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Sheila Heti’s Motherhood captures this bleak anxiety here: “It suddenly seemed like a huge conspiracy to keep women in their ’30s — when you finally have some brains and some skills and experience — from doing anything useful with them at all.” Even before having a child, I might have resisted the implication that raising children, which is to say is not “useful at all.” But built into this narrator’s worry is a dichotomy that I did accept: that the life of the mind is necessarily at odds with the life of a mother.I remember hearing a public radio discussion about the question of whether or not to have children in which one man’s explanation for his decision to remain “child-free” went something like this: Of all the pleasures of having children, no one ever mentions intellectual stimulation as one of them.I spent more and more time reading about pregnancy and childbirth and less and less time on novel research.
I began to see those months as the last ones in which I would be able to work unimpeded, as if pregnancy were a countdown to the time when I would inevitably divide into two opposing parts: the intellectual side of myself and the mother.
At first, it seemed that this divide might take place even sooner than I expected.
Finally, inexplicably, her heartbeat returned to normal, but my doctor recommended a C-section anyway, and so, a few hours later, my daughter was born, her slow heartbeat forever unexplained.
When my daughter was 11 days old, to my great surprise, I had a new idea about my book.
Unfortunately, this not only leads desperate women financially or mentally unfit to care for their offspring to seek out dangerous, non-professional alternatives but also facilitates the birth of children destined for difficult and short lives.
The disturbing account documented a woman pregnant with an infant suffering from anencephaly, a condition in which a child is born without a skull or brain. Nobody, including the mother or her doctor, is able or allowed to do anything about such a condition, thus eliminating the idea of “choice” in America. Not in this hospital.” “And so, the mother goes home, pregnant and grieving.” A few days later, the woman experienced the first sensations of a miscarriage.“Her hips loose and large will force her pants to tug.She will struggle with her gait for weeks, punctuating loss in the waddle of each step, until, gradually, she retires maternity pants and her steps become firm, upright, forward.” Ultimately, the essay expressed how the doctor’s job is quite often to heal the parents, to provide the grieving adults with compassion, rather than an effective treatment to prevent permanent that trauma in the first place under our current legal system.But now that it was happening — my body busy building a child while my mind was busy constructing my second book — I was not at all sure how the combination would go, or what one pursuit might cost the other.There’s a familiar idea in our culture that working too much is bad for a woman’s children, but there’s a newer idea, too: that having children might be bad for one’s work.My bedside table towered with books about the history and science of contagious diseases (The Ghost Map, The Hot Zone, Spillover) and Oliver Sacks’s books about strange phenomena in neuroscience (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat).My plan was to get through as many of these books as I could before the baby came.I was living in Iowa City then, home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where my husband was doing his MFA.One of the perks of being peripherally connected to the workshop was the occasional opportunity to hear the brilliant novelist Marilynne Robinson (an Iowa faculty member) discuss various works of literature.This is just one horrific medical outcome of many that, with available medicine, is entirely preventable.Toward the end of the story, the doctor describes how miscarriage and birthing a dead child wasn’t even the end of this woman’s troubles.