This is a story about your mother
Written by: Louise Wallace
Te Herenga Waka University Press
Reviewed by: Margaret Austin
I had a mother, but I’ve never been one. How does that place me to comment on a poetry collection of this nature? Writer Louise Wallace is asking a question too – about the real nature of pregnancy and motherhood. She’s knocking on a forbidden door perhaps, because we women are supposed to live our lives as if it’s our biological fate to reproduce ourselves.
Pregnancy is biological all right and this aspect of it gets full treatment. “You now contain ten / little-finger-like projections”, you’re “being beaten around the ears with the need for leafy greens”, and confronted by “what does the term ‘women’s clothing’ even mean?”
The psychological and social aspects of being pregnant also come under fire. What about baby names? Some couples do a video, and in sexy springtime feelings, “at twenty five you were special – born for a social calendar / but now you’ve got a face made for furniture.”
I’m not sure how delaying tactics fits into the pregnancy picture with its questions such as “how do you get a book deal?” and “what’s the ideal age to try stripping?” unless it’s a disguised longing for a life without a pregnancy in sight. Indeed, these poems are hardly a recommendation for it.
And we haven’t even got to childbirth! Wallace does not hesitate to expose us to the painful and at times grotesque experiences it may bring. Doctors, midwives, and other professionals become part of the scene with their discussions and instructions. But then there is a sign – finally – that all may be well, captured thus: “you’ll experience a new and phenomenal relationship / with your vagina”.
Does that make up for everything you had to undergo to achieve motherhood? I can only hope so. The search for baby names is referenced in one of the concluding poems, suggesting a resolution, as does the final metaphor.
This is a story about your mother makes for salutary reading. Those considering getting pregnant would be well advised to read it.