you're not doing it wrong
reading recommendations + a tiny poem
This past Saturday I had the genuine pleasure of hosting a “Mother’s Day Eve” book party at one of my favorite local bookstores, Inkwood Books, with some writer-friends. It was partially in celebration of my new anthology, The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood, but it was mostly a chance to be in conversation with other writer-mothers about the books that have guided and comforted and challenged us. I thought I’d share some of those recommendations here, too.
I’ve always been someone who turned to books for answers, and that was especially true when I was pregnant and a new mother. But so many of the books I turned to for guidance just made me felt bad. They were full of rules or advice and despite my best efforts, my newborn would not go along with the plan! In the years since then, I’ve found many books that gave me the perspective and compassion I needed then, and those are the ones I’ll highlight here. (Sorry to say, there is no book that will make your baby sleep! I’m a big fan of cry it out, and Miranda Rake’s Romper article on it is the wisdom I wish I’d had when I was the exhausted new mother of a never-sleeping baby.)
Angela Garbes’s Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey into the Science and Culture of Pregnancy is my #1 recommendation for pregnant folks or people thinking about parenting. It’s a fascinating deep-dive into the science of pregnancy and early motherhood, including amazing info about the placenta and breastmilk, coupled with absolutely zero sentimentality. A newly-pregnant friend bought it on Saturday on my recommendation and texted me the next day to say she couldn’t stop reading.
And, bonus, Garbes’s second book, Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change, is out today. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my pre-ordered copy and reading all the interviews and reviews I can find. Lucky for me, it’s been covered truly everywhere: this great interview with Sara Petersen in The Cut, this Jia Tolentino review in The New Yorker, and in Vogue, to give just a few links.
On Saturday, I shared an excerpt from Taylor Harris’s This Boy We Made: A Memoir of Motherhood, Genetics, and Facing the Unknown, easily one of my favorite books of the last few years. One of the things I love about Harris’s book is the quality of her attention; you can tell how deeply she loves her kids, as their own particular people, by the intensity with which she observes them. If you’re facing uncertainty (and aren’t we all?) I think you’ll love Harris’s book, which feels to me like a lesson about how to move through parts of life that contain no clear answer.
I’ve shared Heather Lanier’s Raising a Rare Girl, about parenting a child with a rare genetic syndrome, with friends whose children have been diagnosed with disabilities or delays, but I think it’s really moving reading for anyone thinking about what it means to be “perfect” and how to love the people in our lives just as they are. I’d also say that, despite the book’s serious subject, it’s also warm and really funny. I laughed and teared up when Heather read from it on Saturday night. (I wrote about Heather’s book for Literary Mama, then had the pleasure of getting to know her through a Blue Stoop class I taught last spring.)
Dani McClain’s We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood has done more to develop my thinking on mothering as a deliberate act of shared caregiving than anything else I’ve read. I wrote about it for Electric Literature a few years ago, and I still think about it all the time. One of the things that’s stuck with me is the book’s insistence, counter to pervasive negative stereotypes about black single mothers, that the rest of us—white mothers in particular—have a lot to learn from the caregiving practices of black mothers.
I have more beloved books and recommendations in my Bookshop, or I’d love to suggest more books for you via email or comment here, if there are aspects of mothering you’ve been wanting to read more about. (Also: if you’re reading something that makes you feel bad, you can just stop reading it!)
I thought for now I’d close with a tiny poem about mothering and tenderness, from my new book of poems, Pocket Universe. I grew up with girls and women—sisters, female cousins, aunts—and was genuinely surprised to find myself the mother of first one, then two boys. I’m hesitant to say anything about gender, because there’s so much insanely prescriptive stuff out there suggesting that boys are one way and girls are another. But one thing we’ve thought a lot about, raising two white boys, is kindness and tenderness, and this is a poem about that.
If you liked this newsletter and you’re interested in reading more about the intersection of motherhood and mothering, I’d love it if you would share.