Meaghan O’Connell’s slim memoir, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready should probably be required reading for every millennial considering having children and for most who already do. O’Connell’s unpretentious prose demystifies and de-romanticizes the pop culture vision of pregnancy: This is not a book about feeling glowing and radiant or having everything in your life instantly imbued with a new sense of purpose.
I can relate.
Well, not to being pregnant—we didn’t have a Schwarzenegger-in-Junior situation—but to being in the blast radius of a difficult pregnancy. Though Caitlin’s second pregnancy went a lot more smoothly, largely because of what we had learned through experience, her first was beset with challenges including separated ribs and a legitimate brush with her own mortality. It was no fairytale. And once the pregnancy was over and we found ourselves with a newborn, our lives didn’t immediately transition to the happily ever after that Hollywood, Instagram and various blogs—the Mommy Industrial Complex—take for granted. Caitlin was recovering from a traumatic delivery, our giant son wasn’t sleeping and I was splitting at the seams trying to hold everything and everyone together despite being in way over my head.
O’Connell describes, in great detail, similar challenges. (In fact, reading her recollection of a difficult delivery was somewhat triggering for me, though I would recommend it all the same.) Seeing those challenges spelled out and offered up for public consumption is liberating; I want to hand out a copy to anyone who told us, with patronizing condescension, that we “made it through in the end,” as if misery, once passed, leaves no trace behind. O’Connell hits on all of this, wondering why we as a society continue to infantilize women, framing pregnancy and motherhood as idyllic states rather than clearly and explicitly spelling out the good, the bad and the ugly of such major life events. Women are discerning adults, she wisely notes, and they can handle the truth.
It is possible to love your children and not love every minute of the experience that brought them into being, of every minute that they spend screaming in your arms, of every night that you spend propping your eyelids open with toothpicks because the baby still won’t sleep. This lesson lies at the heart of And Now We Have Everything. As clearly as any work that I can recall, O’Connell’s memoir conveys the simple truth that pregnancy and childrearing are not unilaterally pleasant and that this reality is okay to acknowledge and admit. It’s a simple truth, but one that needs to be spoken.