Of Woman Born – The End of Motherhood
In Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich effectively weaves her own story into a convincing account of what it means to become a mother within the bonds of patriarchal culture. Her conclusion that the institution of motherhood, which she distinguishes from motherhood, must be destroyed in order to release the creation and sustenance of life into the same realm of decision, struggle, surprise, imagination, and conscious intelligence, as any other difficult, but freely chosen work is substantiated by her courageous confession that contradicts culturally normative notions of motherhood.
Allowing readers to glimpse her own story as she painfully evaluates her role as mother side by side with historical accounts of other women's experiences provides an avenue for understanding that leads to compassion. By the final chapter, instead of falling into the expected trap of revulsion toward Joanne Michulski's heinous crime, Rich's empathy provides the reader with the insight to realize both the complexity of Michulski's situation and to feel compassion for her. Rich's painful acknowledgment, that for years [she] believed [she] should never have been anyone's mother, ... because [she] felt [her] own needs acutely and often expressed them violently (32) by raging at her children out of frustration, provides a credible offering to break down an institution that makes women like her angry. It also demonstrates some of the ways in which motherhood has not been women's choice.
A reader might be stunned to consider that was written just twenty years ago and that Rich's first pregnancy happened only forty three years ago, since her choices as an educated woman were so limited compared to now. When her account of feeling like she was only "acting" as a woman (having no idea what she wanted, and having a child because it was expected of a "real woman") is introduced, her lack of choices reads like either a dismal Margaret Atwood science...