“Mothers know the story and tell it like a favorite fairy tale to the child, who rests her head on her pillow, on her way to sleep. But sometimes the stories of origin are troubled, riven with complexity and unanswered questions, and bespeak a cloudy future.” – Marcia Aldrich, The Art of Being Born
Marcia Aldrich, in her essay “The Art of Being Born”, writes about the confusion – her own – that surrounded her birth as a little girl. She never truly understood the birth process as a child, but in the times that she would question her mother about the “story of her”, it became apparent that the topic was not something that evoked pleasant memories. This essay, written from a now-adult Marcia to her newly born child, is her effort to not only tell the birth story but to make it clear that she knows the story. It will not be something that the child will have to wonder about years later, in the ways that a young Aldrich was forced to.
This story initially caught my eye because of its title, but as a new parent myself I found that much of Aldrich’s essay was relevant to me as well. The panic of the hospital visit, the point during labor where there is no turning back, and the sheer helplessness that accompanies much of the adventure of giving birth are all portrayed nicely as the essay progresses. Aldrich seems to desire a different path for her children, one that is not as consumed with questioning and doubt, and through the telling of her child’s arrival we feel the emptiness that she has lived with as she attempted to make sense of her own childhood.
Aldrich writes this essay in a casual tone, as though it were a letter to her child. Her ability to clearly state the events of both her childhood and her experience at the hospital (as well as the fact that the essay is only 10 pages) make for an easy read. Even so, the quiet longing for a warmer childhood than she was offered, coupled with her determination to provide a more pleasant experience for her child, give the essay a power that resonates long after the book is closed and put away.
“The Art of Being Born” was originally published in Hotel Amerika. I read the essay in the pages of The Best American Essays 2013, which was edited by Cheryl Strayed.