by Sheila Heti
When we were kids, my mother decided she wouldn’t tell us about Santa Clause. It seemed weird to tell us a lie that sets us up for deep disappointment later.
What she didn’t realize is that it didn’t matter whether she told us. The myth of Santa Clause so permeates our culture that we both knew about and believed anyway.
Reading Sheila Heti’s Motherhood reminded me of mom’s unsuccessful attempt to ignore Santa Clause. The unnamed narrator doesn’t want children but our culture’s insistent cult of motherhood overwhelms her with anxiety about the decision.
Studies have proven that childless women in their 50s are no less happy than women with children. Once the decision is irreversible, they have the exact same quality of life. Before that, though, in their late 30s & early 40s, they feel anxiety around the decision. Motherhood follows one woman perseverating about whether or not to have children.
Something she has always felt (“I don’t want children”) is constantly challenged by both the people she knows and the media she consumes. All their voices resonate in her: You’ll change your mind; You’ll regret it; Children are the only reason for living.
This first-person back and forth gets a bit grating, giving us a visceral understanding of the anxiety our protagonist is living with. But it’s worth sticking through to the end. This is a smart, funny and necessary book.