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Motherhood Confidential: The Strange Disappearance of My Best Friend

By Linda Cohen and Joan Bechtel

ISBN: 0-9760930-0-6
Review by: Jessica M. Laccetti

07/06

A cursory google search for the word “motherhood” gives an interesting insight to our shared, English speaking culture. Sites promising “maternity and nursing wear, pregnancy accessories, and body pillows,” sites “dedicated to improved maternal and newborn survival,” and a site billing itself as a “tribute to motherhood” spring onto my screen. Curious, I click on the site offering itself in honor of motherhood. Quotes of all kinds, meant to praise mums, roll down the screen. They have one thing in common; they’re all quotes by men about women. The idea, then, that people who are not mothers are the ones setting the scene for pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood seems slightly unbalanced. Perhaps, this is part of what drove Cohen and Betchel to create “the anti-advice book” to motherhood.

The book begins with a short preface, “One Size Fits All?,” alluding to the seemingly common (judging even from the google search) notion that motherhood is should somehow be aligned with perfection (look at the hit television series Desperate Housewives for more evidence). Drawing attention to this misconception, Cohen and Betchel ask readers to take two tests. The first one requires readers to answer three questions on the “fascinating motherhood pre-test”:

How could I be so self-centered to even consider______________!
Why would anybody (except me) let their child _______________?
What kind of mother am I anyway?
a) irresponsible

b) over-controlling

c) insane

 

Readers then must turn over the page and complete the “fascinating girlfriend pre-test”:

Now that she has a child she’s so (circle one) sensitive, distant, judgmental.
Why does she have to prove how superior she is by __________________?
What kind of mother is she anyway?
irresponsible
over-controlling
insane

This is the kind of thought-provoking humor which flows through the book and helps undo the impression that everything in “Motherland” is as it should be.

An important phrase, mentioned in the preface, but which also sums up the theme of the book, is that women are all different: “we’re more than just caretakers of our children – we’re also women with different personalities, distinct histories and inner lives, each in the process of her unique evolution.” Just because some women might share a similar role, being a mum, does not mean that there are ready-to-use answers out there for each individual parenting situation. Motherhood Confidential reminds women that whatever thoughts they might have or whatever situations they might find themselves in, are always individual and subjective.

“How to have a baby” books insist that all mothers are the same and that all mother’s shouldn’t give into their child otherwise they “risk spoiling” their offspring, and that mothers shouldn’t “chea[t] themselves of a peak experience,” (i.e. they should have a drug-free birth) and that mothers shouldn’t give up breastfeeding, and that mothers shouldn’t be anxious or worried or emotional… and the list goes on. Motherhood Confidential, then, is a textual treatment for some of that negativity surrounding motherhood. The story concerns two best friends, Cohen and Bechtel, who guide the reader through their own personal and subjective mothering experiences. While these stories are individual, there are key themes which can be drawn out into a more general arena. The main hurdle to skip over is the chasm separating what a mum “oughta be” and who she really is. Motherhood Confidential, with its subjective experience, humor, and controlled investigations, make an insightful read whether you’re a mother or not. As Joan notes in her conclusion, children “expos[e] secret fears and dusty dreams, giving us a chance to have a look around and see just how it is we’re growing up to be.”

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