This debut collection limns the inner lives of women who have just become, will soon be, decline to be, or long to be mothers.
“You can’t know the joy until—,” says the teary-eyed mother of a woman who has just announced that she does not intend to have children, in an exchange tucked into “Grow Your Eyelashes,” the opening story of Rosenwaike’s empathetic collection. “You just can’t know it.” To this, the daughter replies, “Look how happy I’m making you.” Ultimately, the young woman gets pregnant and decides to have the baby. However, “Grow Your Eyelashes” is not really her story but rather one told through the eyes of her sister, whose struggle with infertility is making her the very opposite of happy. The effect of babies (newborn, unborn) on the lives and emotions of parents (and those who long to be or decline to be parents) is at the heart of all 12 stories in this deeply resonant collection. In “Field Notes,” a 30-year-old biologist connects with the inquisitive 9-year-old daughter of the receptionist at a research facility in which she works even as the biologist decides to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. In “Period, Ellipsis, Full Stop,” a freelance book editor suffers a miscarriage and mulls the pursuit of perfection, the expectation of effortlessness: “As if you could set out to do something and get it right the first time, as if the whole of life wasn’t about trying again.” The push-pull of life and death, the tug of postpartum depression, the shame of deception, the guilt of separation—all are explored in these pages. “People say that a baby changes everything, but is that true?” Rosenwaike writes in “Parental Fade,” a story about a couple embarking on the slow, painful process of sleep training. “Are we more patient or less? More generous or more selfish? More engaged with the world or more in retreat from it? More accepting of mortality or more frightened of dying?” These questions, considered here, are among the things that may keep parents up at night.
An exquisite collection that is candid, compassionate, and emotionally complex.