Nights of no sleep, steeped in equal parts love, resentment and bodily fluids. The most intense tenderness warring with the deepest despair. The biggest question on a new mother’s mind: WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME IT WOULD BE LIKE THIS? Marni Jackson’s touching, funny and provocative journey through the terra incognita of motherhood will help you survive it and won’t let you forget. Ten years after its first publication, The Mother Zone is still fresh, still original, still the one book that every mother (and father) needs.
About the author
Marni Jackson is a Toronto journalist, author, and editor whose work has appeared in Outside, explore, The Globe and Mail, Rolling Stone, The Walrus, and Brick, among other publications. Her writing has won numerous National Magazine Awards and she is the author of three books of non-fiction. From 2006–2009, Marni was Rogers Chair of the Literary Journalism program at The Banff Centre, a month-long residency for professional non-fiction writers.
Excerpt: The Mother Zone (by (author) Marni Jackson)
Chapter 3: Getting Pregnant
Our courtship was not the stuff of which photo albums are made. I was shocked to find myself in love with someone willing to risk losing me. So I would leave, come back. Leave, come back, like destiny's yo-yo. I tell myself now that I must have seen the gleam of the good father in him. But I didn't. Right from the start, I lavished lusty hatred on him, because he made it perfectly clear that he preferred a drum to a baby. His resistance on the reproductive front made for some poisonous fights, as I tried to intellectually manhandle him into position.
When he went on tour, which was often, I even did my best to fall in love with other, more suitable mates. For a time, this strategy worked all too well. Both of us flirted with losing each other, lobbed revenge back and forth. But he was there in his body, which is what hooked me and kept me hooked. I knew that he had a stubborn mind and a muscular heart, and maybe he would open them up to me someday. Well, I didn't know it then, but I could see the evidence, at least, in his clear passion for writing and music. I always wanted to spell things out, and he was tired of consciousness. Now he wanted it all to happen physically, or musically.
I would sometimes tag along when they went on the road, to some small-town bar up north, where girls wearing the all-pervasive Farrah Fawcett hairdo and too much blue eye shadow would linger in the dressing rooms. After every gig, the Hairdos would drift into the back rooms, perch on the sprung sofas. Then I would show up, the bad-tempered bride with sensible bangs, to claim my boyfriend, the lapsed writer, the mad drummer.
I didn't want him to give up music, although it must have looked that way to him. And I didn't care about getting married, or waffle irons, or anything like that. It was the heart, an ability to stick around, and the friendly, highly motile sperm I was after: the minimalist approach to marriage.
He saw the creative life as incompatible with family. He had a point, although I refused to accept his dichotomous view of things: art vs. journalism, fun vs. family, freedom vs. "settled down." I felt I was being typecast as the practical homebody, whereas until meeting him I was a traveler too, an adventurer. I was like him. But now the urge to have a baby was turning me into some kind of enemy.
I moved in with him, and we fought almost every night. As the band was running out of money, I felt I was running out of time. It was tempestuous, sad, and wearing. When I wasn't plotting my own escape, I wondered why he didn't leave me.
Looking back, the thing that also kept us stalled was my insistence that he match my desire for a baby, cell for cell. I wanted him to want one in exactly the same way, and to the same degree, as I did. Otherwise, I wasn't convinced. It didn't occur to me that men might come at the idea of fatherhood from a different angle. Perhaps for men babies are just an idea, an abstraction until they hold them in their arms. But the initial urge, the detailed, irresistible, and irrational longing, was mine. It was physical, like hunger. I refused to admit that this difference could exist between us and not be a failure of love. I needed him to be as sure and single-minded, if not more so, than I was. So there we were, in limbo.
Four years passed in this fashion. I was thirty-six. We had moved into our own apartment, and he had started to free-lance again. The band had turned down a recording contract to pursue success on their terms, but debts eventually forced them to call it quits. Brian decided that, generally speaking, in principle, the idea of a child might not be so bad. It could happen -- no need to set a specific date, yet. The bull was in the chute, at least. (Crass biological analogies are in order here.)
But how I resented my role in all this, which was to arrange for timely coition. I had to be ruthless and administrative about it, while he got to be vaguely spontaneous. Already, I was up there in the mother zone, overseeing, planning.
It was September and coming around to ovulation time again on the old Wheel of Fortune. I decided we would give it a whirl in two days, on a Friday. He didn't say no. Except -- except -- he was playing that night, at an event downtown at the Cameron Hotel, an artist's hangout. Once again his performance night clashed with ours.
Friday night arrived. We went down to the Cameron, he did his set, and we were about to go home around midnight. I was almost but not quite dragging him through the front room in the direction of the streetcar, the one named Desire, when he caught sight of Mojah, a drummer friend who had just arrived. "I'll be right there," he said to me and headed for the back room.
I waited. Then I heard drums. They were playing together! He had forgotten about me and our momentous unborn child. I was furious. I could have pried the tiles off the floor with my bare nails. I went outside into the raw, wind-whipped fall night, where I waited in a radioactive rage for the Spadina bus.
An hour or so later, he came stealthily up the stairs to our third-floor bedroom -- the innocent, tired, satiated musician coming home to the trusty flesh of his somewhat demanding girlfriend. I said I needed him not just to capitulate, but to choose. I accused him of all sorts of other sins, then turned my back on him, and myself, and us. There was a spare bed next door. I crawled away into it and congealed into a solid block of sleep.
Saturday morning, we had to face the fact that we were going to a friend's wedding, which was a two-hour drive north. Well, it's now or never, I thought, still seething from the previous night.
I went into the bedroom and sullenly asked him to join me on my pallet next door. He was sleepy and unrepentant, but the idea of making love in the morning, like a cup of hot coffee, perked him up. After all, this was sex, the easy part, not just another fight. We have to step on it, I said, or we'll be late for the wedding. I was shut down and stone-faced as we began to make love.
But then something took over. Soon there was nothing ambivalent about what we were doing, nothing halfhearted at all. Babies spring from heat, not ideas. I felt myself fall into the buoyant net of something bigger than our two battling egos. My anger, his resistance, were just part of a tedious game we had played with each other, like children. Our own childishness dissolved in this attempt at child-making, and we came out of it on level ground.
Then we leaped up and began racing around getting ready to go to the wedding. In our newly purchased, three-hundred-dollar used Volvo, we drove up the parkway, with the engine laboring. On the fringes of the city, the unthinkable happened. The car slowed down and rolled to a halt. Since I was in the throes of imagining myself pregnant, this was a sign, and what it said to me was: you have just bought a used car that will break down in the fast lane of the freeway. We will never leave town and reach a better, sweeter place.
Brian took over, suggesting we rent a car and carry on. We would still make the wedding in time, he reassured me. The Volvo was towed off, a new car arrived, and we sped on, distraught but persistent. By driving at frightening speeds through the strobing autumn colors of northern Ontario, we arrived at the church just before the bride appeared.
As we sneaked into a back pew, I wondered exactly how long it takes for the sperm to collide with the lost moon of the ovum. Somewhere between the smoky bar of the previous night and the small-town wedding, our son was conceived, in helpless love and human anger.
“Marni Jackson’s acclaimed memoir of motherhood, [is] the first book, in many women’s experience, to accurately and honestly describe the foreign territory of raising a child…. Jackson has written an afterword for the new edition … reminding us all, as if we needed a reminder, why we loved the book so much in the first place.” -- National Post
“[A]n exuberant, generous-hearted book about the experience of motherhood and the impact of that experience on her life and work … The writing is intelligent, reflective and touchingly brave...Jackson possesses a novelist’s eye and ear.” -- Carol Shields, The Globe and Mail
“An intimate look at an evolving relationship and a startlingly honest self-portrait of an intelligent woman growing older and wiser....Jackson makes a major contribution towards restoring the dignity that mothering children deserves.” -- Maclean’s
“A witty and honest account of the strange isolation, the mingled joys and madness of motherhood…funny, tough and relentless, pushing each thought as far as she can bear.” -- The Toronto Star
"It is hard to find anything that conveys the complex emotional truth about being a mother -- the rage, the tenderness, the loss of self, the paralyzing fear, the numbing drudgery… The exception may be… The Mother Zone… This book, with its humour, depth and compassion, could be a long-overdue manifesto for mothers, the beginning of an undeclared revolution." -- The Ottawa Citizen
Other titles by Marni Jackson
Don't I Know You?
Real Life Page-Turners
A Collection of Inspiring, Heartbreaking, Terrifying (sometimes funny) True Stories
Rock, Paper, Fire
Best of Mountain and Wilderness Writing, the
Stella Artois Presents Ten Years of The Walrus Laughs
The Myth of the Empty Nest
The Best New Canadian Non-Fiction
The Science and Culture of Why We Hurt