Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Knock Yourself Up by Louise Sloan

Immediately after I volunteered to review Knock Yourself Up by Louise Sloan, I got nervous. You see, generally, when you agree to review a book or product on your blog, the people who grant you the privilege expect a favorable review in return. But while I was waiting for the book to arrive I started to think, "Fathers are so important, and being a single mother is so hard... What if I can't truthfully recommend this book? What if I hate everything it stands for?? What am I going to say?"

Fortunately, all of my fears were alleviated within the first chapter or two of the book. Ms. Sloan isn't advocating that all women go out and knock themselves up. She isn't dreaming of a world without men. In fact, quite the opposite. She, and most of the women she interviewed for the book, always expected to find a partner and have children in a committed relationship. But things don't always work out the way we planned, and the relationship didn't materialize in Ms. Sloan's life. With her biological clock ticking, she made the difficult choice to go it alone.

Her stories are so cute and funny. Some of the situations reminded me of the movie Baby Mama, although the "happily ever after" Hollywood ending in Baby Mama doesn't happen often for real women in the life Ms. Sloan chose (she talks about that in the dating chapter). But how often do happily ever afters happen in real life for any of us?

In reading this book, I began to look at my happily ever after life, with my two kids and husband and picket fence and dog and cat, and to realize that I'm really lucky, and not everyone is as lucky as I am. Some people don't fit the cookie cutter. Some people are gay. Some people don't find their other half, or don't find him or her in time to have a family. Who am I to deny them (with my judgment) a chance at having all of the joy and pleasure and, yes, work (I mean, I spent 30 minutes cleaning up puke yesterday - oh the glamor!) of childrearing? Who am I to say, "You should adopt!" when my own desire to have a biological child was so strong that I spent 24 months trying, and crying, over it? Who am I to say to anyone, "The way you've made your family is wrong"?

Knock Yourself Up is a guidebook for women who find themselves on a different path from the one we typically think of when we think "family." In the same spirit as a "Girlfriend's Guide," Ms. Sloan says to other women, "I've been in your shoes. I know what it's like to want a kid so badly that you're willing to do it by yourself. Here's how I did it, and what I learned, and what I laughed about. You can do it too."

The birth story in chapter 10 is especially touching. I've always loved birth stories, especially when I was pregnant, and Ms. Sloan's writing brought me right into the story. And her discussion of the potential complications is especially important for women choosing to knock themselves up. These days, it seems that it's rare for any woman to have a completely uncomplicated pregnancy and birth. A strong support network is essential for any pregnant woman, but especially so for a woman who is becoming a single mom.

In e-mail correspondence, I asked Ms. Sloan why she thought that it was so rare to hear about a single by choice dad in our culture. She said that she has heard of men doing exactly that. I guess it's because she's in New York City and I'm in Indiana. I guess maybe Rent a Womb - the Single Man's Guide to Becoming a Dad could be the next book I review.

In reading this book, I became a little more accepting, and a little less judgmental, about other peoples' choices. The author's note is called "Love Makes a Family," and that's so true. Now that I've sort of been inside the head of a woman who chose this path, I hope that I'll be more prepared to support any real women who may cross my path and be in a similar situation. If you're on the path to single motherhood, I can't recommend Knock Yourself Up enough.

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