"You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman: Diary of a New (Older) Mother"
(reviewed by Shannon Bloomstran JUL 24, 2004)
“Geezers with children.” That’s how author Judith Newman describes herself and her husband who become first time parents at age 40 and 66, respectively. After seven years, tons of technology, and tens of thousands of dollars, Judith gave birth to twin boys in September, 2001. She has chronicled her pregnancy and the first years of the boys’ lives in a new memoir, You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman. With a three-year old and a five-month old and rapidly approaching geezerhood myself, I looked forward to seeing how another freelance writer handled the chaos of babyhood, two babies in fact and still had enough wits about her to write an entire book.
Newman is like Erma Bombeck after a three martini breakfast. She recounts everything from the ultra-invasive and downright degrading attempts at in vitro fertilization to her brushes with infidelity. At times, I felt a bit of a victim of TMI (too much information) syndrome, I mean how many times can you read about poopy diapers and jangled nerves? This may be because I am deep in the baby poop trenches myself but a little goes a long way. Kind of like how my son’s body processes carrots.
She does have hilarious insights and is unafraid of voicing those thoughts that most of us keep firmly under lock and key. She doesn’t breastfeed her sons even though she knows “that it has antibodies that strengthen a baby’s immune system. But for that I have the dog. I figure that having a golden retriever lick your head every day must have immune system-enhancing qualities.” After a particularly rough evening she notes, “Dropping into bed exhausted, I realized I should have gone with my original plan and adopted a girl from China. Not only would she be beautiful (my theory about overpopulation in China: of course there are too many, they can’t help themselves, they make the cutest babies)…”
Newman offers observations on the typical foibles of child-rearing. On seeing her newborn sons, her first thought was “I wonder if they’d look less like space aliens if I penciled in their eyebrows.” I told my neighbor that my daughter looked a little bit too much like Richard Gephardt, not a plus even here in St. Louis. She and husband John spent hours discussing baby names. John has a fondness for Roman emperors, although Judith rules this out so that the boys “would not have to go through life as Tarquinius and Octavius.” My husband shared this same penchant for ancient history and quite seriously lobbied for our son to be named Hannibal. Cooler heads prevailed in both cases. Newman’s boys are Henry (after H.L. Mencken) and Augustus. I guess John got his way on at least one.
The book is structured in the form of diary entries, a cutesy gimmick that wears thin about 2/3s of the way through. Does anyone actually believe that after a long day of writing, then caring for toddlers, this woman had time to sit down and write pithy recollections of her days? Of course she does have more time than some of us because she had a 24-hour $250 a day baby nurse for the first four months of the boys’ lives. At over $20,000, that’s more than I made my first year as a teacher.
Her diary entries don’t just concern her children and work; they also describe her admittedly unconventional relationship with her husband. John is a retired opera singer and although he loves his wife, they can’t bring themselves to share an apartment. “Marriage is one thing, but cohabitation? There are some things people shouldn’t rush into.” John doesn’t fare too well in this work; he seems to like Newman only intermittently and the boys not at all. It’s a sad slice of an otherwise humorous account.
The book goes through the boys first 18 months and Newman does report in an epilogue that everyone concerned is still happy and healthy, well relatively happy I guess, in John’s case. The $250 a day baby nurse has given way to a full time nanny at $2400/month. At that rate, I may move to New York and hire myself out. Maybe I could get a book deal too. Coming soon, “The Geezer-Nanny Diaries.”
- Amazon readers rating: from 32 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from You Make Me Feel Like an Unnatural Woman at the author's website.
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The official website for Judith Newman
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About the Author:
Judith Newman writes a monthly column for Ladies Home Journal and is contributing editor for Allure and Self. She also writes for Vanity Fair, Harper's, Discover, and the New York Times. She lives in New York City.