The Paris Review

Why All the Books About Motherhood?

No one asked, How does one submit to falling forever, to going to pieces. A question from the inside. —Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts


As the summer heats up and my due date approaches, I’ve been reading Pamela Druckerman’s cult book about French parenting Bringing Up Bébé. It’s a book people have been telling me about for years, I guess because I live in France and they want to know if they really serve Camembert in the crèches (from what I’ve heard, they do). But I had put off reading it until it felt, well, more relevant. If you don’t have a kid and have no immediate plans to have kids, reading about how to raise one isn’t going to be a top priority.

This is not the case for readers of the spate of new books about motherhood that have been hitting the shelves over the past few months. Motherhood is the new friendship, you might say. These are books that are putting motherhood on the map, literarily speaking, arguing forcefully, through their very existence, that it is a state worth reading about for anyone, parent or not. There is no more relevant subject to every person in the world than motherhood. “All human life on the planet is born of woman,” as Adrienne Rich begins her landmark book Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976). Or as my friend A. N. Devers paraphrased Rich recently on Twitter: “Moms are not a niche – they literally make ALL THE PEOPLE.”

This is one thing I keep marveling over as pregnancy has its way with my body: for every single person you see and have ever seen in your life, some poor woman went through what I am going through now. It seems too extraordinary to be true. My friend Jean, who is due in December, put it similarly in her TinyLetter (to which you ; she is a genius): “On some of the worst days of the sickness I would look at people on the street and think: All of you did this to someone, every single one of you.”

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