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What It's Really Like to Be a Mom

June 05, 1986|ROSELLE M. LEWIS

The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre (Beacon Press: paperback, $8.95).

Motherhood has its secrets. Giving birth, despite the claims of Lamaze and other "natural childbirth" advocates, can be the most painful, exhausting and unforgettable experience a woman knows.

Equally, despite the happy claims that early "bonding" between mother and child is an ecstatic, almost religious experience (a notion often touted by male writers, given to talk show appearances), many women have found "mothercraft" tedious, exhausting and threatening to their sanity.

Autobiographical Account

Jane Lazarre, a truth teller of the first order, has written a dazzling autobiographical account of bearing Benjamin, the result of careless birth control. If motherhood, for Lazarre, turns out to be more terrifying than wonderful, if a baby strained her marriage as she discovered a fundamental ambivalence between personal fulfillment and her "monster's" demands, her story has exceptional aspects.

The daughter of a left-wing New York Jewish union organizer, a semi-orphan since age 7, she has married James, a Southern black, now a law student at Yale University. The interracial couple settle down in one of those thin-walled housing projects, where mothers, tethered to their young, turn into "hibernating" animals.

She takes us through long days of isolation with a colicky infant, aware that the flame under her book-in-progress is fast being extinguished by dreary rounds of breast feeding, housekeeping and brief, unsatisfactory contacts with those mothers, who produced perfect Spockian babies.

Time Heals All

But all wounds are healed by time. After James graduates from law school, the family moves to New York, puts Benjamin in a day care center and, having completed a graduate degree, Lazarre chooses to become pregnant again.

Though "The Mother Knot," a rare emotional odyssey, expresses an idiosyncratic, often downright neurotic view, its author writes like a tigress in exploring what it means to be "a woman and a serious artist" at the same time, knowing that to deny motherhood is "to deny the lessons of history."

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