Meaghan O’Connell’s “And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready” makes this abundantly clear — and, as a result, is the only baby-themed book that has yet offered me actual solace. This is due in large part to the fact that O’Connell offers no advice. She doesn’t recommend certain carriers or protein-rich diets, nor does she feel compelled to tell you how pregnancy and motherhood ought to be. Rather, hers is a completely honest, often neurotic and searingly funny memoir of her pregnancy and childbirth.
When O’Connell, a writer living in Brooklyn, learns she is pregnant, she instinctively wants a child but, given the circumstances of her life and work, feels unready. After a long discussion with her boyfriend, Dustin, that begins as they’re picking up their weekly farm share and continues into the night, the couple finally, definitively decides to keep the baby.
She shares the news with friends, casually posts about it on Instagram, navigates the steady stream of doctor’s appointments — all while a petrified, what-on-earth-am-I-doing feeling simmers under the surface. Everything feels life-or-death as she’s living it, unable to foresee that it’s all going to turn out fine. There is a car trip with Dustin in which she doesn’t feel the baby kick. Her mind leaps to the worst possible place: “‘The baby is dead!’ I scream the scream of a woman who is not being taken seriously, who is not being fed enough, coddled enough, who is not being ultrasounded every hour so that she can be reassured that the possible is not probable, is not inevitable.” She worries about losing the baby, about not savoring pregnancy enough — about not being a good mother.
The author quickly learns the difference between pregnancy and the way it is performed for the world. “There should be Polaroids our son finds in a shoe box 30 years from now and feels sentimental about,” she writes. “I want this baby to think his mom was radiant, effortlessly so, hugging her massive, miraculous body in floral prints. I want him to post them to the 2045 version of Instagram. I want his friends to leave comments about my fashion sense.”
Much of her pregnancy is spent planning for a natural birth until the particularly harrowing scene in which she receives an epidural and then an emergency cesarean section. Once her baby is born, when friends come to visit, she envisions herself as “the matriarch welcoming everyone in with French-press coffee and banana bread that I had somehow baked during early labor,” even though in reality she is bleary-eyed and rattled from the surgery. Eventually, after conquering her constant fear of SIDS, she gets the hang of it — and finds in motherhood an unexpected peace.