- Life in Here:Questions of Parenting in Contemporary Fiction
In 2012, the Irish fiction writer Anne Enright’s collection of essays, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, became available in the United States. In the opening essay, “Apologies All Round,” a prologue of sorts, Enright says, “The reason I kept writing about my babies, even when they were asleep in the room, was that I could not think about anything else. This might account for any wildness of tone. The pieces were typed fast. They were written to the sound of a baby’s sleeping breath.” At the end of the brief essay, after apologizing to her children for “writing about their baby selves,” Enright closes with this: “My only excuse is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.”
The “it” Enright is talking about includes conceiving, birthing and parenting children. More interestingly, it also includes maintaining a [End Page 179] sense of self—self as thinker, writer, drinker, smoker, conversationalist, sexually active adult—distinct from the baby while at the same time tending to (and loving to tend to) the baby. It’s complicated for any parent, and it only gets more complicated when the parent tries to juggle child rearing and some other professional pursuit, to, as I’ll call it, “parent-plus.” In Enright’s case, she was making babies but also wanted to continue making fiction. As for many parents trying to lead a double life, it came down to time: there didn’t seem to be enough of it to do two things well.
Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood
Anne Enright. W. W. Norton & Company, 2013, 208 pp., $15.95 (paper)
The challenge of time as it relates to parenting is best depicted in Enright’s essay “Nine Months,” about the first nine months of her first child’s life. Structurally, the essay is as orderly as it gets, which is to say as orderly as time marching forward, always at the same pace. After an opening section subtitled “Day One: Ah,” the essay progresses in monthly installments: “The First Month: Dream Time,” “The Second Month,” “The Third Month” and so on. Within these sections, there are always two subsections describing the baby’s progress and Enright’s struggle as a writer: “development (the baby)” and “regression (me).” It’s an essay with a clear and logical structure, yet the content is not tidy—how could it be? It’s an essay about infancy. There are literal messes: tears, blood, wounds. There are also deliberate messes at the sentence level: a two-word paragraph, “Besides. Look”; the snippet of a short story Enright begins and apparently drops; a paragraph that trails off, “And so on, and so forth.” The effect is not unlike visiting the home of new parents and seeing, in the midst of total chaos—empty water glasses, diapering supplies and breast-pump parts strewn about—a feeding schedule taped to the refrigerator door. Overlaying order on disorder is a parent survival mechanism.
From a parenting-plus perspective, “Nine Months” very clearly parallels the baby’s development as a person with Enright’s regression as a [End Page 180] writer. In the delirious pleasure of the hours right after the baby’s birth, Enright feels like a superhero. Not only does she start planning when to have another baby; she thinks of her work as a novelist and decides that now, postbaby, she’s a better version of the writer she was before. She’s going to finish her new book in five months: “Usually, it takes me three years to write a book, but that’s no problem: I can...