Sandra Danby emailed me and asked if I would like to review The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood by Kasia James (Contributing Editor).
“I’ve just had two of my short stories published in an anthology and wondered if you would review the book on your blog? It’s called ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ and includes short fiction, poetry, art, memoir and medical writing on the theme of honest motherhood. Some of the writers have recently given birth, others are grandmothers. Some, like me, are childless; my writing is inspired by memories of my own mother. Some of the pieces will make you smile, others are heartbreaking.”
I responded “… be happy to… given the theme which is close to my heart also”. Of course. I have been around mothers my whole life. Many of my family, friends and colleagues are mothers.
But my reactive assumption of familiarity with the subject was way off. It amounted to: I’m a woman; a Sagittarian, ergo I value honesty above all else; and my mother gave birth to me.
Reading the The Milk of Female Kindness contributions was eye-opening. It was like reading science fiction – women but another life-form, inhabiting a planet unfamiliar to me.
A colleague years ago shared the details of her entire pregnancy with our little office clan but that’s far different to what comes later. She resigned to take on a new role of full-time mum. She may as well have left the country as far as those of us who remained were concerned.
Mothers who know me well don’t hand their babies to me but regard me kindly, reading the trepidation in my eyes. We don’t talk about mothery stuff, so I can’t even say what kind of honesty I was expecting from The Milk of Female Kindness.
The truth it revealed is how disengaged from motherhood I am as an adult. As a child, I still shed tears when I hear of someone similarly motherless.
My best friend Mrs S. only occasionally regales me with anecdotes about her mother but until now I never thought about it. Am I not included, or do I not participate, in those conversations because of their inclination to be one-sided? My mother died when I was five has been known to be a conversation stopper.
While I read The Milk of Female Kindness, I doubted my ability to write a fair review. I tender a few lines from a poem I wrote many years ago by way of explanation.
They never told me who she was
I never knew
enough to feel like her daughter
only to be
I can’t remember
what it feels like
to have a mother
two-dimensional skeleton of memory
sepia imagined detail.
I need to think about it more, and read The Milk of Female Kindness again. Is nature, nurture or society the reason for my lack of engagement? There are clues. It’s an anthology everyone should read, whether it supports or challenges our thinking.
The experiences, insights and mode of expressing them in The Milk of Female Kindness are varied.
The Amazon blurb describes it in better words than I’m currently able to:
‘Mother’ is a word heavy with associations. Becoming a mother is surely one of the biggest changes and challenges in a woman’s life. It is at once an absolutely unique experience, and yet one which is so common that it is often overlooked. Motherhood is intense, relentless and absorbing, in all senses of the word. Popular culture seems to have a split personality when it comes to motherhood – at once holding it up as a sacred ideal, and yet being a little dismissive of women as mothers. A diverse international group of women have been brave enough to share their stories, poetry and artwork to encourage you to think and feel about this most influential of relationships in a new and enlightened way. *
Includes Discussion Questions for Reading Groups *
The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood
by Kasia James (Goodreads Author) (Contributing Editor), Sarah Cass (Goodreads Author), Judith Dickerman-Nelson (Goodreads Author), Tara Chevrestt (Goodreads Author), Cheri Roman, Gemma Wright, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Goodreads Author), Kitty Brody, Angélique Jamail, Laura Evans, Sandra Danby (Goodreads Author), Maureen Bowden, Sabrina Garie (Goodreads Author), Betty Ming Liu, Jessica Kennedy, Christa Forster, Marie Marshall, Judith Field, Jennifer James, Alison Bartlett, Carla Pascoe, Judy McKinty, Mary Jeavons, Heather Sadiechild Harris, Rhyannon (Yates), Rhyannon Yates, Tram Nguyen, Judith Logan Farias (Illustrator), Ceridwen Masiulanis (author & illustrator), Valerie Walawender (illustrator)
Available from Amazon – The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood
I received a complimentary e-copy of the The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood for this review.
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” e.e. cummings
32 thoughts on “It takes courage to grow up…”
A blow to any child to lose a mother. Maybe less of a blow at an age where they haven’t really developed a knowledge of her and find it difficult to bring her image to mind.? Maybe it’s more of a blow to miss out on having those feelings an images?
Whichever it is I can understand how disengaged you were from some of the stories in this book after losing your Mum at such a young age .I feel for you missing the experiences most of us take for granted though obviously it hasn’t stopped you becoming a well rounded adult.( Not a reflection of shape honestly).
xxx Massive Hugs xxx
Thank you David. You described both sides of the motherless coin aptly. I don’t know.
I’m pretty well rounded, figuratively and literally, just a little dented like one of those cans in the specials trolley at the supermarket…
What an interesting review, thanks so much. Your thoughts underline how each of us has a different relationship with motherhood; and I include men in this as they of course have mothers. Motherhood is not just about ‘having a baby’, we mother up as well as down. I understand the vacuum that is left when your mother has gone, though I only lost my mother last year. So this anthology came at quite a pertinent time in handling my grief. Thanks again for such a thought-provoking post. SD
I’m not sure it was what you were expecting. It certainly surprised me.
I don’t mother at all.
My thoughts about what kind of vacuum is left when mothers die are ambivalent. I know I would feel differently about the death of my Dad who has managed to surprise everyone, including himself, by attaining 70 plus years, than someone who lost their dad early.
There lies the value of an anthology – company and a smorgasboard of food for thought.
I had what I feared would be throat cancer when my daughter was just four. My biggest fear before the op. [turned out to be a totally benign little lump] was that if I died, my daughter would not remember me. Whether you remember your Mum or not, know that she loved you. -massive hugs-
I can’t read your comment without tears welling in my eyes… so the massive hugs are much appreciated. And you are right.
It’s important when someone dies, at any age, that we speak of them, tell their stories, because in that way they live on but in a different form.
Yes! To me, that’s the only immortality that’s certain – just a bit of love.
“like reading science fiction – women but another life-form, inhabiting a planet unfamiliar to me.” Now that’s a call to stop reading and pause. Perfect comparison.
The picture and the poem are that misty haunting perfection – nicely written and felt.
Also tend to “lack engagement” as my mother didn’t really like me and iI knew it – but may will check out the book…as your final quote says maybe it’s time. Thanks for the prod by post.
Thank you. I think all relationships regardless of if the person is present, absent and how, take some negotiating… and lack of engagement is a safety-net. It makes sense to distance ourselves from that which makes us uncomfortable, or terrain we’re uncertain to navigate.
Sometimes things unravel for the better when we poke at them, sometimes not, and we leave them be again.
Thank you for your honest evaluation and revelation of another experience. Your poem is very evocative and adds a very important quality to this review. I think the author picked exactly the right person to review this book! I have seen very close tragedies of abuse and untimely death of a child, so that, alien though Motherhood may seem to you, there are worse things one can experience. I say this in hope that it might be a comfort, but perhaps there is none. Hugs to you.
Thank you – I have been processing-prevaricating writing the review/post but it was either this or not at all.
Agreed, I’ve always taken comfort in that I didn’t succumb to expectations… pressure to have children, not even when my first father-in-law offered cash & jewellry in exchange for a grandchild!
I know of both sides – parents for who the role is truly a bad fit, and children affected by it.
I don’t know what to say, I’ve been teary reading this. I like acflory’s response about her experience as a mother who thought she was dying – when my children were young I would lie awake at night worrying about the same thing. I had two friends who passed from breast cancer in their mid twenties and they both had young children. This changed me. I actually started enjoying the aging process and every birthday that comes around I really celebrate. People my age think I’m weird because I loved turning 30 and then 40 and then 50. I can’t wait until I’m 60 and 70 and 80 and 90! I feel like I’m blessed being able to grow old because I had friends who didn’t. I wish you were with me now so I could give you a big hug xxx
Thank you 🙂 So true, growing old is far better than the alternative. I too have lost people I knew at young ages, school friends, one in her 30’s with 3 kids… In each instance, it does change you, and counting your blessings and not numbers makes sense 🙂
EllaDee, I had no idea you lost your mum so young. I can imagine how it might be a conversation stopper for many, but not for me. I’m someone who would say, “please, tell me about it if you’d like, or not. It’s up to you.” I usually stop conversations when people ask if I have kids and I tell them I couldn’t have kids. However, I do still have my mom (who is currently struggling with her health). I hope that you were able to express your feelings about losing your mum so young at some point over the years. Hugs.
Thank you. As I don’t have kids, by choice, I don’t find it unusual others don’t either but when it’s not by choice then I really feel for the person because despite the old adage ‘you don’t miss what you never had’, you do indeed.
Hi Ella, Thanks for you review – it sounds like we may have brought up some pretty uncomfortable sensations, so I hope the book wasn’t too upsetting. However, one of the main aims was really to get people thinking about motherhood in a new way, so I’m really glad that we managed that!
Your comment “It was like reading science fiction – women but another life-form, inhabiting a planet unfamiliar to me,” absolutely rings true. I delayed having a child for a long time, and found it a very different experience to what I expected. Partly having a bub, but much more the way that people started to treat me differently. I suddenly felt as if in putting me in the ‘Mother’ box, in other people’s eyes I had dropped 50 IQ points, and developed a consuming interest in nappies and shopping for the nursery.
Although this huge change had happened in my life, it was somehow not acceptable to talk to people without children about that change, which is a society construct I think as much as anything else. All of which, of course, gave me the anger and passion to start compiling the book!
Thanks so much for your reciprocal honesty. 🙂
Thank you – the process of reading The Milk of Female Kindness was bewildering rather than upsetting. What I thought I thought wasn’t it at all. And in the end it was enlightening. I probably won’t change but I feel better having shed those few illusions and being somewhat more aware.
Reblogged this on Writer's Block and commented:
A wonderfully honest review of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ – I love EllaDee’s comment: “It was like reading science fiction – women but another life-form, inhabiting a planet unfamiliar to me.”
Reblogged this on Sappho's Torque and commented:
Another review of the anthology I was recently included in, The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood. A very honest review.
Even though my mother’s been a constant, somehow I never picked up from her, or noticed from watching the mothers of my friends, anything to make me motherly. Because I’m an only child and never did babysit as most teen girls do, I figured it had something to do with the familiarity of handling and caring for siblings and others’ babies and young children from an early age. Certainly I was never aware of the proverbial clock ticking, and I am very much as you’ve described yourself, right down to the trepidation of holding babies. So this seems a book I’d find not only touching but enlightening. The book cover though, at first glance made me think I’d have chosen an entirely different design. But then I thought the contrast, the pacifier vs. the real thing, may very well most closely sum up the stories within. I’ll have to find out, won’t I? : )
The cover, what Australians call a “dummy” on the floor, may reflect the phrase “spitting the dummy” meaning “to baulk at, get angry about, or simply, obstinately refuse to do, something” but isn’t widely used in the US – “spitting the pacifier” doesn’t have the same ring.
Certainly I think more women, for whatever reason, are making deliberate choices about various aspects of motherhood, which can only be a good thing.
No, not the same ring at all! Well, you know I spend part of the work year in England and find that although we Americans are close to and allied with the British in many ways, we’re aligned with their culture much less than I thought. So it stands to reason, same with Australia. And quite right about women’s awareness regarding motherhood. So many women are pushed to it via societal training when they’re not cut out for it at all. Curtailing that will nip so many abuses, suicides, etc. in the bud.
Interesting for you to get that cultural exposure. I think Australia is influenced by the US and UK, Asia… we’re a melting pot, but of course local expressions tend to be exactly that.
Hopefully the future will hold a nice balance of supporting parenthood choices for both those who do and don’t, or who do and then don’t.
I believe it’s unfortunate we’re moving away from “it takes a village to raise a child”.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to go through childhood without so much as a memory of one’s Mother, EllaDee. It’s bound to affect how one views the World, for it has given you a perspective different from most others. Your book review reflects that and, if I were its author, I would welcome your thoughts and comments.
Thank you. I have a few snapshot type memories… many connected to food, always close to my heart 😉 There are times I feel like I’m living things Mum wasn’t able to, and feel her presence. I think our mothers never truly leave us.
EllaDee,sounds like an intriguing read. I love how you personalize the review like you did. It makes it stick with me far longer than any other book reviews. I’m so sorry you lost your mom at such a young age.
Thank you. I had it in my head that I had to write a ‘proper’ review but I just couldn’t. So I went along ith the theme of honesty.
Brave and honest. I am sure your Mom would aprove. You Dad clearly did good.
Thank you. The reading and review experience was interesting, it enlightened me to the extent I hadn’t particpated.
Sorry. Just read that. You must think I am a few glasses down – just tired! ‘approve’ ‘Your’. That’s better…
I underdstand the reason for why it’s not possible but sometimes I just wish there was a way I could fix the typos caused by my wayward typing style when commenting on other posts.
At least we on the same page! 🙂