“The non-fiction anthology is a revolutionary act”, is a sentence I wrote in a blog post not long ago in anticipation of the release of The M Word, and now that the book is in the world and receiving a terrific response, I believe it more than ever. Because, think about it—where else in the media (blogs like 4Mothers aside) do we ever see women’s diverse stories and experiences standing up together side-by-side and not in opposition to one another? The closest thing we usually get to this is those “Debate” features in parenting magazines, in which mothers with polarized opinions are pitted against one another—to sleep train or co-sleep? Unschooling or all-day kindergarten? (Have these kinds of “debates” ever changed anybody’s mind, or even delivered a greater understanding of another’s point of view?)
What I wanted to demonstrate with The M Word was that there are many more than just two points of view, more than two ways to be a mother, more than two ways to be a woman, even. There are 25 essays in the collection about women who’ve chosen to have children, women who’ve chosen not to, women who discovered their choices had unexpected consequences, and women who never had a choice at all. What these essay show is that life is complicated, and that often we have more in common than is apparent at first glance, but that the things we have in common are sometimes the last things one might have ever expected.
The M Word came about when I emerged from the bubble of new motherhood to notice friends of mine grappling with maternity in unexpected ways. I had friends who’d had miscarriages, one who was struggling to get pregnant, another who was contemplating becoming somebody’s stepmother, and all of these women were feeling as though their experiences were happening so far apart from the usual motherhood narrative (which is often considered analogous to the womanhood narrative). But it was starting to occur to me that these stories were essential to its very fabric, and I wanted to create a book that would reflect this, that would reflect the startling diversity of women’s experiences and lives.
The effect of this diversity can be startling indeed. As I write in the book’s introduction, “[This] is a book whose contents themselves are in disagreement, essays rubbing up against one another in uncomfortable ways. There is no synthesis … except perhaps a general sense that being a mother and not being a mother are each as terrible and wonderful as being alive.”
Which is kind of a mundane conclusion actually, but this was always the very point. And so while the non-fiction anthology remains revolutionary in a literary sense, in a day-to-day sense, it really isn’t. It’s how we live our lives, actually, diverging choices and different experiences all mixed up together in this complicated, and unfailingly interesting world.