Motherhood Reimagined by Sarah Kowalski

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC of this novel.

This is a book which will stay with me for a long time. This is the first book on fertility issues I have read but the book was calling to me as I am now at slap bang in the ‘baby phase.’ My friends and I have moved on from weddings and we are now at that stage of having and trying to have babies.

Fertility is something which is taken for granted. When you first become sexually active you spend your life trying not to get pregnant and living in fear that a ‘mistake’ would be made and you would fall pregnant. As young women, we brazenly go through life assuming that we are all fertile goddesses and, if you happened to have unprotected sex, you will become a mother nine months later. When you plan your life do you ever allow for infertility problems, divorce, illness? Of course not. You assume you will breeze through life unscathed by the ups and downs. They happen to other people. People on Eastenders and Hollyoaks. Not to people like you.

Sarah Kowalski was one such woman. As a child, she loved children and assumed she would always become a mother. Like a lot of modern women, her career and life in general took centre stage ‘somewhere between my rocket-speed career and my jet-setting, single life, I’d completely lost my resolve to have children.’ She became a high powered  corporate litigator. However disaster struck and she was diagnosed with a type of repetitive strain injury called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. She went from an energetic, sociable woman to someone who was in constant pain. She didn’t have the strength  to wash her own hair or even put her key in the lock. She left her job and started to research alternative therapies like Feldenkrais and Qigong. It is through Qigong that Sarah met the most patient man in the world. Chris. Through Chris’s Qigong sessions Sarah decided she would start the journey to motherhood and she embarked upon Project Baby. As any woman knows, when Project Baby starts it is completely all encompassing. 

This is when the book became slightly frustrating for me. As a woman who struggles with depression, I have always gone for the quick fix….medication. Counselling didn’t work for me. I didn’t want to chat, I wanted a cure. This is where Kowalski and I differ.  I struggled with Kowalski’s initial objection to IVF, donations and her disregard to the information provided by the medical experts. The odds were so stacked against her, her time was running out and it was incredibly unlikely that acupuncture and Chinese herbs were going to make a difference. But that was her journey, and although the constant sobbing phone calls to Chris were irritating for me as a reader, Kowalski felt she had to run through all her options before she moved onto donation. On finishing the book, my feelings of frustration changed into feelings of respect. This was a process that Kowalski had to go through. She felt she had to exhaust all her options before she moved onto IVF and donation. Luckily Kowalski was not constrained by her financial situation. Money was no object in quest to have a baby. This is obviously not the case for a great many women out there and I wish Kowalski had acknowledged this. Her route to motherhood would not necessarily have been the one I would have taken. but it was her’s and that was an inspiration. 

I use the word ‘journey’ because that is really what this book felt like for me as a reader. Fertility is such a massively contentious issue. I was lucky enough to fall pregnant easily but I know a lot of people who didn’t. As one of the ones who didn’t struggle, I often feel like I am not qualified to have an opinion on fertility issues and I am so scared of saying the wrong thing. All I can say is, as a mother I can only imagine how it must feel when you are faced with the very real possibility that you might not have children of your own. For those amongst us who have always planned to become parents, to discover that you might not be able to fulfill that destiny. When you feel your body isn’t doing what it should. When everywhere you look, you see pregnant people. Utterly heartbreaking. 

Sarah Kowalski is a woman we should all admire. To go through this journey alone is utterly inspirational. In a sense Chris almost became her partner. Lacking the steady constant a partner or family member would provide, Chris took on the role. He helped her choose a sperm donor, channeled her anger and was even present during her labour.  I wonder had Sarah had that sounding board in the form of a partner maybe she would have come to the decision of donation quicker? If she had that person who could literally take the decision out of her hands things may have been easier. I wanted her to have someone to say ‘Stop. This isn’t working. Let’s try something else.’

As I have made clear, this was not an easy read. I feel like I went through the whole range of emotions with Sarah. Hope, frustration, excitement, disappointment, happiness. This was the kind of book that made me actually audibly react on the train which was often embarrassing. I also often felt quite stressed on arriving at work having read a few chapters on my journey. I want to make it clear that by no means is this a criticism of the book. I completely engaged with it and learned a lot. This book should be read by anyone who wishes to become a parent. Who knows if your journey will be easy but if it’s not I am sure Kowalski’s book will offer hope and comfort.

Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

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