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Rebecca Walker's Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence [28 March, 2007]

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By Rebecca Walker; Riverhead; 224 pages

I’ll never have or adopt children.  I’m quite fond of all my friends’ kids, who are decent and sensible souls.  We talk on occasion, but end up terrifically bored with each other after ten minutes.  Babies scare me and I’ve never felt the urge to have or hold one.

Rebecca Walker would argue that I’m shutting myself off from the primal experience of motherhood.  One without which I will remain forever incomplete, “[b]ecause the fact is that until you become a mother, you are a daughter.”  Remaining baby-free will apparently cause nothing but grief in later years—she quotes her gynecologist’s solemn pronouncement that as, a rule, women don’t regret having children -- they regret not having them.

In a new blog cleverly designed to resemble a book, Walker writes about fifteen years of ambivalence about motherhood.  “Will I lose myself—my body, my mind, my “options” …If I have a baby…will I die?” Walker refers to a metaphorical death, fearing that motherhood might cause atrophy in her creative life.  The answer is a yawning maybe. Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood after a Lifetime of Ambivalence is a set of mind-numbingly tedious journal entries about Walker’s pregnancy.  Walker suffers from a common misperception that the mere act of writing about the everyday and the humdrum magically transforms them into meaningful experiences for the reader.  Baby Love suffers from annoying tics, including a habit of posing rhetorical questions (“Right?” and “Isn’t it?”) as if that might make us more engaged readers and fill in for her lack of insight.  After the nth such question, I found myself snapping, “I don’t know, Rebecca.  Write your own bloody book.”

Reading Baby Love reminded me of Bella DePaulo’s Singled Out, which demolishes the myth that only people who couple up and have children count as adults.  Walker insists that she is now grown-up because she spends hours online choosing between expensive strollers.  In her retrograde world, it’s impossible to be complete without a partner, let alone raise children on your own, “I think we need partners for life … the magical togetherness quotient you find in healthily fused adults.”

Rebecca Walker is the daughter of the writer Alice Walker.  Much has been made about the rift between the two, which she discusses here.  But this does not make Baby Love more interesting.  It offers few insights about the issues faced by most parents, and instead recycles clichés about motherhood as another form of sainthood.  Mothers are elemental, powerful, givers of life.  The rest of us, I suppose, can just rot in hell, our shriveled and useless uteruses testimony to our incompleteness as human beings.

Walker sees Baby Love as a meditation on the “right” of women to have babies.  That’s a rehashing of the argument that feminism’s ability to let women choose not to be mothers also means that feminism can be about choosing to be mothers.  But that’s a feminism enjoyed largely by privileged women like Walker, whose biggest dilemma about childbirth is choosing between a home delivery and a hospital birth.  Most women who want children face less pay than their male counterparts and few, if any, child care options.

Motherhood is hardly a choice when women are surrounded by a stifling set of cultural expectations that they are incomplete without it.  Walker’s weighty pronouncements add to that oppression.  Furthermore, too many teenagers are forced into parenthood and penury because of the combination of a lack of access to sex education, no affordable contraception, and the waning of reproductive rights.  For them, motherhood is not a choice but a sentence.

Contradictions abound in Baby Love.  Walker is shocked when two successful women talk on television about not needing their partners for validation, “I know how I would feel if the person I devoted my life to told millions of people he didn’t need me.  Wrecked.”  But she does something similar to Solomon, the child she reared with a former female partner, when she writes emphatically that the love for a biological child is always stronger than that for a nonbiological one.  What does that say about queers and straights who form families through adoption—not just of children, but those we choose as part of our kinship circles?

Baby Love doesn’t make Walker’s journal entries relevant to anyone outside her friends and family and her privileged existence.  After the birth, she gushes that she no longer dreams of finding the perfect place to break away from writer’s block—no spas or hotels or lonely retreats, just her bed and dining room table.  This is not news to those of us who cobble together writing time and space.  As for the search for the perfect spot, we writers back on earth have a name for it: Procrastination.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 28 March, 2007

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