The Other Mothers (Source Books, 2011), by accomplished essayist Jennifer Berney, is a moving and engaging chronicle of one couple’s very personal struggle to become parents. Berney’s first published memoir is also an important history lesson on the institutional and social barriers to parenting for the LGBTQ+ community. Either narrative thread could have stood on its own; blending the two results in a story that will connect with readers on an emotional level, while also raising awareness and providing information that may be new for many readers.
The Other Mothers charts the narrator’s circuitous, years-long, often arduous journey—emotionally, logistically and financially—to ultimately conceive and give birth to the couple’s first child, a healthy son. Even knowing the outcome, the immediacy and vibrancy of the prose creates tension, empathy, and forward momentum; you will find yourself compelled to keep flipping the pages. After years pursuing and exhausting all conventional avenues to conception with frustrating results, the couple turns to family friends for sperm. This nuance of the story, which results in a beautiful expansion of the meaning of “family,” provides some of the memoir’s many resonant moments.
With vivid scenes and reflection, the narrator’s search for support, assistance, and guidance is brought to life. After myriad experiences of otherness and outright hostility and disregard, it is labor that breaks down the barriers.
The author writes, “In the hours I spent birthing my child and the two days that followed, my queerness was nearly invisible.” And this: “. . . it’s possible that the urgency of delivery eliminated some of the room for missteps and awkwardness that were so common in other interactions. With all of us—mothers, midwife, doctor, nurse—focused on the same imminent goal, it felt natural to coalesce.” As it should; as it always should.
Berney’s memoir/history lesson is a book not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but for anyone contemplating parenthood, and for those who are already parents, no matter their orientation or path. One woman’s deep desire and unwavering commitment to raise children with her partner is a vivid portrayal of the power and strength of love, community, and determination. It is also a valuable reminder for those for whom conception and becoming a family came easily, that the barriers and impediments are real.