Thirty acclaimed writers share their personal birth stories—the extraordinary, the ordinary, the terrifying, the sublime, the profane
It's an elemental, almost animalistic urge—the expectant mother's hunger for birth narratives. Bookstores are filled with month-by-month pregnancy manuals, but the shelves are virtually empty of artful, entertaining, unvarnished accounts of labor and delivery—the stories that new mothers need most.
Here is a book that transcends the limits of how-to guides and honors the act of childbirth in the twenty-first century. Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon have gathered true birth stories by women who have made self-expression their business, including Cheryl Strayed, Julia Glass, Lauren Groff, Dani Shapiro, and many other luminaries.
In Labor Day, you'll read about women determined to give birth naturally and others begging for epidurals; women who pushed for hours and women whose labors were over practically before they'd started; women giving birth to twins and to ten-pound babies. These women give birth in the hospital, at home, in bathtubs, and, yes, even in the car. Some revel in labor, some fear labor, some feel defeated by labor, some are fulfilled by it—and all are amazed by it. You will laugh, weep, squirm, perhaps groan in recognition, and undoubtedly gasp with surprise. And then you'll call every mother or mother-to-be that you know and say "You MUST read Labor Day."
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum
Lan Samantha Chang
Mary Beth Keane
Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Sarah A. Strickley
Rachel Jamison Webster
Editors Henderson (Ten Thousand Saints) and Solomon (The Little Bride) correctly title their introduction, "Expect the Unexpected." Yes, these stories, by 30 professional writers, include pain, joy, fear, intimacy, bodily fluids, doctors and midwives, birthing centers and home births, natural childbirth, and C-sections. And, though the essays are uneven in quality, an eloquent handful transcend the parenting genre. The collection is greater than the sum of its parts because the pieces often share one of the hallmarks of modern motherhood: disappointment that often stumbles toward shame. Mary Beth Keane writes, "Neither of my children got here the way I'd dreamed " while Danzy Senna expresses "remorse for having pushed my second out of me early for inducing labor before my body clock was ready." Marie Myung-Ok Lee writes, "I can't help wondering whether I would have been able to be a more direct agent of my own labor." Edan Lepucki simply states: "I was still struggling to accept my own labor," which is, perhaps, the originating idea behind the birth story, the coming to terms with a situation where the line between life and death is palpable, where women both lose and find themselves in a new identity, and where any last illusion of control disappears.