Momspeak is written by Pooja Pande, who is a writer, editor and TED speaker heading strategy at ‘Khabar Lahariya’: an all-women team of reporters led Indian rural media organisation. The book explores the idea of motherhood in all its glory, and the not-so-glorious parts of it too. Pooja Pande tries to explore the ‘bittersweet truths and wisdoms’ in Momspeak as opposed to the idea of putting it on a pedestal and glorifying the generic and overcompensated notion of motherhood that is apparently said to make a woman feel ‘complete’.
From sex to post-partum depression, from raising a child with special needs to challenging the status quo of gender through the process of motherhood, Momspeak certainly gives the reader a lot to process.
Using humour with a smattering of empathy as its fulcrum, Pooja Pande’s Momspeak takes you through various issues that mothers deal with universally. At the same time, it also focuses on some issues that are specific to a gender-conscious country like India, for example, a chapter in Momspeak titled ‘Badhaai Ho’ talks about how the birth of a girl can be harrowing for the mother in surroundings that are not conducive to progress.
The tone of the book remains conversational, with the writer quipping in with instances from her own life and inserting humorous afterthoughts that she would have when people questioned her about being a mother in general; complete with sarcastic comebacks and eyerolls galore.
Momspeak reads thoroughly researched, taking in and referring to various authors to build its premise. It refers to Adrienne Rich’s ‘Of Woman Born’, which is her description and analysis of both her personal experience and the institution of motherhood itself; interviews with veteran feminist activist Kamla Bhasin, journalist, media trainer and author Natasha Bhadwar, and co-founder of The Ladies Finger Nisha Susan, who talk about their personal experiences of dealing with motherhood and the terminology (or lack of it!) to come to terms with the sometimes not-so-conventional emotions they were feeling or processing.
Momspeak does not come off as pedantic or preachy, instead it comes across as sharp, funny, and infused with a certain sense of humour at times; the kind of humour only a mother who has borne it all, labour pains or not, to raise a child. Referencing experiences of new mothers, queer mothers and adoptive mothers among the many others who have worn the badge of motherhood through a slow race in which they cannot ever pass the baton, Momspeak makes the reader empathise with its subjects, regardless of their parenting status.
A section in Momspeak that made me particularly emotional and hopeful for a better world was the one in which sex workers shared their motherhood and work-life stories. How do you keep your child is okay in such a tumultuous environment? You desensitise them to your profession by being honest, and strive to cultivate a relationship in which there is a balance of both awareness and maturity to build their own life in whatever way they wanted.
The humour in Momspeak is paused, like it should be, in sensitive sections (tw: suicide, depression). But as ones goes through Momspeak, you realise that when you go through something so painful, your mind automatically regurgitates that pain into a messier and hilarious content that comes spewing out of you left, right, and center.
And the humour that Pooja Pande employs in Momspeak is not one stemming out of denial, instead it comes out of accepting challenges; sharing each other’s pain, joy, struggles, the sometimes-painful lightning-like thoughts of not wanting to be a mother for some time, and most of all, the angry humour at mothers being branded as ‘self-sacrificing’ goddesses, whose life revolves around their kids. Does it? Societal conventions force a mother to, and that is one of the things that the author subverts with sardonic humour and a running mental commentary in Momspeak, directed at that aunty who might poke in her nose where it’s not needed.
Overall, Momspeak does a fantastic job at collating different facets of motherhood and presenting them to the audience that really needs them in a fun, conversational format, almost like a rare good therapist. The author intersperses experiences with theory, not letting either weigh heavy on each other and subtly trying to diminish the status quo that a unified ‘motherhood’ theory might have held all these years.
Motherhood is different for everyone; to confine it to one box is to strip it of its individuality. The pain, trauma, joy, worry, anxiety, and a fresh laundry of emotions are going to be significantly poles apart, but what binds all of these together is universalising the norm of being in different boats, but in the same (sometimes choppy) waters. And Momspeak does just that.