A recognition of motherhood that embraces its many contradictions and an indictment of motherhood as it exists in a patriarchy, a pawn in a male power game. Adrienne Rich, poet and feminist, draws evidence from many fields to explore the contrast between the functional myth of the mother--serene, instinctual, ecstatic (as in Raphael's madonnas)--and the harsher reality of unwanted pregnancies and thwarted human potential. A mother three times in four years (in the 1950s when full-time motherhood was in flower), she remembers her own feelings of isolation and anger, passion and fulfillment. She documents other attitudes toward mothering from prepatriarchal religions to Judaeo-Christian theology to the proscriptions of modern socialism, seeing a subversion from mother goddess to functionary in the patriarchal interest; she finds residual ambivalences in modern mother/son and mother/daughter relationships owing to such interference and manipulation. Insistently she argues for self-determination for all women, for a choice in having children, in observing the rituals of childbirth, in determining attitudes toward child care. Dynamic, woman-centered, frequently persuasive and even disarming, this is certain to spark controversy for its uncompromising stance and its more surprising, documented findings (""Maternal infanticide was 'the most common crime in Western Europe from the Middle Ages down to the end of the eighteenth century'""). An enormous, improbable, deserving subject selectively researched and passionately presented.