Mamas on Bedrest: Operating Instructions, Our 1st Mamas Bookclub Read!

September 17th, 2012

Welcome to our inaugural Mamas Bookclub! Our first read is Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott.

I really enjoyed this book. It is a journalistic account of Lamott’s first year with her infant son Sam. Lamott becomes unexpectedly pregnant with Sam at age 35. By her own admission, a self absorbed, recovering addict is not at all mother material, but despite all of her shortcomings, Lamott is a woman of deep faith and the thought of extinguishing her child is untenable, so she goes through with the pregnancy. We get a glimpse of Lamott’s pregnancy, labor and delivery, but the bulk of the book recounts Anne’s struggles as a single mother of a baby boy.

This book could have easily been a trite, smarmy account of first  time motherhood, complete with the adoring “oohs” and “aaah’s” and “my baby is perfect and completes my existence”. Instead, Lamott gives us the true grit. For sure we see her deep love and adoration for her son. But Sam was a colicky baby and we witness firsthand Anne’s moment’s of utter frustration, desperation and being at her wits end as she recounts the hours each night that Sam would wail with debilitating gas and her inability to console him as a newborn. I particularly liked that Lamott was real, there were times when she didn’t want to be Sam’s mother, she didn’t want Sam and she didn’t want to be in the situation in which she found herself. She is brutally honest about wanting to walk away  at times, and the time she thoroughly came to understand child abuse. It’s not that Anne would have ever harmed her child. But as a mom of a baby who howled, I completely “felt” what she was saying-and I had a husband to help!

A recurrent theme throughout the story is Anne’s guilt that Sam would grow up without a father, and Anne’s struggles as a single mother. When she told Sam’s father that she was pregnant, he immediately pulled away and even denied that he was Sam’s father. Ultimately Lamott takes him to court to be able to name him as father on Sam’s birth certificate, while not requesting support or for him to have a relationship with Sam. Anne takes solace in the face that Sam is loved and adored by a tribe of friends and family, and that he does in fact have wonderful male role models. Still, her paings of guilt and longing for a partner for herself and a father for Sam are palpable throughout her story.

The strength of Operating Instructions lies in Anne’s candor and transparency. Many mothers, myself included, can recall a day (or two or three) going by and not showering or brushing her teeth. Many is the mama that has wished that she hadn’t had her child. (A controversial point to be sure, but as a mama who had trouble carrying, I felt extreme guilt the first time I prayed for God to send someone, anyone, to come and take this yowling little creature I had prayed so diligently for!) At the same time we witness Anne giving thanks for her son in church, feeling wholeheartedly blessed at his presence, all while Sam farts a tune as she speaks.

Operating Instructions shows the complexity of motherhood. The ups, the downs, the good, the bad and the ugly. In essence, Lamott normalizes the experience of motherhood. She exhibits the indescrible love that a mama has for her child; the sheer amazement and bewilderment that this beautifully complete little person came through her. She is able to laugh at his “odd stages” when her baby isn’t the darling “gerber baby” but a rather ugly with acne and losing his hair. We experience her vulnerability; how she learns the utter necessity of help from others and learns to accept help graciously and also learns to say “no” with as much grace in an effort to safeguard her sanity.

Mamas on Bedrest, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It’s a quick read full of humor and candor. I think that the best thing about this book is that it will help mothers realize that motherhood, in the earliest stages especially, is difficult at best. Even the best moms sometimes falter and sometimes despite your best efforts, your baby will cry and wail. Yet, at each stage there are blessings and moments of wonderment that make the journey truly worthwhile.

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