Many months ago, fellow blogger Sandra Danby, asked if I would like to review The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood by Kasia James (Contributing Editor). Sandra has two entries in the anthology, and arranged for me to receive a soft copy.
First of all, I should mention that my manuscript, now titled I Belong to No One, did at one stage, have the working title of Where Have all the Mothers Gone? Also, it is now broken into two parts: Motherless Daughter, and Childless Mother. Had she known that, Sandra might have thought twice about my suitability to give an unbiased review of the anthology 🙂
Well, this is the first time I have ever done a review, so here goes.
The first thing to say is that I skimmed over the title “HONEST” motherhood. However, if I was expecting a white-washed, greaseproof-filmed collection of happy ever after joy-of-motherhood stories, then I was pleasantly surprised. The mothers in these stories aren’t all perfect, and they aren’t all sure it is what they want for themselves. “I don’t think I ever want to have children,” says Kitty Brody to her boyfriend’s mother, in her story Distance. Move forward five years, and she has two toddlers, “beautiful, clever, sensitive children“, of whom she is very proud. The twist in this tale is that her marriage has broken down, and now she is learning to cope with the guilt arising from being the “absent” mother – her ex has custody.
The anthology is a collection of stories, poems and drawings. Rhyannon Yates has only one entry, her poem “Only Only”, but her words pack a punch, a visual sketch of a woman who is about to have her second child, clinging to those last moments of sharing herself completely with her first-born.
There are stories from the past too, the Welsh Shawl by Ceridwen Masiulanis, and Hiding the Knives by Maureen Bowden, take us back to the times when motherhood was not a choice, and romantic expectations of attachment and affection were not a given.
In her story, The Biscuit Tin, Sandra Danby references the traditions we inherit from our mothers, told through the memory of the mother, who, in her dying days, speaks to her absent daughter. And in her second (short) story, Tin-Can, Sandra Danby explores the effect of dementia on the mother-daughter relationship.
There are plenty more stories and true-life accounts. The anthology’s editor, Kasia James, has both literary entries, and interviews with professionals involved in motherhood. One particularly touching and thought-provoking piece is from Heather Harris, a midwife delivering babies in third world war-ravaged countries.
The anthology includes a discussion section at the end, something perhaps the analytical mothers might like to ponder over – if they have time while juggling that work-life balance problem most of my younger friends are experiencing!
So – the verdict? An interesting, realistic, touching and poignant mix about motherhood over the last century – and who can resist this 1890 excerpt from “A Century of Advice to Australian Mothers” by Dr Carla Pascoe?
“Don’t forget the girls of the present will be the mothers of the future. Don’t fail to instil early into the minds of your little girls an interest in small household duties; the most womanly of womanly accomplishments consists in the ordering, managing and sustaining a home, as it should ever be found, clean, comfortable, peaceful, and homelike.”
Footnote: I did not receive any payment for this review. Sandra Danby’s blogs (2) can be found at: http://sandradanby.com/ and http://notesonaspanishvalley.com/