Of Woman Born, by Adrienne Rich

These essays were first published in 1976; the 1986 edition I read included footnotes updating some of the issues. I first read this book in the late 70’s when I had two toddlers and was involved with the Women’s Movement. Already one of my favorite poets, Adrienne Rich seemed to be speaking directly to me in these essays about motherhood.

In rereading it now, I was afraid the book would seem dated—thirty years after its original publication and much has changed about women’s roles in society—but it still seemed fresh and even relevant. Yes, thankfully, we have more choices today about how we give birth and how we spend our lives.

Also, for many, parenting itself has changed; children are overscheduled with activities and overseen by “helicopter parents” who constantly hover around them, unlike when I was a child and a young mother when children ran free most of the time, supervised lightly if at all. Most days my mother had no idea where I was or what I was doing, and I had only slightly more insight into my children’s activities.

But the dynamics of motherhood do not seem to me to have changed. It doesn’t seem to matter which generation you talk to. I know some new graduates struggling to carve out independent lives, and a few elderly people still complaining about childhood mistreatment by their mothers. I even see middle-aged men and women engaged in sibling rivalry for a mother’s love.

Rich’s perceptive essays lay bare some of what is going on here, exploring literature and history to understand the dynamics of this potent bond. In this season, with so many celebrations about the birth of a child, it’s hard not to think about the mother, and the relationship of the mother and son.

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