Feminist(?) Friday: After Birth

Posted 6 February, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist(?) Friday: After BirthAfter Birth by Elisa Albert
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 17th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 208

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A year has passed since Ari gave birth to Walker, though it went so badly awry she has trouble calling it “birth” and still she can't locate herself in her altered universe. Amid the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights and another impending winter in upstate New York, Ari is a tree without roots, struggling to keep her branches aloft.When Mina, a one-time cult musician — older, self-contained, alone, and nine-months pregnant —moves to town, Ari sees the possibility of a new friend, despite her unfortunate habit of generally mistrusting women. Soon they become comrades-in-arms, and the previously hostile terrain seems almost navigable.

Honestly. I’m not sure how to feel about this one. My overwhelming feelings are negative. But at the same time I’m a feminist that wants to accept feminists of all stripes.

However. This is not a book that accepts all women as women. For me the protagonist of this novel seemed to encourage the ‘mommy-wars’ rather than bring us all into a warm and hugging sisterhood. There are looooonngggg passages about the evils of a C-section and the horrors of feeding your infant formula.

NEWSFLASH! C-Sections save lives. Lives of women and children. Formula. Christ. Not every mother has the ability to breastfeed — even if they want to. I’m prone to severe depression both as myself and through family history. PERSONALLY it was more important to me, my mental health – which thus affected the health of my infant to be sane rather than to breastfeed. So I chose formula… and I don’t feel even a little bad about that. But I felt like this novel attempted to make women who had to have C-sections or chose not to breastfeed to feel bad about it… and to me, that’s not what feminism is about.

To paraphrase Amy Pohler in Yes Please, those things are GREAT FOR OTHER WOMEN but NOT FOR ME. I support, encourage, and cheer on women who want natural home-births, to breastfeed their children until they are seven, and all the other attachment-parenting/”the way things were” stuff. But it’s not for me. Again, I won’t feel poorly about that. Again, this book felt like it was trying to make me feel just that.

There are passages that criticize second and third wave feminists… really? Maybe I missed a deeper meaning and irony in the book — but to me women are women and feminists (however trite the saying may become) are just people who want to see women as equal participants in society.

Let’s talk about the writing. Stream of consciousness can be amazing. (See: Faulkner) But Faulkner, Albert is not. Instead the writing becomes confused and convoluted, which takes away from whatever power the narrative may have. Instead it becomes a distraction and an irritation.

Between the failed attempt at stream of consciousness and the too narrow “feminist” message I was totally turned off. 

Lord. In the first draft of this review I was so disappointed by what I didn’t like about this book that I forgot to mention what I did like about it. I completely related to the rage that Ari felt after giving birth, the disconnected-ness to Walker, the lack of female friendships. I liked the way that Albert portrayed the (in my opinion, correct) idea that it takes a village to raise a child. The wet-nursing did not freak me out in the least.

Have you been recently disappointed by a book whose politics you thought you agreed with, Reader?

April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • The Radical Housewife ended up disappointing me. 🙁 And this one, but I couldn’t get past the stream of consciousness writing style. I gave up early on. Reading your review, I’m relieved about that.

  • I’m not particularly fond of the stream of consciousness style. And this: “women are women and feminists (however trite the saying may become) are just people who want to see women as equal participants in society” – Yes!!

  • Ack, what a bummer. I always try to be careful about conflating the author’s opinions/message with those of her characters, but it seems like you’ve tried to find the satire/incongruities here and come up empty. Especially sad because of its supposed feminist message!

    Hope your next read is better.

    • I try to do that as well… but yes, I found nothing. Again, I could have missed the irony or as @disqus_cgDEqcjLC1:disqus points out – maybe there was a mental health aspect that I missed.

  • Melanie Page

    Unless a book promotes dangerous ideas, I try to roll with the politics of the characters because I don’t want to read books that just make me comfortable or agree with how I feel. Maybe the author is trying to say something, promote some lifestyle over another, but I try to give authors the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you were meant to be mad at this character; she sounds bummed out (I can’t really tell from the review), and maybe that makes her more judgmental.

    • I’m a serial discomfort reader. 🙂 I often read books that I KNOW I won’t agree with – just to try and further understand the logic behind the ideas. I think that my problem with this one is that I EXPECTED To agree with it — so it was kind of shocking when it turned into what it did.

      The character was definitely bummed out – but there was no real resolution at the end giving anything uplifiting…. like I said, I think that my expectations played into it quite a bit.

      • Melanie Page

        Where did your expectations come from? I ask because I’ve noticed lately that a number of books I’ve read have descriptions on the back that DO NOT match the contents. Not even a little bit. Talk about false advertising!

  • I know I couldn’t read this if it demonizes bottle feeding et. al. I get very, very annoyed by the self-righteousness of those who advocate vehemently.

  • Your reviews where you’re indignant are some of my favorite because I generally agree with you, I enjoy it when you’re snarky, and you often put thoughts I’ve not articulated before into words. It’s great 🙂

  • Wait. It’s anti-c-section? Is that even a real thing?

    • Oh yes, women often feel like they’ve ‘missed’ the birth experience with a C-section – even if it was necessary. That I understand – I don’t understand women who (thankfully) didn’t need one demonizing women who did.

  • I got all kinds of feminist rage-y at the c-section part. Also, we should make Feminist Friday a thing.

  • Nishita

    As a mom who had two c-sections, I think I would get very angry with this book. I don’t get all this fuss over the mode of childbirth.

  • Tanya M

    Oh this book would make me mad too. Moms have to make their own choices for what’s best for them and their babies. It ticks me off when people think they know how everyone else should live their lives or are too self-righteous to see the other side of the story. That being said, I appreciate your honest review as this would be a book I would avoid. I read to make me happy, not to tick me off. the news does a good enough job with that lately. Thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday Linkup and hope you join us again this weekend! Pinning to our linkup board.

    • Yeah, I’m that occasional hate reader, though this one I actually picked up because I thought I’d like it…

  • kerri

    I really didn’t like this book. How can she go one a rant about being a natural mother, breast is best, and then drink and smoke pot-while continuing to breastfeed. I think the feminism was more of a mask for her narcissism.