The M Word edited by Kerry Clare


My rating: 4.5/5 stars


A Dropped Threads-style anthology, assembling original and inspiring works by some of Canada’s best younger female writers — such as Heather Birrell, Saleema Nawaz, Susan Olding, Diana Fitzgerald Bryden, Carrie Snyder, and Alison Pick — The M Word asks everyday women and writers, some of whom are on the unconventional side of motherhood, to share their emotions and tales of maternity.

Before I sing the praises of this book, I must point out that the subtitle, “Conversations about Motherhood,” is not accurate. These aren’t conversations. They’re essays. They could be conversation starters, sure. But the subtitle made me think Q&A, or point and counterpoint, or maybe multiple authors responding to one question, and that’s not what this is. I realized, though, that I want to have conversations. These essays inspired me to think and remember and empathise, and I want to talk about it!

Conversations about motherhood ARE taking place, of course, and largely, it’s online. For me, it’s not so much in the social media world, but in online forums. Parenting forums have changed very little in twenty years. I first ventured into an iVillage pregnancy forum in 1997 and was extremely creeped out by the slang and abbreviations, like “baby dust” (good vibes for someone trying to get pregnant) and “baby dancing” (…trying to get pregnant. UGH this one is the worst.) Those terms are still used in forums today.

I think The M Word could benefit from a discussion forum. Lots of publishers are using online marketing in innovations ways (I love this tumblr for Cutting Teeth, for example.) and wouldn’t a forum be the perfect social media marketing campaign for this book? A “M Word” forum, in the spirit of the book, a place to actually converse about motherhood?

Maybe it’s just that traditional parenting forums bore me lately. I don’t care about must-have baby gear or any of the debates that come up every few months (vaccination vs anti-vax, circumcision, breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding vs formula feeding, baby-led weaning vs purees, hospital vs home birth, cloth vs disposable diapers, I COULD GO ON.) The M Word is great because it talks about these topics, but drops the “versus.”

While someone with more technical skills and ambition whips up this dream-parenting-forum, I’ll tell you about my favourite pieces in The M Word.

Truth, Dare, Double Dare by Heather Birrell
I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed Birrell’s short story collection, Mad Hope. It’s so good. My favourite short story collection of the year. I wrote in the margin “this essay is everything” and I hate cutesy sayings like that. But it is, to me: traumatic birth, post-partum depression, co-parenting through PPD, strain on the marriage, adding a second child despite all of this… it says so many things I cannot.

Those first few months we spent together as a family feel so far away: a desert island populated by three castaways, veins coursing with hormones and history, a treasure map we’d go cross-eyed trying to decipher.

A Natural Woman by Amy Lavender Harris
A story of infertility and motherhood. Speaking of parenting forums, the #1 topic that causes drama, heartache, and bannings is infertility. The feelings are so raw and so personal. My years in forum-land opened up this world to me somewhat, and I’m much more careful about how I talk about fertility and reproductive technology. This essay is a succinct way to get that insight. It’s also incredibly well written.

To hell with biological determinism, “natural” motherhood, binary feminisms and gender dualisms…we are all cyborgs, made of mitochondria and bits of metal, elements absorbed from the atmosphere and the cells of every child we have ever carried.

Robin by Alison Pick
If you’ve had a miscarriage, this will be a tough read. It’s worth it.

There is nothing to be done, and so we do nothing. We bear the pain, which is much worse that I could have imagined. The offense of the phrase, “You can have another.” What would I want with another? I want that baby, my baby.

Footnote to the Poem “Now That All My Friends are Having Babies: A Thirties Lament” by Priscila Uppal
This essay rubbed me the wrong way but I loved reading it. I want to give it to my child-free-by-choice sister so we can argue about it.

I find myself contemplating, not for the first time, why it is that same group of people who will have a conniption if you don’t bring your own thermo to the Second Cup, or label you a criminal for eating a hamburger, don’t have any patience for the argument that the planet could have saved by having fewer babies.

I can’t help but compare this book to The Good Mother Myth, reviewed here in February. The concept is so similar, but the execution is different and the things that bothered me about TGMM aren’t present here. Some of those pieces felt more like a rehashed blog post than an original essay, but these essays ring so true. Each author brings not only experience and honesty and original ideas, but excellent writing. And where TGMM tried to tie each essay in to a central concept, The M Word is delightfully random, arranged alphabetically so we jump from birth to adoption to single parenting to grandparenting.

Whether you pick up the book or not, make sure you check out editor Kerry Clare’s book blog, Pickle Me This. It’s a favourite of mine and is such a wonderful mix of personal and bookish posts. She reviews all the best CanLit books. Oh, she also edits The 49th Shelf, which is dangerous for the ol’ TBR but also a lot of fun.

Thank you Kerry, and Goose Lane Editions, for the review copy!



  1. Kristilyn

    I bought this one but still haven’t started reading it. It does look really good and now that I’ve been a mom for 8 months, I’m really interested in reading more books like this!

    And I would’ve guessed more conversations in the book, not just essays …

    • lauratfrey

      I would love to hear a new mom’s perspective on this book. Most of the writers, like me, have a few years under their belts. Everything’s more intense in that first year, at least, I found it to be that way!

      It’s nice because you could read an essay here and there, and their pretty short.

  2. Roxy

    Ohhh… these sound good. Having dealt with infertility and hoping to start a journey of motherhood through adoption – I always get a bit wary of books about motherhood – as they are not always inclusive of all the different pathways into the creation of a family. But THIS – this sounds so good. Another friend of mine, whose first child was very premature – we had an excellent discussion about how there is such a sanitized depiction of parenthood. Like you said, no trauma, no PPD … why not? These are things I want to know. I’ll pick this series up. On another note – here is an excellent short story collection on the flip side by all Canadian writers. Excellent, as well. Edited by Lynn Van Leuven. A bit older – 2007, but still a good read. “Nobody’s Mother” … maybe you already reviewed it!

    • lauratfrey

      This one is very inclusive, I found, without that “token” feeling, if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for the recommendation! I hadn’t heard of this one, though I had heard of the sequel, Nobody’s Father, which I thought was an interesting concept (and I really really wish there were more books about parenting and fathering, rather than just mothering.)

    • lauratfrey

      There are two stories guaranteed to make you cry, this is one of them. The second is absolutely devastating and I almost wrote about it, but just couldn’t! Also about loss. Like I said to Kristilyn, I would love to hear from a new mom about this book. Let me know if you read it!

  3. Naomi

    When this book first came out I didn’t think I was interested. At this stage (school aged children) I feel like i’ve had enough wisdom about motherhood over the years. But, then I read Matilda Magtree’s review of it ( have you read it?), and realized it was different than I thought it would be. It sounds like it is good for any age and stage, including childless. Your review has convinced me even more with your examples of a few of the stories. Such good quotes! You also now have me wanting to read Mad Hope. Sigh.

    I would also love to have a conversation about that last story by Uppal!

    • lauratfrey

      I just read it! Great “non” review.

      I feel the same way, even though my kids aren’t quite school aged, I feel “done” with birth stories and anything with the words “mommy wars” – I simply don’t care anymore, awful as that sounds. But these writers take it to a more universal level. I think even child-free people could enjoy this book.

      Maybe I need to review Mad Hope! You pushed me towards reviewing Malarky last time and that worked out pretty well 🙂

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