By Pragya Agarwal, published 2021

I added this book to my TBR pile because of the title (which is the broad category of my research), and the fact that the description includes “reproductive justice.” (M)otherhood was not quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Pragya Agarwal provides plenty of scientific data alongside her anecdotal experiences to show us that motherhood is extremely complicated, can happen in myriad ways, and (like many things) is more complicated for people of color. However, I would say that this book reads more like a memoir by a scientist — which she is — than I was expecting. While Agarwal details issues with accessing reproductive and abortion care, particularly in the U.S., through the lens of her own abortion, the book as a whole spent very little time on this subject. Further, Agarwal had the abortion out of practicality. She was saddened by it, which very different from the experience of many others who are relieved to receive an abortion.

The majority of the book is given over to Agarwal’s experience of trying to get pregnant later in life. While she had a child when she was quite young, in her late thirties she and her partner decided to have a baby together. She struggled with infertility, and chronicles her experiences with IVF, adoption, and surrogacy. All of these options are rife with emotional landmines: was there something wrong with her body? Was she not deserving of a baby? Was she being punished for her previous abortion?

Through Agarwal’s experiences I learned a great deal. For example, that it is nearly impossible to adopt in the UK if you already have a child. Similarly, Agarwal’s path to finding a surrogate was complicated by her ethical and moral concerns. Although she was certain that her surrogate freely volunteered, class and privilege understandably pervaded Agarwal’s conscience as she weighed her options. I learned that it is never as simple as: write a check, get a baby. Even if that were the case, Agarwal suffered from what I can only describe as imposter syndrome with her own children.

While this emotional rollercoaster ends happily, I was confused by the concluding statements around maternal ambivalence. Agarwal claims to have been ambivalent about motherhood, but her actions, her persistence, and her bravery paint quite another picture. I felt that the allusion that ambivalence can give way to joy in motherhood is a dangerous one. Three stars.

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