When I first saw this book, I didn't want to read it b/c I assumed it would be another one of those fluffy motherhood books--you know, the kind written by this perfect mom who makes you feel like motherhood is supposed to be a bed of roses and all that jazz. However, I read The Antelope in the Living Room (which had me literally rolling on the floor laughing) and at the end of that book was a suggestion that if the reader like the Antelope book, she's also like the Surprised by Motherhood book. So I had to give it a try. I'm glad I did! Lisa-Jo Baker is refreshingly honest, pokes fun at herself in a charming way, and often has me giggling softly to myself. Not only that, but after I laugh, she can say something so poignant that I can completely relate and it brings tears to my eyes. For example, when she's talking about having her first child, she's overwhelmed, doing everything, there's throw-up and crying all night, he doesn't eat on schedule like he's "supposed to", and she says she would hold him and "keep waiting to fall in love with him." I felt like that with my first babies. I struggled with PPD and did not at all feel "in love with them" like I thought I was supposed to. But who talks about that? Who shares those thoughts and real struggles new moms have? Lisa-Jo is refreshingly honest and real, and she offers hope. I cannot recommend this book high enough--throw out all the ridiculous how-to books and grab this one! Or gift it to a friend for a baby shower gift. It's guaranteed to touch any new mothers heart, and any experienced mother's, too, I'd venture to say.
Lord-willing, at the end of this month, a full (and glowing) review that Iâ€™ve written will appear over at Ungrind Webzine. In my review, I will tell you that Lisa-Jo gets it. This motherhood thing? She absolutely gets it, in all of its glorious chaos. Iâ€™ll tell you about how she had me choked up with emotion and laughing out loud, practically in the same breath.
But today, I want to focus on one aspect of the book which struck a particularly tender chord that is still resonating today, weeks after I finished this fabulous book.
Though Iâ€™ve yet to meet Lisa-Jo Baker in person, we have much in common. We both write, not only for the love of writing, but for the need to get the words out. Weâ€™ve both lived in Michigan. We both have two boys and a girl. We both have Tswana relatives. She knows all about stywe pap and hadidas and boerboels and vetkoek. She dunks rusks in Five Roses and eats peppermint crisp pudding.
But more than the South Africanisms Iâ€™ve come to appreciate about her, there is one commonality that, in my mind, trumps all the others:
We both lost our mothers to cancer.
We both watched our moms outwardly waste away and get ushered into eternity via a hospice bed.
I first felt that â€˜heart sisterâ€™ connection to Lisa-Jo when I read her blog post in October 2013 called, â€˜The one where Iâ€™m a motherless daughter.â€™
In her post, she writes, â€œLosing a mother doesnâ€™t happen in a moment. It takes years to realize whatâ€™s gone â€¦. You can wake up one day and discover youâ€™re 39 and all you want for your birthday is your mom.â€
â€œAnd anyone whoâ€™s lost a mother â€“ whether she was emotionally unavailable or left or died like mine did â€“ they know that the ache never goes away. Some days itâ€™s hardly noticeable and others it comes roaring back at the most unexpected moments.â€
They know that the ache never goes away. It never goes away, and as Lisa-Jo points out, â€œGrief comes in strange getups.â€ I wrote about that, in my Open Letter to Grief, about how grief is cyclical, like the moon â€” ever-present, waxing and waning. Cyclical, like water, stored up in dense clouds of grey, then pelting down in violent precipitation, then standing, idly in puddles at our feet â€” but always there.
So I shouldnâ€™t have been surprised when Surprised by Motherhood brought out those heart-ties and soul-sighs that go hand-in-hand with a motherless daughter and are exhaled, silently but powerfully with every breath.
One quote that really got me was when Lisa-Jo tells of a movie she watched growing up, and says, â€œI watch that movie now and can braille my way back into the world that included a mother.â€
And I swallowed hard with a knot in my throat when I read of Lisa-Jo and her dad, learning to live in the after, and eventually, â€œBoth of us learning to look at the hole where my mom had been and not keep falling into it.â€
And I nodded from the depths when she wrote, â€œAnd I grieved for the people who were separated from us by a chasm of normalcy.â€ Because how else can it be described?
And I sighed and understood when she said, â€œAnd I ran away to America and to college and to a place where I could be more than just the daughter of a dead mother.â€
Because thatâ€™s kind of why I canâ€™t go back to my momâ€™s church â€” the church that grew me and raised me and shaped me and married me and buried her. Because her presence is still there, I can see her singing on the stage and sitting in the pew, and chatting away in the foyer and making copies of the prayer letter in the office. And they still love me there, but Iâ€™m still â€œthe daughter of a dead motherâ€ there. And sometimes I want to be, just to know that she is remembered, to acknowledge the hole and the hurt that remains, and sometimes I cringe from it, from the label of â€˜victimâ€™ that clings to the double-sided sticker of grief.
In her book, Lisa-Jo writes this:
â€œBut the summer we were supposed to redecorate my bedroom teenage-girl style, she ended up moving permanently into a hospital room before we could put up the wallpaper border of delicate pink flowers weâ€™d picked out.â€
Lisa-Jo, those delicate pink flowers now border the cover of your first book, and I have no doubt that your mother â€” who â€˜always wanted to write a book,â€™ as your dedication reveals â€” would be glowing and dancing with a motherâ€™s pride.
Thank you for penning this song.
Lisa-Jo Baker is a writer, encourager of women, and cheerleader for moms. When I heard that she was writing a memoir of her life and the way motherhood changed her, I knew it would be a delight and encouragement to read. As expected, the book did not disappoint. Lisa-Jo weaves words and writes with a beauty and honesty that will immediately draw you in.
In Surprisedby Motherhood, Lisa-Jo tells her story of growing up in South Africa and losing her mom at the age of 18. She knew that she never wanted to be a mom herself, but God had different plans! He worked in her heart and healed her. He gave her children who have taught her, challenged her, and helped to change her. Lisa-Jo learned that motherhood is hard, but glorious.
This isnâ€™t a â€œhow-toâ€ book with secrets and formulas for helping babies sleep, potty training little ones, instructing toddlers, or raising teenagers. This is the story of the making of a mother. It is Lisa-Joâ€™s story, and her heart is in these pages. This story is for all of the exhausted and tired moms who think they canâ€™t do it. It is for the moms who are searching for happiness and humor in the mundane. This book is for all women who enjoy a good story of motherhood and mess and joy.
I personally enjoyed reading Lisa-Joâ€™s story very much. Even if you are a regular reader on her blog, there is so much in this book that will be new. It is worth the read!
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. provided me with a complimentary review copy of Surprised by Motherhood. All opinions are my own.