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Giving Testimony to Motherhood : FRUITFUL: A Real Mother in ihe Modern World by Anne Roiphe; Houghton Mifflin $22.95, 260 pages


You'd think that with all the sparkling, supportive dialogue about work and mothering, including Louise Erdrich's "The Blue Jay's Dance," Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year" and now Anne Roiphe's "Fruitful" (to name one one-thousandth of the really fine gross national product) that we could have a law encouraging corporations with more than 15 employees to have on-site day care. All that brain power, feminist or not; all that hand wringing over the terrible choice, the guilt, the heartache, the rage.

What makes this observation relevant is the tendency for some authors who grapple with this problem to consume themselves, to tie themselves up in little knots with no solution in sight, to sound either hopelessly confessional (I walked out the door even though the baby was crying) or bitter (I left my daughter with a baby sitter who was supposed to make her into a feminist) or just plain hopeless (It simply isn't possible to do everything).

And it is an observation that Roiphe makes in her very first chapter. Rather than finding child-care solutions, "The feminist movement has turned its attention to the apparently more riveting matters of rape and sexual harassment, abortion rights, glass ceilings and pornography. It has not erupted with creative new solutions for child care."

We read these books for at least as many reasons as the authors write them: to not feel alone (the Oprah hypothesis), to make a decision (the "Sophie's Choice" hypothesis), to not feel trapped by household drudgery (the Cinderella hypothesis). And of all these motivating emotions, being trapped is the worst. It's the one that frustrates creative solution-making, makes for venomous wives at dinner parties, angry mothers and whining books.

Which is why, Roiphe writes, feminism (beyond finding child-care solutions) should do a better job of being a movement that embraces women who choose to have children and women who choose not to. ". . . If there is no space for women to make and experience the consequences of different choices within the feminist movement, what hope is there that America will ever let us breathe easy in our multiple roles?"

There is no question, however, that "Fruitful" (as in "go forth and multiply") is a testimony to motherhood, even if it's not for everyone. "Women have real needs that include being near and with their children. The effort to deny these needs is as cruel as the pre-feminist effort to deny women their minds." She chides Susan Faludi, among others, for today's "anti-baby posturing," which, she claims, "repels most women," and "makes it possible for us to avoid serious questions and issues about child care."

"Some days," Roiphe writes, "it seems to me that I might have been more than I am if I had not become a self divided among others. . . . Some days I think that if I had not had my children I would surely have gone mad . . . that I would always be watching my own bubbles as if I were a goldfish swimming in a bowl." Up and down. One of Roiphe's five daughters becomes addicted to alcohol and heroin and tests HIV positive. "Motherhood was always a risk," she writes. "I knew that going in."

Throughout "Fruitful," from the subtitle to the chapter titles to the text, Roiphe refers to the "real world," as you might expect, an ambivalent place, with few shoulds and many isms. "Real," she writes in the very end, "is a matter of opinion, of deed, not mere biology."

Now that she has demonstrated her strength and empathy, if she would only run for office.

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