I was recently privileged to read Amy Wilson's excellent new exploration of modern middle-class motherhood, "When Did I Get Like This? The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer and Other Mothers I Swore I'd Never Be" by New York actress-turned-writer Amy Wilson. I selected the book courtesy of my participation in the Amazon Vine reviewing club, and expected it to be much the same as other mom-comedy/observation parables of new motherhood. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Rather than the typical, slightly whiny attacks on the "cult of motherhood" or attached parenting I have come to expect in these sorts of books, this one was amazingly personal and authentic. Amy Wilson is funny, to be sure, but in a heart-warming sort of way. She doesn't really advocate for any particular view or theory of parenting, but addresses many aspects of modern motherhood in balanced, storytelling sort of way that made me feel by the end of the book that she'd become one of my close women friends with whom I chat about this sort of thing all the time.
She starts out the book with three chapters on pregnancy -- getting pregnant/fertility issues, diet during pregnancy and birth/birth plans. They are just lovely chapters, touching on the stress mothers face over trying to control and plan events that are ultimately out of our control -- when, how and in what state of health our new babies will arrive. Yes, there are many things we can do to influence this -- healthy diets, Bradley classes, prenatal care, etc. But giving oneself up to pregnancy and labor is a big part of learning that life with children will never be entirely in our control in the way that college-educated, middle class career women have come to think everything should be.
As a natural birth advocate and even a home-birther myself, it was interesting to read her exploration of how birth plans and preparation are good and well, but ultimately, letting go and enjoying our births (whether that means pain medication or not in the end) and holding that baby in our arms at the end is all that matters. Again, planning is great, but it is key not to let our birth experience, whether perfectly as planned, or dramatically different or anywhere in between, be in the end simply the narrative of our child's welcome to the world and not a scorecard on how close we got to what we "wanted" or what others wanted for us.
As a lactation educator, I was nervous wading into her chapter on breastfeeding, "Nipple Confusion." But the words I slightly wept through were some of the most balanced, authentic and moving I have ever read on the experience. She is not "anti-formula" or a "breastfeeding nazi," but simply recounts her confusion, her fear, her own experience and her "successful" outcome. She offers not any sort of "guidebook" but a recognition that breastfeeding is a learning experience that women need support and information. She doesn't sugar-coat the experience, but acknowledges that it is worth it in the end if you can find support and pull it off.
After this, Wilson takes us through the worlds of reflux, yelling at our kids, talking about bodies with kids, preschool applications, calling girls "pretty," husbands and childcare duties, lying (to kids and by kids), flying with children, developmental issues, the debate over "crying it out," and more. I didn't always agree with her (in that she didn't always do things "my way") but I found myself with such a healthy respect for her agonized decision-making and her journey, which is really what it's all about. Ironically, she never talks about feeding her kids chicken nuggets (or if she did, it wasn't a particularly memorable part of the book).
She definitely is writing for women in their mid to late 30s, with references to her "My Friend, Mandy" doll (I had a "My Friend, Jenny, myself). And even though her trevails over being chosen by a preschool in New York are quite different than my choosing a preschool in California, you can still relate to her hunger to find the "right fit" for her child and her stress over laying out her family and parenting to be judged by others. A particular treat was her reference to the excellent "Gesell Child Development" series in her "Disequilibrium" chapter dealing with the times we don't want to talk about when we don't always like our kids, as much as we love them.
All and all, I think this book was just fantastic -- the kind of writing a mother can really connect to and that I hope I offer to my readers. It definitely has a target audience writing about the college-educated, middle-to-upper class, suburban/urban experience, but does that extraordinarily well. I look forward to more writing by Wilson in the future, and honestly hope as I move further into parent education that our paths have the opportunity to cross.
Here it is...