Pregnant and Miserable

Andrea Askowitz is pregnant—and she’s grumpy. In My Miserable Lonely Lesbian Pregnancy (Cleis: May 1, 2008) she shares her cantankerous journey to parenthood as a single mom, complete with weight gain, leg cramps, hormone-induced depression, and well-intentioned friends who never quite do the right thing. It’s the perfect antidote to the slew of cheery parenting books that make pregnancy seem like a blissful time of womanly glow and nursery decoration. “I wake up at 8 in the morning, nauseated,” Askowitz relates. “What a relief. I’m still pregnant.” She worries later, “I can’t even decide what to eat for dinner. I’m going to be a terrible mother.”

Askowitz balances her dry, acerbic humor with unexpected bursts of warmth: “My baby wakes me at 7 a.m. playing the drums . . . It’s weird and wonderful, this steady beat. I can’t wait to meet this brilliant musician.” She also offers insights into the particularities of lesbian motherhood. When her straight friends start sending her maternity clothes, she complains “This must be a plot to turn me into a straight, suburban mom. They want me to be just like them. Just because I’m pregnant doesn’t mean I’m not still a lesbian.”

askowitz-author-photo150.jpgMy Miserable… chronicles not only Askowitz’ journey to parenthood, but also her growth as a person. Her former partner, Kate, with whom she had started the quest for a family, looms large in the tale. Kate is still a part of her life, and Askowitz struggles to move on. She also takes us back to her own childhood and teen years and shows us the experiences and anxieties that formed her. This is not just a book about pregnancy, but one about human relationships of many forms: good, bad, and sometimes strange.

Single moms, prospective parents, lesbians, and combinations of the above will find resonance in her story. Others, too, may enjoy her tale for its humor, honesty, and quirkiness. At the same time, some may feel Askowitz is covering much old ground. Like lesbian mom Louise Sloan, author of the single-mom advice book Knock Yourself Up, she discusses the maternal urge that prompted her to pregnancy even when single, weighs the pros and cons of known and unknown sperm donors, and shows us how difficult it can be for single mothers to find needed support. Both books sport yellow rubber ducks on their covers. Knock Yourself Up, however, is a comprehensive, practical guide, a compilation of experiences from many women, without the same thread of personal discovery or offbeat hilarity. It is a highly recommended how-to book, but not a purely personal tale like My Miserable….

An even closer parallel to My Miserable… is Harlyn Aizley’s memoir Buying Dad. Like Askowitz, Aizley is a lesbian in her late 30′s, Jewish, and hoping to have a child through donor insemination before it’s too late. Both women try to conceive with known donors before going with anonymous ones from a sperm bank. Aizley’s mother’s struggle with cancer is a major theme in her book; in Askowitz’, it is her friend Robin’s fight against the disease. Askowitz offers flashbacks of the deterioration of her previous relationship; Aizley shows us the cracks in hers that led to a separation after her book ended. The question becomes how many times can we read about self-described anxiety-ridden Jewish lesbians searching for sperm donors, tracking ovulation, worrying about amniocentesis, going to therapy, debating about circumcision, wanting support that seems lacking from a partner, and achieving some level of personal growth through pregnancy before it all becomes much of a muchness?

That is perhaps an unfair question to ask when one considers the many memoirs by straight parents of similar backgrounds that overlap in their treatments of pregnancy and parenthood. The world can certainly stand two somewhat similar narratives of lesbian pregnancy, especially when both offer humor and insight. We can hope the future will bring us an even greater variety of voices, but we should not criticize either Aizley or Askowitz for sharing theirs.

The books are far from identical, moreover. Askowitz was single and lived in Los Angeles when she was pregnant. Aizley was partnered and Bostonian. Much of Askowitz’ book is about her evolving relationships with her friends, as well as her parents, siblings, and former partner. While friends are not absent from Aizley’s book, it focuses more on her relationships with her partner and family. Aizley spends more time on the ups and downs of getting pregnant; Askowitz on being pregnant. Askowitz’ book reads like a script of fast-paced vignettes for the stand-up comedian that she is. Buying Dad, imbued with equal humor, is a bit more relaxed (or at least as relaxed as a memoir about a neurotic mother-to-be can get). Aizley is also more sympathetic to the people around her, even when they don’t always get along. Askowitz is an unabashed curmudgeon. One’s preference will likely depend on one’s own temperament.

By the end of the book, however, Askowitz has made peace of sorts with herself and those closest to her, though she stays true to her voice and spares us a saccharine ending. One senses that although parenthood has calmed and strengthened her, she will keep casting a cynical and unsparing eye on her world. Let us hope she continues to chart the landscape of lesbian motherhood.