This month we take a look at books centered on bisexual themes, including Rebecca Walker’s new book on motherhood, the classic Henry and June, and The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe, which explores the ins and outs of bisexuality and "bi pop culture." Did you know, for example, that swans and dolphins are among many in the animal kingdom to exhibit bisexual behavior? Neither did I.
Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker (Riverhead Books)
The daughter of acclaimed writer Alice Walker and civil rights attorney Mel Leventhal, the openly bisexual Rebecca Walker detailed her complex childhood in her 2001 memoir Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. Now the roles are reversed as she tries to understand her place as a mother rather than a daughter, and to create a solid, loving family for her own child.
Her new memoir, Baby Love, is appropriately dedicated to her son, Tenzin, who, she writes, "made it real." In the pages that follow, Walker reveals exactly what she means by "real" as she discusses her emotional and physical journey into the world of motherhood.
Walker previously spent several years in a relationship with musician Meshell Ndegeocello, but is now partnered with a man named Glen. The book begins with the discovery that she is pregnant. "I was ecstatic for about ninety seconds," she writes, "and then it hit me: an avalanche of dread that took my breath away. Pregnant? A baby? What have I done?"
Walker is haunted by several questions. She worries about her independence. In the process of having a child, will she lose her own identity? How will she afford to clothe, feed, educate and house this child? Will she ever travel again? "Is this elixir of ambivalence and anxiety the universal experience of motherhood," she wonders, "or is it just America , circa right now?"
Walker uses diary entries to record the particulars of her pregnancy — debates over the child’s name, hospital or home birth, the first time she hears the heartbeat, whether to immunize or not, the bliss of "falling in love with this baby inside of me" and, alas, the declining relationship with her own mother.
Though she tackles personal anxieties and joys, she also addresses important topics such as the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and the unfair stigma that many women who suffer from depression experience. "The first thing depression takes from me is hope, and I am pretty sure I can’t have a baby without that," she writes.
In between the entries, Walker expounds upon a variety of subjects in longer chapters, from past loves (including a section on her relationship with Ndegeocello, referred to as "my rock-star girlfriend") to an abortion at 14, to the role men play in today’s society.
It is in one of these longer chapters that Walker introduces perhaps the most controversial idea of the book. When discussing her relationship with Ndegeocello’s teenage son, Solomon, whom she co-parents, Walker writes: "It’s not the same. I don’t care how close you are to your adopted son or beloved stepdaughter, the love you have for your nonbiological child isn’t the same as the love you have for your own flesh and blood."
Initially it is hard to place that statement — and others like it — against Walker ‘s support and respect for different family structures. When she is in the hospital after Tenzin is born, she notices a boy who was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother. "Couldn’t we bring him home?" she writes. "Who did I know who wanted a baby? I was sure I could find a nice gay couple that would shower him with love."
Would that gay couple love the boy as much as his drug-addicted mother? Is it relevant that Walker is cast off by her own (biological) mother by the end of the book? Would Walker ‘s statement about adoption be different if she used "I" instead of a generalized "you"?
It’s a hot topic, and Baby Love is an interesting exploration of these paradoxes. It is also a thoughtful study of how many women today are both pulled toward and petrified of motherhood. In the end, Walker offers the advice she wished she’d received earlier: "Trust me, they could have said, barring disease, famine, and the potential for life-threatening violence or financial ruin, no matter what your trepidation, just do it."