Book review: 'And Now We Have Everything' by Meaghan O'Connell
"And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready" by Meaghan O'Connell (Little, Brown and Company, 240 pages, in stores)
As she portrays herself in her book, Meaghan O'Connell is the sort of friend who can remind you that you're not the only one who feels overwhelmed and lost when, on paper, it looks like you should be happy.
She's just not the friend who can tell you what to do about it.
If anything, O'Connell's book, “And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready,” could be read as a guide to what not to do when dealing with postpartum depression and the stresses of a new baby. That is not to say it isn't worth reading, but if you're seeking self-help, look elsewhere. This is a memoir, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre.
The book starts with a slip-up by O'Connell and her fiancé, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. They briefly debate an abortion, but O'Connell puts her foot down: She wants this baby.
The next 41-and-a-half weeks are told in a series of vignettes of only a few paragraphs, as O'Connell wrestles with her anxiety about her changing body, potential (never-realized) problems with the baby and what others expect of her as she prepares for delivery. It's an effective device, since this is a book about motherhood, not what leads up to it.
The birth itself is 43 pages of sometimes graphic detail as O'Connell rapidly abandons her ideas about a “natural,” unmedicated experience. The next five chapters cover the struggles of maintaining a relationship while parenting a new baby: lack of sleep, the inconvenience of breast-feeding, anxiety about dangers to the baby, loss of sexual desire and changes to careers and friendships.
I got the sense that O'Connell wrote this book partly as an antidote to the oversweetened tales of motherhood she had read, where labor pains and lactation became a kind of transcendental meditation. Whether you think she went too far in the opposite direction will probably depend on your own experience. She certainly succeeds in an offering an unflinching look at how one woman, with some pre-existing anxiety, coped with upheaval and postpartum depression. I found myself wishing, however, that she had broadened her focus a bit.
We get fleeting glimpses of her fiancé, Dustin, picking up the slack when she doesn't have the energy, sometimes judging her parenting choices (like store-bought baby food) and trying to get O'Connell into bed. What we don't get is any sense of how the parenthood experience, or O'Connell's postpartum depression, affected him, and we learn very little about the baby, other than that he demands frequent feedings. While it's the nature of memoir to focus on one's person's experience, the author runs the risk of coming off as self-absorbed, particularly when discussing common life events.
I enjoyed the book despite that problem, although I did wish that it offered more resolution after the parade of woes. It wraps up with 26 vignettes as O'Connell and Dustin leave New York for Portland, place their son in day care, meet other parents and settle into their new roles. By the end, O'Connell's postpartum depression has lifted, and she and Dustin have started to repair their relationship.
The vignettes, which were so effective for capturing the highlights of pregnancy, fail here, however. Things get better, but we're not quite sure how, other than that time has passed. O'Connell doesn't offer up many lessons, aside from saying she learned she and Dustin would have to make a conscious effort to communicate (good advice, whether you have kids or not, but it doesn't explain much).
Despite its flaws, “And Now We Have Everything” is a sometimes funny, sometimes painful look at the parts of motherhood the greeting cards don't mention. If you're a mom, it shows you aren't alone in feeling like you could lose your mind. If you're on the fence about children, it may not tell you the right decision, but it assures you of one thing: If O'Connell can survive it, you can, too.
— Megan Wingerter, The Oklahoman