At the age of 37, journalist Emma Brockes — working for the Guardian of London, living the expat life in New York City — started getting serious about having a baby. “It didn’t matter that I wasn’t broody,” she writes in her memoir “An Excellent Choice.”
“It didn’t matter that I was in the wrong country, the wrong apartment, possibly — we hadn’t decided yet — the wrong relationship. It didn’t even matter if I wanted kids or not. What mattered was that if I didn’t act now, or at least soon, the decision would be taken out of my hands.”
If you learn nothing else about Brockes from this book, you will learn that she does not like having decisions taken out of her hands. I’m not sure what she would be called in her native Great Britain, but here in the United States we might call her a control freak — a personality quirk that just adds to the pleasure of this splendid and fascinating book.
Her memoir is subtitled “Panic and Joy on My Solo Path to Motherhood,” but I saw no time when Brockes — supremely confident, sensible and twice as smart as anyone else in the room — panicked. She is cool, methodical and, at times, insanely funny, with a great eye for the ironies and amusements of life. (“Trying to breast-feed a premature baby is like trying to get a kitten to blow up a beach ball.”)
Brockes works through the reasons why she wants a child, her confliction over her relationship (with a woman identified only as L.) and her stubborn independence that has her turning away much needed help and companionship (until her friends override her).
She explores the many ways a woman in a same-sex relationship can get pregnant in the U.S. — first by asking male friends (and nearly collapsing in relief when they say no), and then by homing in on the lucrative business of fertility treatment.
It is not the same, she notes, as getting pregnant in England. Here, she can order up tests and sperm in bulk (like buying at Costco, she muses), leaf through a catalog of potential donors (and, for an upcharge, listen to recordings of them speaking), shop for the perfect doctor online and pay as much money as she can afford.
She knows the experience will be expensive, but she’s not worried:
“A lot of outlandish things would have to happen — having more than one baby, say, or the economics of the entire news media falling into a hole, or Britain’s deciding to leave the EU, wiping a third of the value off sterling, none of which, obviously, is going to happen — before my assets start to dwindle.”
And that is how you learn that she has twins.
When she heads to the hospital (after packing a bag with “all the things they tell you to take … and for which no one has any use when they arrive: dressing gown, ‘boiled sweets,’ industrial-size underpants, ‘photos of your loved ones,’ as if I were emigrating”), the reader knows, even if she doesn’t, that her tough independence is about to be smashed.
“Within moments of the birth, I feel a tide move within me,” she writes. “The entire universe whittles down to a bright knot in my core. … I think of those stories of women who overturn burning cars to get their children out. I have seen the babies for only a few moments and I am desperate, livid, raging with love.”
Brockes’ first memoir, “She Left Me the Gun,” was a shattering look at the life of her intrepid mother, who fled a violent, sexually abusive father in South Africa and started a new life in England. Stories of her mother’s life and death echo through this new memoir, and you get a sense of where Brockes gets her enormous fortitude.
“My mother was just More: bigger, louder, stronger and of course she loved me more than [other] mothers loved [their children], not through any fault of theirs but as a simple matter of physics.”
Brockes, I suspect, will be the same kind of mother — bigger, louder and stronger. She already is. And in the end, there is no doubt that her decision — at least for us readers — was an excellent one indeed.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. @StribBooks
An Excellent Choice
By: Emma Brockes.
Publisher: Penguin Press, 287 pages, $27.