Four Good Memoirs for Moms (or Anyone Who Has a Mom)

One thing I seem to always make time for, even with new babies, is reading memoirs. For moms who are postpartum, or who get little adult interaction, reading true tales from other moms doesn’t just offer recreation; it provides a lifeline. Here are four memoirs by moms that I’ve recently read and recommend, not just for moms, but for anyone who has a mom:

White WallsWhite Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. I read this pretty thick memoir in the last months of my recent pregnancy. Not only did I relate to the writer’s story of reluctant motherhood in her adult life, but I also resonated with her parallel tale of growing up with a mother’s mental illness (in this case, hoarding). If you are at all interested in the psychology of hoarding, or the complex scars it leaves on kids, give this a read.

glitter and glueGlitter and Glue. I read this one in the week after I brought Seth home from the hospital, during my one and only week of breastfeeding. An easy, breezy read about the author’s summer as a nanny, this book had me crying at the last page–when she finally tied together her story of nannying in a home where the mom had died with what her own mother meant to her, so many years later. (You have to read the whole book to get the poignancy of the ending.)


the year my son and I...The Year my Son and I Were Born: A Story of Down Syndrome, Motherhood, and Self-Discovery.
I am currently charging through this one as quickly as my sons’ sleep schedules will allow, and having an emotional time comparing my three-month-old Seth to sweet little Thomas, who was born with Down Syndrome. This book is a record of the author’s first year navigating the exhaustion, disbelief, and other conflicting emotions that her disabled baby brings her. Beginning with a heart-stopping scene of premature labor, this one grabbed me right out of the gate and hasn’t let go since. Read this to understand the challenges of having a disabled child, and to feel grateful for what you have.

Ending the Pain Book CoverEnding the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression. Yes, my book. While my tale ends before I officially become a mother (I am pregnant with Sam by the end), mother-daughter relationships play a big part in my story. My parents always had a troubled marriage, and when I am fourteen, it finally blows up with an affair and illegitimate child (my half-brother) whom we hide in our home until he is eight months old and my mom leaves. After that, my relationships with both my mom and my dad become complicated, and I carry my new resentment for happy families into my new marriage and new, happy (husband’s) family. Read my story to learn not only how I healed from suicidal depression, but also how I learned to make peace with my parents (and parents-in-law).

When you have limited time to read, make sure you choose well. Happy reading!

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Better Reads for New Moms…Because “How-to” Books Don’t Always Cut It

In this post I review the precious few “New Mommy Memoirs” I have found, with some comments on the dearth of such books.

If you’re a new mom, love to read, and need some support, you’re in luck…sort of…depending on what you’re looking for. If it’s advice or quick snapshots of daily life you seek, “How-to” tomes and mommy blogs abound. If, on the other hand, you just want a girlfriend with whom to commiserate and cuddle up with (perhaps your baby has failed to respond to the wisdom of Ezzo, Ferber, Pantley, or Sears), the pickings are slim. Nonetheless, here’s what I’ve found–the good with the mediocre–because sometimes “how-to” books just don’t cut it.

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, Brooke Shields

down came the rainThis high-profile account of post-partum depression probably got published more for its author’s celebrity than her writing prowess, still, it’s a fascinating read to a first-time mom, or a first-time pregnant lady. (I read it about halfway through my pregnancy and was hooked.) If you want to know some of the emotional risks that motherhood brings, or if you are struggling with post-partum depression, this is a good read for you. Most memorable for me was Shields’s description of visualizing her baby flying through the air, hitting the wall, and sliding to the floor–yikes! I had some hard days with Sam, but thankfully never anything as drastic as Shields describes. I appreciate her honest admission of how she fantasized not only about her baby’s death, but her own. I hope you never deal with this serious malady, but if you do, read this book. And after you finish this depressing read…

Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay (and Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom), Stephanie Wilder-Taylor

sippy cupsSome humor for you! I stumbled upon this humorous collection of essays at a used book sale while three months pregnant, read it within the month, and recently reread certain chapters when my sleep deprivation was making me cry. If you, too, need to come up for a laugh from the never-ending demands of your baby, this book is a good choice. But Christian readers, beware. Like almost every secular comedian I know of, Taylor relies on some profanity and crassness to make her jokes. I wish I knew of a funny, clean, book on motherhood to recommend, but since I don’t, and you might really need comic relief, I offer this one. An interesting side note: Taylor makes numerous references to drinking in this 2006 book, and in the past year, I saw her featured on the Today Show for admitting she actually had a drinking problem. Sad, but good comedy always has an element of reality, doesn’t it? (Her second book on motherhood, which I will probably read at some point, is called Naptime Is the New Happy Hour.)

Signs of Life, Natalie Taylor

signs of lifeMaybe I shouldn’t include this book on a list of motherhood memoirs, because the top story here is a young widow grieving her dead husband…but the sub story is a young widow adjusting to new motherhood…so here you go. I actually picked this one up in 2011, before I planned on becoming a mother, to read about a young English teacher (which I was at the time) dealing with the freak accident death of her husband (which is one of my bigger fears in life). Then, I enjoyed Taylor’s strong writing voice and her many literary references (she derives comfort from literature like Christians derive comfort from the Bible)…but more recently, when I reread this book, I picked up on the common struggles of new motherhood. My favorite image from the book: she mentions a glob of jelly on her kitchen floor that she just can’t find time or energy to wipe up (no doubt due to both the exhaustion of grief and the exhaustion of new motherhood.) So true! If you are a mom who appreciates literature reflecting real life, you will appreciate Natalie Taylor’s take.

Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–the First Three Years of Mothering Twins, Jane Roper

double timeThis is the most forgettable memoir in the list, but if you are a new mother, and especially a mother of twins, you might still enjoy it. Unlike Shields’s life-threatening depression, Wilder-Taylor’s comic slant, or Taylor’s added challenge of being a single mother, Roper doesn’t bring anything new to the table, except for having to do double duty on feeding, diapering, and everything else mom-related. Roper is a writer a by trade, and no doubt thought she could get a book out of her twins, which is fine, because we all have a story to tell (and hey, I probably would’ve done the same). On a side note, Roper throws in her story of depression, which is purely clinical and responds well to medication, so not that interesting, but I appreciate this alternate, less serious description of the disease. My fun takeaway from the book: “twin-yang,” or the phenomenon of one twin acting great while the other one is a terror. My next-door neighbor with twin babies confirmed that this is a real condition:)

The Second Nine Months: One Woman Tells the Real Truth about Becoming a Mom. Finally. Vicki Glembocki

second nine months 2My favorite, by far! This is the book that new moms will relate to the most (I think). This is for the mom who is not suffering true post-partum depression, but who wonders, in those early months, if she made a mistake by having a baby. I wish I would’ve discovered this book back then, and not nine months into motherhood, but since Glembocki ends her story at her baby’s tenth month, I was right there with her on the back-end of her story, as her “devil baby,” Blair, becomes more human and lovable, and as Glembocki finally settles into her new role and finds rhythm in her new life.

I knew I had found the right book from one of her first scenes: she is strolling her new, three-week-young, screaming baby down the street, exploding at her husband over the phone that she needs help–please come home! She is trying to accomplish one thing that day–dry clean a comforter–just ONE THING, dang it, because nothing gets done anymore; but the baby is screaming and she is alone and has no help and no idea how to comfort her baby. I related to so many moments in this book, and I’m sure many other new moms will, too. I give this book my highest recommendation and urge you to buy it for yourself or a new mom in your life.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the “New Mommy Memoir” looks to be a largely untapped market, probably because new moms don’t have time, energy, or ambition to write more than a blog post here and there…and by the time they do, they’ve forgotten the “bad old days.” That’s why all of the books above, though they may not be “great” literary works, are important.

Though some are not very memorable, and a couple are not particularly well written, they might be invaluable to a new mom who doesn’t need more advice, but who just needs a girlfriend who’s gone before her. The best part about finding this girlfriend in a book? She’s available anytime, anywhere, no matter if you’re stuck in the house or your baby is stuck to your breast.

Yes, I’ve decided that anytime a writer-mom contributes to this genre, she gives a gift to other new moms. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve found a new writing project to work on.

(Note: please don’t look for my “New Mommy Memoir” until Sam is in college. Just kidding. Maybe high school:)

On Reading while Breastfeeding (or My Forgotten Love)

Today I’m taking a break from the baby blogging, sort of, in an attempt to remember another love of mine: reading.

2013-06-03 23.50.37
A few of the books on my bookshelf. Most recently, I’ve read Anne Rice’s bland memoir on returning to her faith, Called Out of Darkness; Rachel Held Evans’s strange project, A Year of Biblical Womanhood; and Frank McCourt’s tale of his childhood in Ireland, Angela’s Ashes. As to the first two, I think you’d find the two books on housecleaning I read before my son’s birth, Sink Reflections and The House that Cleans Itself, more rewarding. Angela’s Ashes, on the other hand, is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Once I lowered my expectations for what I could get done in a given day, I settled in for feeding time, six to eight times a day, and reached for my “old friends.” I began to look forward to feeding time so I could get on with the story. I decided I wasn’t ready to give up breastfeeding just yet (unable to produce even one-third of what Sam needs though I am) because it was guaranteed quiet time in which I could read.

Reading has become my oasis in a sea of diapers, bottles, and upset sleep. It’s become the only thing able to remove me from my baby in our first six weeks together (at least mentally). That sounds kind of bad, but I assure you, it’s not. Babies are great, and they get greater with age, but moms need a break now and then. We need a chance to “miss” our little dears. And we need a chance to exercise our minds, and wrestle with words, beyond trying to decode “waaa.” We need a way to remember that we are intelligently human. Without some kind of mental stimulus beyond “ga ga goo goo,” we can easily become depressed, dull, or just unhealthily narrow-minded.

A week or so ago I typed a few blog-intended lines (quickly orphaned when Sam waaa-ed) about how I was unexpectedly finding joy in just turning on the Today show on NBC. I’ve never been a TV watcher (couldn’t even tell you what plays during primetime), but as a new stay-at-home mom, listening in on Savannah, Matt, Natalie, and Al’s cheery banter lifted my spirits a little. I liked to pretend I was sitting there with them, drinking their morning coffee, joking about unusual headlines, and looking professional and polished (not struggling to juggle a bottle and a bagel, grumbling about lost sleep, and looking bedraggled and frumpy). The Olympics also helped me to justify all my breastfeeding-induced butt time—hey, they only come on every four years—not to mention reintroduced me to ice skating, another forgotten love.

But asked to choose between TV and reading, I could do without those voices and faces. In the final analysis, I much prefer the mental dialogue between a book and myself to the mindless escape of the screen. This reminds me of one Thanksgiving when a family member caught me reading Pride and Prejudice and asked, “Isn’t there a movie of that? Why are you reading the book?” as if the movie destroyed the need for the book. Such people will never understand why the book is almost always better than the movie, which is why I didn’t waste time trying to explain. My blog readers understand, don’t you?

Anyway, I’ve probably left Hubby and Sam alone for long enough—it’s time to get back to mommy things. Before I return home (I’ve been sitting at Mcdonald’s, my old writing haunt), my quest is to pick up a soy-based formula (we suspect the little guy is lactose sensitive, and it’s interfering with his and our sleep—oh, I hope we’re right).

Once I get home, it will be time to breastfeed again, and (grin), get back to my two-dimensional friend. At the moment, I’m courting Angela’s Ashes—so good—and I wonder why I waited years to read it. I first read mention of this Pulitzer-prize-winning memoir in The Everything Guide to Getting Published in 2010, when I began researching publishing my own memoir. A recent review of Ashes from my blogging buddy Luanne reminded me of it, and now I’m hooked. I wish I had the luxury of finishing it off in one long stretch this afternoon, but like all activities these days, blogging included, it will probably happen over the course of many small sessions, steadily strung together as I have opportunity.

Below, feel free to tell me what you’re greedily reading right now—if anything—or what great reads you recommend to this landlocked mom (memoirs or true stories preferred).