Adrienne Rich passed away last week. I admit that I haven’t read much of her poetry, but from the little I had read & from the little I knew about her I was surprised to learn that she had three children right as her poetry career was taking off & had written a book about motherhood. (Now that I know this about her, it actually enriches my understanding of her work.) Given what I had read of Rich’s poetry, I thought she might have a just a few interesting things to say on the subject. The book is called Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience & Institution.
I’ve only started reading it, but I am already engrossed in the book. It’s a wonderful hybrid of personal & communal stories along with academic research. It’s compelling & moving, even if a bit dated (though the “new” introduction that Rich wrote in 1986 reads as if it could have been written yesterday, which is both fascinating & disturbing).
She faced many of the issues & emotions I, too, have experienced, though I think that she faced many more constraints as a young mother than I do.
As the list of things that “good” mothers do grows in spite of feminism…. At a time when the nuclear family, with a stay-at-home mother & many children, is celebrated with a new fervor as a cultural institution… When the push for everything “natural” can mean loads of time-consuming household chores, often taken on by the mother…. Rich’s views on motherhood are enlightening.
Discussing her domestic life & relationships with other young mothers (with advanced degrees but focused on child rearing) Rich writes: “I only sensed that there were false distractions sucking at me, and I wanted desperately to strip my life down to what was essential.”