Book Review: Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike

Look How Happy I’m Making You – Polly Rosenwaike (Doubleday, 2019)

I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book. It is set to be released March 19, 2019.

Whether or not you enjoy Polly Rosenwaike’s collection of short stories will likely hinge on your interest in motherhood. Each of the twelve stories in this collection centres around motherhood in some way or another, mostly pregnancy and the early days of parenting. Some characters deal with an unexpected pregnancy. Some deal with miscarriage. One woman deals with infertility at the same time that she watches her sister become easily pregnant. Another woman researches baby laughter and receives news that her best friend’s baby has died. There are longterm marriages, new relationships, relationships already over. There’s a real gamut here but what links the stories together (aside from the fact of motherhood) is that this is hard.

Pregnancy is hard, whether you planned it or not, whether you’re with the right man or not. Not being pregnant can be even harder. The early days of newborn life are hard. The change that comes with every relationship around you is hard. This is neatly highlighted in Welcome to Your Family which features two sets of in-laws gathering around a couple who’ve just had a baby. We get little glimpses into each character – how they relate to each other and how they react to this new addition in their extended family.

I appreciate this nuanced and well-rounded look at motherhood. I especially appreciate its unflinching look at infertility and miscarriage. The prosaicness of it – how a character needs to go out and buy pads as she bleeds but isn’t sure how to tell her husband – and the isolation of it. I appreciated Rosenwaike’s portrayal of how overwhelming and yet monotonous the early days of having a newborn are. With simple descriptions she demonstrates just how completely life changes after a baby is born.

On the flip side, I finished the collection feeling that Rosenwaike featured the hardships of motherhood too heavily. The stories that featured newborns seemed to have mothers who were worn down and detached. Not a single one seemed overwhelmed but also in love with her baby. None of the parents seemed particularly excited about their babies or attached to them. I think, in her effort to portray the less beautiful and glamorous moments, Rosenwaike leaned too heavily to the other side.

If you’re already a parent, reading this story collection will probably have you nodding along, thinking, Yes, someone else has experienced this. But if you don’t have children, these stories are not going to sell you on them. Which, to be fair, is not their job or their desire, I’m sure. It’s a lot to ask that twelve short stories demonstrate the complete experience of one of the most life-changing experiences a human can have and Rosenwaike does an excellent job at shining a light in some of motherhood’s darker corners.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Look How Happy I’m Making You by Polly Rosenwaike”

  1. I must admit I think it’s a common feature of books about new mothers to concentrate on the toughness of it all to the exclusion of the wonder and excitement so many women feel (when they’ve had a night’s sleep!) Maybe they think that’s a given? On the other hand, social media bangs on about how wonderful and fulfilling it all is to the extent that it must make real mothers feel inadequate every time they have a tough day (and no sleep…)

    1. Your right, books seem to focus on the hardest parts and on social media we only share the wonderful stuff. And sleep is crucial! I’m not sure where the perfect balance lies since I think it is so important to acknowledge the hard stuff and for a long time there wasn’t a lot of space for women to do so.

  2. Hmmm it sounds like I’d really like this book (especially now!) but good to warn people without kids that this may scare them off. I’ve been told I’m ‘too honest’ about motherhood myself, and I’ve scared some of my friends with how in-depth I’ll go haha

    1. I’m all for being “too honest”! It’s probably the biggest life change you’ll ever go through and it’s not like you can back out of it once the baby arrives!

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