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Dr Pragya Agarwal's book (M)otherhood: On the choices of being a woman stands out amongst the saturated niche of books on motherhood in its attempt to be inclusive, but what does it give an ordinary hands-on mother?
Dr Pragya Agarwal’s book (M)otherhood: On the choices of being a woman stands out amongst the saturated niche of books on motherhood in its attempt to be inclusive, but what does it give an ordinary hands-on mother?
What makes one a mother? Is it the biological act of carrying a foetus within one’s body? Or is it the point when a child is legally and irrevocably declared yours? Does motherhood come easier to some groups of people over others?
These are some of the issues that behavioural and data scientist Dr. Pragya Agarwal aims to address in her latest book – (M)otherhood: On the choices of being a woman.
In the introduction, Agarwal discloses that the book is “a memoir, a scientific and historic disquisition of women’s reproductive choices and infertility.”
As an Indian mother who gave birth to and is raising both her children away from her country, I was hoping for insights into the journey of a cis-gendered mother bringing up children in a culture that is not her own. However, the (m)othering here is of a different kind.
Dr Pragya Agarwal begins the story in the land of her childhood, India with that marker of reproductivity – menstruation. As someone who has personal experience with a friend who used to clean out her house after someone she knew to be menstruating visited, I know that the India she outlines is not by any means an India of the past. She then goes on to write about the class inequality within motherhood, the choice of abortion and the grey space it inhabits, the biases affecting fertility studies, and more.
Dr. Agarwal provides excellent data to support this, but as a mother reading the book I start to wonder who the book is really for, as it veers a lot into academic territory. If I was someone who picked the book to read as a treatise or a study, it would make absolute sense. But for a reader who is a mother doing the work on ground or a mother-to-be who is looking to make sense of the journey ahead of her, the book misses the mark.
One of the stickiest issues that Dr. Agarwal tackles is that of the ‘commodification of surrogacy.’ As someone who has gone through multiple failed rounds of IVF after secondary infertility, Dr. Agarwal has a personal stake in the matter. Surrogacy is the path she has chosen – her future baby to be carried by a woman in India, thousands of miles away, othering her from the pregnancy not just emotionally but physically, as well.
This discussion is where Dr. Pragya Agarwal bares the most about her experience; ironically this is where it is least successful, as well. Her account of her challenges with the babies born prematurely and a bureaucracy that now sees her as foreign thanks to her prolonged stay outside India and her ‘white’ husband comes across as tone-deaf given her privilege, and accessibility to things that range from medical care, legal advice, and more.
The book ends urging readers to consider motherhood in all its aspects. To be prepared for how transformative it is and how tough it is and how once one becomes a mother, it becomes an integral part of one’s identity. And so it seems that as one completes the book, the book was not really about motherhood per se but instead about “matrescence – a series of moments that slowly shifts a person towards their acceptance of their own motherhood.”
The book stands out amongst the saturated niche of books on motherhood in its attempt to be inclusive. Dr. Pragya Agarwal repeatedly tells us that the book is written through the lens of her own cis-gendered experience. The book is sweeping in scope referring to Roe vs. Wade in the USA, abortion laws in the UK, horrifying incidents in Southern America and more. Yet while this creates a book filled with information, it also dilutes the focus and the kinship the reader might feel with the author.
Dr. Pragya Agarwal says in a chapter – “Sometimes it is only through listening to different stories of hope, of resilience, of struggles and strains that we find resonance in our experiences; only then can we see a light in the darkness, and we feel less alone.”
As a reader and a mother, I strained to hear Dr. Agarwal’s own story in the book. I wanted to hear about her single motherhood and about her pursuing her studies and career in a distant land while her first-born was back in India. I wanted to hear about mothering children when surrounded by faces that look nothing like her face. Instead I came out armed with statistics and facts that while important, did not make me feel less alone.
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Image source: shutterstock and book cover Amazon
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a writer, blogger and creator of the modern Indian parenting blog ‘The Times Of Amma’,and 'Inkspire' - the digital platform for aspiring Indian writers. She was awarded the prestigious UN Laadli read more...
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