Books on Motherhood: Reflecting the Full Scope of Experiences


Most moms wait patiently – or not so patiently- for that golden hour of the night when the house is quiet.

Sure, we should probably be sleeping, but having a moment for ourselves is such a luxury. I have on occasion (or more than just occasionally) counted the hours until my daughter is asleep. And once I kiss her head goodnight, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. We made it another day. I can finally think about my own needs for a moment. I can enjoy a moment to myself and try to refill my well of patience, fun-on-command, and creativity that have all been depleted by a full day of mothering and working.

black woman, mom, reads magazine and drinks from a mug while sitting on the couchBesides writing, one of my favorite ways to decompress and escape the drudgery I sometimes feel is getting lost in a great book. While I have usually gravitated to fiction, becoming a mother has led me to find solace and reflection in reading about other women’s experiences.

Here are some of my favorite books on motherhood that made me laugh, cry, nod in agreement, and realize how universal, messy, and unique stories of motherhood are:

To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma, by Molly Milwood

Dr. Milwood is a local clinical psychologist and professor. She also happens to be a very witty, funny, and relatable writer. She shares her own experiences and challenges, as well as those of the patients she treated in her private practice that are very relatable. She also shares psychological insights that explain why so many new moms grapple with self-doubt, guilt, fear, and a loss of identity, as well as exploring how the changing dynamic in marriage adds another layer of tension and conflict. I loved reading this book and I even went to hear Dr. Milwood read at a local bookstore.

She was so down-to-earth that I enjoyed the book even more. This is a very affirming book and feels like Dr. Millwood is a friend who is saying, yes this is hard. And yes, you can find your way. It might not look like how you thought it would, but there is a way to find peace amidst the chaos of motherhood and marriage.

Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott

Oh, this book! I adore Anne Lamott because she is so funny and honest and self-deprecating and humble. This gem of a book is one of the most well-known books about motherhood for a reason. While Anne chronicles her painful, hilarious, smart, and uplifting journey of single motherhood in one year, deeper themes about the power and importance of community emerge. The importance of our chosen family is underscored throughout the book, not to mention that she explores how events big and small can change everything. Anne welcomes readers into the first year of her son’s life with open arms. By the end of the book, I felt like I could call her a close friend and was thankful she was brave enough to share how she learned to thrive and survive.

woman reads in a park, stroller in the backgroundAnd Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready, by Meaghan O’Connell

I read this one while in the throes of postpartum exhaustion, so my memory of it has faded in the haze of exhaustion. I do remember enjoying the author’s take on the emotional and existential impact of motherhood and how she seems to give her readers the permission to feel all the feelings without fear. O’Connell offers a frank portrayal of her own life and sweet marriage. I remember a passage describing the jealousy she sometimes feels while watching her son prefer to be held by his father and I have felt that exact same ache. O’Connell also avoids cliches and tells it like it is. I especially recommend this book for any first time expecting mamas.

What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, by Dr. Alexandra Sacks and Dr. Cathrine Birndorf

I appreciated this book because it’s based on science. It’s written by reproductive psychiatrists and offers psychological and hormonal insights that help explain why the process of “matrescence” (the birth of a mother) is as stressful and transformative as a period of adolescence. (Also, Dr. Sacks has a TedTalk that is worth a look). As a mother who was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety, I appreciated how Dr. Sacks and Dr. Birndorf explain that postpartum depression can be misdiagnosed. When you view the birth as a mother as the process of matrescence, there is a lot more room to validate her full experience.

Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words, by Kimberly Harrington

Harrington is a local author who is very witty, sharp, biting, and also astute. There is a bit more anger and satire present in her essays, as well as some real fear (read the essay called ‘Please Don’t Get Murdered at School Today’) about the current state of the world. However, also present is a flawed, but present mother and essayist who uses humor to explore topics we aren’t “supposed” to discuss (the horrors of the meal train! Pressures of bake sales and challenges of stay-at-home moms and working moms), but that we all really agree with. I appreciated her essay on the challenges of social media and parenting and ultimately how she reminds other mothers to not forget about the, “me, before you fully occupied all corners of my brain and fingers and guts.”

biracial young woman reads at a table outside with a disposable coffee cupI felt affirmed and heard in the words of these writers. I am thankful that none of them presented themselves as “mommy experts,” but instead as seasoned mothers who paved the way for future moms to explore and grapple with the challenges around us. Ultimately, each of our stories has its own twists and turns and chapters, and I find solace in reminding myself that while my chapter on early motherhood has concluded, there is so much left to discover and more books that will fill my heart and imagination.

What books on motherhood do you recommend?

Books on Motherhood: Reflecting the Full Scope of Experiences


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