Motherhood: A Novel by Shelia Heti


The question of a child is a bug on the brain- it’s a bug that crawls across everything, every memory, and every sense of my own future. How to dislodge that bug? It’s eating holes in everything there ever was or will be. Nothing remains intact.

Motherhood reads nothing like a novel, in fact I felt like I was having a conversation with many different women in a sense. I found myself thinking of older (I’m in my early 40’s now) women I’ve met and those I already know who are childless and faced still with this dilemma ‘to have or not to have’. Such women are often faced with feeling on the defensive for being without child, as if one is not a finished (complete) woman until… As if they have to always have an argument ready. Regardless of how successful they’ve been there is often a question, ‘so do you have any children?’ that seems so personal or vicious. Let’s face it, there are women who do want children and can’t (for health reasons), women who have tried and lost a child, women who simply feel motherhood isn’t for them and then are shamed into ‘damning’ evidence for how their life will be without meaning in the end. Can it be said, there is sometimes snobbery in motherhood? Why is it a woman even has to think about defending her choice in social settings, let alone against her own family and friends. It’s at work too, there is no way on earth to outrun the question of motherhood. Parents sometimes act like they belong to an exclusive club, and the childless mothers and fathers need not apply.

There is a struggle, a certain point where you weigh your options, you think of the ticking clock that says ‘it could be too late you know.’ There is so much to think about! Then there is the other side, why think of it at all? Is that all women are about, the constant ‘motherhood’ thing? Yet, there is beauty in motherhood for some, I speak for myself, I love being a mother but at the same time I can understand it’s just one choice. I felt the idea that you are meant to carry on your ancestors genes, their story, making their sacrifices and suffering worthwhile is a heavy burden. Then the question of ‘should I bring a child in all this ugliness’, must plague many female minds today. Maybe Heti seems to be thinking far too much about it, but isn’t it a decision that one should consider from all angles? Let’s face it, a child isn’t like a shirt you can return if you don’t feel it fits you.

This felt more like reading someone’s diary or sitting inside her struggling mind.  It’s interesting to read it from the perspective of a 42-year-old mother of college aged children because I am at the different end of the ‘should I shouldn’t I have a child’ question. I’ve known women who made the choice not to and those who have, I know a few who are still trying or hoping to one day have a child, not impossible. Each story is different, but remember as with the childless, motherhood has its struggles too. Where a woman may be left out by women with children, so to some are judged and belittled for having a family. Why must it be either or? Why must a woman who decides not to have a child be suspect? My daughter is now entering her twenties, and I can’t imagine burdening her with the weight of having a grandchild one day for her mother, not to say I don’t want a grandchild, but I am not the one who has to raise said child. I know, this is an argument others will say ‘but this is about tradition, it IS about carrying on your line, etc.” But what would it cost the people having the child just because it’s expected of them, especially if they don’t want one, what would it cost the unwanted child?

We think we’ve come so far, but there is so much expectation put on women and their bodies. She doesn’t want a child, and you know there will be so many encounters where others are set on convincing her otherwise. Culture demands things of all women, more than a pound of flesh, Motherhood may well be the biggest bone of contention. I have known women to get angry at another woman declaring a disinterest in motherhood, the ‘you’re just young’, or ‘your biological clock just hasn’t started ticking yet’, or ‘you just need the right partner’, or ‘when you hold your baby for the first time everything else you’ve done in life means nothing’ – why is it a concession to accept motherhood isn’t for everyone?

An interesting book for women, young and old, whether you are a mother or not,  because it’s about giving voice to other perspectives. It’s about the weight of expectations and what it means to be a woman, and what it shouldn’t mean. I’d love to hear from everyone here, it’s funny to ask men what they think about a woman’s issue but it isn’t just a woman’s issue. What if both don’t want children, what if one partner does and the other doesn’t? How I read this book is effected by my experience and age, my daughter would read it differently, as would my son.

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Henry Holt & Company



2 thoughts on “Motherhood: A Novel by Shelia Heti

  1. I hope you enjoy it, it’s such a fascinating topic, I think about conversations with both of my adult children and what they feel at the moment, and how really it’s their decision, but you know, it’s funny how angry or defensive some get when someone says they don’t want children, it could be generational but I remember elders in my own family acting horrified by someone not wanting kids. But you know, what about all the people who have them who shouldn’t, that’s a lot more horrifying a prospect to me.


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