Mother’s Day approaches and brings with it many dimensions, and what book would be better to ring in this year than The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood? Five years after its publication date and editor Kerry Clare is still really proud of this book.
We caught up with her to discuss the stories and ideas that make this book not just relevant, but a must-read for anyone who wonders about motherhood.
Read on for more!
What was it like editing The M Word?
Editing The M Word was one of the most instructional and enjoyable experiences of my professional life. It was a real labour of love and required generosity from so many different women who lent their talents and stories to the project, and I am so proud of the voices in the anthology, the connections and spaces between them. It is still a radical thing to have many women telling many different stories in the very same place.
Was there ever a common or similar refrain that went through your mind when you were editing the stories in The M Word?
I remember being struck by the themes that kept recurring in the book — allusions to fairy tales, to doubleness, two references to The Cat in the Hat. When it came time to put the stories in an order, it was hard to do because upending a hierarchy of experience was sort of the point of the book — who gets to go first then? In the end, the stories in alphabetical order worked beautifully, and there seemed to be a bit of magic in that. And finally, the refrain that went through my head as I worked on this book was: What incredible things we can make when women work together.
What do you think makes this book so relevant, no matter the time of year?
Motherhood is not just a season, though it is ever-changing, and the stories we tell are just moments in time. It was interesting to work on the book because it came out two years after I started putting it together, and the circumstances of so many writers’ lives had changed by the time it was published. I was pregnant with my second child as I edited the essays, and then I remember doing the copy-edits lying on the couch with the baby napping on my chest, my laptop propped up on my knees. So it really is a whirlwind, motherhood and life itself — and yet there are stories in this book that made women start talking about experiences they'd had decades ago. I know that for women my mother's age, discussions around the book were the first time some had ever told stories about infertility, adoption, abortion, or pregnancy loss. All these things are still not as un-taboo as they should be, but 40 years ago they were sources of deep shame. I am glad that is changing. There is a timelessness to the stories in The M Word, a universality.
Were there any stories you found really hard to read? Which were they?
There are stories in this book that deal with tragic experiences — miscarriage, having a child die, giving up a child for adoption — but I found these stories less difficult to read than just really interesting, because these difficult topics are so rarely put into words. I appreciate the generosity of the writers who were willing to share and have us understand just where they're coming from.
This book touches on so many aspects of what motherhood is and isn’t, and yet it’s always described as one of the biggest aspects of a woman’s life. Why do you think that is?
As I write in my introduction to the book. women are defined by their relationship to motherhood, whether they are mothers are not. I don't think we yet have the narrative tools to talk about how incredibly interesting women's experiences and their lives actually are. But I would like to think this book is helping to change that.
Why do you think there is still such a divide between those who are mothers and those who are not?
I think there is a perception of a divide, but women's experiences are more nuanced than that, and the whole point of the book is there are all kinds of bridges between these divides — a woman who chooses not to have children and a woman who chooses not to have more; we judge women for having just one child or for having too many; women who exercise control over their reproductive lives whether by having abortions or pursuing fertility treatments both have to put up with the same judgmental and ignorant garbage; that a majority of women who have abortions are mothers already. There are all kinds of ways to be a mother, and to be a woman, and my great passion is complicating that narrative of either/or.
Do you think the idea of motherhood has changed or shifted somewhat?
The reality of motherhood is that there are a million realities, but this is a truth that has to be discovered over and over again. All the feminist truths are like that, really, because we live in a society that conspires to keep such truths hidden. For the people with power, it’s simpler that way.
What are ways you think work best to acknowledge Mother’s Day?
At this particular political moment, there might be no more meaningful way to acknowledge Mother’s Day than by donating to organizations supporting reproductive health and justice, (https://www.actioncanadashr.org or http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/home.html), by speaking up for reproductive justice and abortion access in Canada and abroad, and by daring to tell the truth about your life, whatever that story might be.
Don’t forget to pick up your copy of The M Word! For more from Kerry Clare, check out her blog Pickle Me This.