This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing

This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing

This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing

This Giving Birth: Pregnancy and Childbirth in American Women's Writing


This Giving Birth is a compelling collection of essays which underlines the central place pregnancy and childbirth hold in American women's writing. Embracing three centuries of prose and poetry, the anthology traces the evolution of American maternity literature, exploring the difficulties mothers faced as they struggled to transform themselves from objects into maternal subjects.

Women as diverse as Anne Bradstreet, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Kate Chopin, Tony Morrison, and Louise Erdich all laboured to reclaim the birthing process by giving voice to experiences and emotions long devalued by a patriarchal culture. Their voices resonate throughout this collection in essays that are at once entertaining and insightful, academic and experiential.

Mixing the canonical with the contemporary, This Giving Birth celebrates mothers' literary achievements without lapsing into sentimentally. It's a fascinating read for anyone interested in women's literature -- or women's lives....


Now that the baby boom generation has come of age in America, mothers are suddenly back in Vogue—and in Time, The New Yorker, and The Wall Street Journal too. Indeed, mothers are suddenly everywhere, and their influence is everywhere felt. Pollsters and policy-makers court them; manufacturers cater to them; and corporations work to accommodate them. Marketers adjust to meet their demands and desires, while medical practitioners keep pace by emphasizing prenatal education and offering non-traditional birthing options.

Ever since a pregnant Demi Moore exploded the beauty myth by posing nude for a magazine cover and Madonna cast off her boy-toy image to sing the praises of maternity, popular culture has also begun to embrace dear old mom. Books are written about her, and "after years of cinematic attention to unmarried women, working girls and fatally attracted predators," movies are again treating her as "an interesting character—a star—in her own right" (Merkin 104).

Even in the spiritual realm, mothers are enjoying a resurgence. Mary, the original Madonna, is hailed with more enthusiasm than ever, and assorted maternal goddesses have become the focus for new-age seekers. But motherhood and, in particular, issues related to pregnancy and child-bearing, have not always been so widely accepted.

In 1980, a mere two decades ago, Sharon Olds performed an "exceptional act" when she published a poem about her experience with pregnancy and childbirth. Admittedly the physical process she discusses, as miraculous as it may seem to the individuals involved, is commonplace. Women, after all, have been giving birth for thousands of years. Moreover, the poem in question was, even then, only one contribution to a rapidly growing corpus of work. What made Olds' "The Language of the Brag" remarkable was that it detailed the corporeal reality of pregnancy and childbirth, shying away from no bodily function, and it did so in a way that was unsentimental, unembarrassed, and, most importantly, wholly unapologetic.

Given that the occurrences described are so central to the "lives of one half of humanity" (Kizer, "Pro Femina" 44) and until recently have been silenced or privatized, Olds' poem represents a watershed in that it examines the ways in which childbirth has shaped both a woman's identity and her imagination. Through "The Language of the Brag," Sharon . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.