Book Review – Keeping It Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored

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Keeping it Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored by Alnaaze Nathoo (Editor), Tracy Hope (Editor), Louise Bryant (Editor)

It turns out that the stories parents tell are true:

Daniel Preston, A Shared Heart, Keeping It Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored

Dear Reader,

I’ve found it. This is the book that I was looking for eleven years ago when I became a parent for the first time. I’ve finally found it.

Edited by Alnaaze Nathoo, Tracy Hope and Louise Bryant- Zurich based authors of international origin – ‘Keeping It Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored’ is the second book in a series of books which seeks to explore ‘what constitutes “normal”, whether in sexual relationships, gender, relationships, opinions, experiences and life in general’. The idea, they write is to celebrate the ‘un-normal” in all of us: the discomfort of not fitting the standard, whether it be through gender, age, race, mental health, physical – or neurodiversity.”

I’m not going to describe this anthology as a warm, reassuring hug simply because it isn’t. Many books about parenthood are lovely, warm and fluffy confections. This is not that.

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My Swiss Story, Keeping it Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored, Image credit:’m

‘KIUW Parenthood, Underwraps’ reads like a conversation, the kind that starts rolling a few drinks deep in the evening when you and your friends start feeling loose limbed and light. This is the conversation where none of you are afraid of getting dark, of exploring the grit, mess and tangled noodles of real life, the kind of conversation where you offer up your soul because it feels safe to do just that, the kind where you set the world to rights and come out feeling cleaner, more thoughtful, more in touch with your authentic self. This is that kind of book.

As a reader who also happens to be a parent, I was moved by the anthology’s inclusivity: every and every conceivable facet of parenting has been addressed here in some way or another. As Daniel Preston writes in his essay, ‘A Shared Heart’, “It turns out that the stories parents tell are true”. Eleven years later, it felt so validating to read of other people who have experienced thoughts and doubts that echo mine. The diversity of experiences is such that I think that you will also find this true for you.

The collection is prescient and specific, and, in being so, the editors have assembled a range of essays which read authentically and also run the entire gamut of experiences relating to the question of parenthood. More on this later. In the meantime, by bringing their personal experiences into their writing, the authors help to create a very human meditation on what it means to be a parent, or not. By focusing on the specific and by viewing things through their microscopic lens, we as readers come to know how universal our experiences – even the almost shameful, the darkest ones – are.

This is truly the book I needed as a first time mother when I wanted nothing more to tell everyone about my – my son’s – birth story. I remember being twenty-five and just needing every single person to just listen. Later, I came to be embarrassed by this drive to share (overshare?). However, it was upon reading Tracy Hope’s essay, ‘Childbirth is beautiful. Any quesitons?’ that I finally, finally, put that demon to rest. Hence, this is also the book that I will also be gifting to the parents I know in my circle.

Continuing on a personal note, as a reader, a writer and a parent, I also felt validated by Tara Giroud’s essay ‘I am put away for now’. Here, Giroud speaks about those moments where she ‘ reach[es] for something other than my children’s hands”. Moreover, in writing about that feeling, when one feels ‘some desire that rests beyond the borders of motherhood’, Giroud’s words filled a little of that vacuum which exists within me, something I am often loathe to give voice to lest it reveal too much. It normalises the ambivalence that surround parenting while also normalising it’s convictions. I suppose that is the purpose of this collection. But doesn’t it do it well? So well.

I am put away for now

Tara Giroud, I Am Put Away For Now, Keeping it Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored

Now, if you remember, I have been using words such as ‘inclusive’ in this review. I have also used that ominous phrase ‘More on this later’. The anthology visits diverse stories of parenting and no one story is held up as kore deserving of the title than the other. The authors write about parenthood from a multiplicity of gazes: childlessness, childloss, foster parenting, miscarriage, IVF, abusive relationships, badbroken homes, postpartum depression, LGBTQUIA parents, parenting with disability…In doing so, it offers up a rich and generous vocabulary with which to describe the ‘journey’.

Here are the words that I never knew I needed until I read them. And, since then, nothing has felt more fitting, or more correct.

Moreover, ‘KIUW: Parenthood, Uncensored’ also speaks to the experiences of those who have chosen to be childfree. Childfree people, especially women, face judgement in society from all quarters and here – in my opinion – some of the most searing explorations of what it means to be a parent are written by those who have opted to remain childfree. On this point, the writer whose words left me feeling raw, open and pulsing was Yale Rosenstock Gonzalez whose essay, ‘Does my mind-body remember a trauma I’ve never experienced’ speaks about the choice not to be a parent because the author believes she knows that she will continue the cycle of brutal and abusive parenting. It is bravely written. This courage, again, is a distinctive feature in the collection as a whole. The writers do not shy away from addressing controversial topics head-on while holding all perspectives with kindness.

While I have addressed specific essays in the collection, I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite. I don’t think I have one. Each essay has left an impression on me, each essay has lifted out a concern that I have hitherto not expressed or given voice to. In doing so, they have all encouraged me to think deeper. The essays stand individually on their own merit and the sheer quality of their writing – truly, the quality of writing is outstanding – but together, they are formidable.

I can only applaud and commend each author for their skill and their bravery and hope that they write more.

I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC of’KIUW: Parenthood, Uncensored’ before its official release on the 15th of February’. There’s no exaggeration on my part when I say that the collection has left me moist-eyed and thoughtful on trains and trams all around Zurich.

Keeping it Under Wraps: Parenthood, Uncensored is now available to buy in all the places, books can be bought!

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