woman has a baby, what kind of woman doesn’t have a baby, how does a baby change you, is having a baby selfish or is it selfless, is not having a baby a way to avoid real work, real meaning, real life … or is that what having a baby does?

Motherhood dwells within this uncertainty to an extent that will exasperate some readers as surely as it will animate others. I am only one reader, and yet I’ve found myself in both camps: I read it the

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