- Pregnant PausesRe-reading Carole Maso’s The Room Lit by Roses
I bring the book with me to the doctor’s office, hold it like a talisman. I am writing a book about Carole Maso. I am writing a book while pregnant. Three days a week, I sit strapped to the monitors, listening to the galloping of my son’s heart while I read. I want to find myself there, in Maso’s book, but I don’t.
When Laura asks me to do a “writer as reader” piece, I don’t tell her that when I was in graduate school, I loathed the phrase “reading as a writer,” which, it seemed to me at the time, was an anti-theoretical term, an anti-intellectual term, code for a reading practice that looked to find an author’s “tricks,” moves that a young writer might steal (mimicked in our poetry) more than a genuine interpretive close reading of an author’s work. Perhaps this is not fair. But as it was talked about in workshops and seminars by those in the MFA program I attended, “reading as a writer” seemed to be distinct from “reading as a literary critic,” a distinction in which we might discern much of the tension located in my graduate program. If I do not personally believe that such division is helpful, or healthy, it is perhaps a commonly diagnosed assessment. I am a memoirist and poet. I am also a literary critic. I graduated with what the director of graduate studies perhaps not inadvertently described as “duel degrees,” an MFA in poetry and a PhD in English literature. Mostly what I want is to read as a whole person, an embodied, engaged reader. The critics dismissively call this approach “reader response,” which is a term I also have come to loathe. [End Page 183]
I read Carole Maso’s The Room Lit by Roses when it came out, fall 2000, the fall I was making the decision to become a mother. I was pregnant and not pregnant all at once, and everything was flush with meaning. My grandmother was dying. I was applying for tenure-track jobs. I didn’t know what to do.
I loved that Maso was pregnant. That she conceived her daughter with a stranger, while traveling. I loved how magical it all was.
Later, when I was struggling to conceive my first and then second child, the book represented everything I couldn’t stand. Miraculous conceptions at 42. Laughable. Cherríe Moraga, too, as she tells it in Waiting in the Wings, conceiving at home with a known donor rather than at the doctor’s office. Where was the book that told my story? Certainly not these books by authors I respected so much.
So I wrote my own infertility-miscarriage-high-risk-pregnancy-as-a-single-woman memoir, Texas Girl, because stories like mine didn’t seem to exist. They still don’t.
I could tell you about all the books I’ve loved that talk about motherhood, or the desire for motherhood, books I coveted alongside the onesies I stashed in my bedside table, like a teenager’s stash of porn. In those trying days, I read Brenda Miller’s Season of the Body, Rebecca McClanahan’s The Riddle Song. I read Rebecca Walker’s Baby Love and Lauren Slater’s Love Works Like This, neither of which I loved, but I read them diligently because I read every infertility-pregnancy-and-momoir I could find. I read Harlyn Aizley’s Buying Dad, a tale of lesbian moms trying to conceive via good old intrauterine insemination (IUI), which was the closest thing I could find to my story.
In another version of this essay—the more “critical” version—I would tell you why I think the momoir happens at the historical and cultural moment it does. A combination of the rise of the memoir and what Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels call “the mommy myth,” the idealization of motherhood we witness over and again in the media. Yesterday on Twitter, for example, a picture of sexed-up Olivia Wilde nursing her infant. That sort of...