Reviewed by Ashley Supinski
Anna Prushinskaya’s collection of short essays in A Woman Is A Woman Until She Is A Mother (MG Press, 2017) examines the interconnection of womanhood and motherhood. These narratives show a brief, chronological look at her last weeks of pregnancy, the birth of her son, and then the few weeks following birth. In this glimpse of new motherhood, Prushinskaya ruminates on how a woman’s identity changes after the first child is born.
Each of the eleven essays is self-contained, allowing the reader to pick and choose which they find interesting; though when read as a complete work, it peeks into Prushinskaya’s mental state during this time in her life. Many of the essays have been previously published in various journals and literary outlets, but the author ties them together as a cohesive work in the order which she presents them.
A theme that runs through each work is the question of identity: how does a woman’s identity change after her first child is born? In the centric essay, “Remembering and Forgetting: Before and After Motherhood,” Prushinskaya writes of the days leading up to labor, and the days succeeding her son’s birth. It is at the end of this essay that Prushinskaya explains that she went to the bar one night, the first time after the baby’s birth, and realized her time was not her own any longer. Of this she says, “You have a window. You remember along the baby’s timeline now…and not your own.” For the first time, she admits that motherhood has changed her, though she does not openly state her feelings on this realization.
One of the most poignant stories, “The Quantified Baby,” explores how technology has disconnected us from the things that are most important. In this essay, she notes that while breast-feeding, she would often check Facebook, email relatives, and generally not pay close attention to her son. There is a sense of regret that she did not count the hairs on his head or notice the flakes of skin at the corners of his eyes as she fed him. It is in this same essay that she discusses the way babies are “raised” by correlating apps — that she no longer needs to talk to the nanny or family babysitter to find out about how her son did while she was away. She confesses what she’s missing.
Prushinskaya’s collection is heartfelt and honest. Her works are full of sincerity, often questioning if she is doing everything correctly. Though I am not a mother, I could feel her embarrassment and frustration at being relegated to a barely converted storage closet in order to pump breast milk on her return to work (“And Work”), and the fear of giving birth at home, instead of the hospital (“Uncertainty: Or, A Woman is a Woman, Until She is a Mother). This collection, beneficial for all mothers, will provoke their own answers to the question, is a woman still a woman after she is a mother?
Ashley lives in Pennsylvania with her family, where she graciously dog-and-chicken sits for her siblings. She writes book reviews for the blog, After the Last Page and is also the co-coordinator of YA Fest.