Great With Child: On Becoming a Mother
by Debra Rienstra


Wordfarm, 2008. ISBN 1602260036.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 05/21/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Body Language

"This is a fresh longing now for an experience I have lived before," writes Debra Rienstra, "First, the deep attentiveness of pregnancy, then the harrowing intensity of birth, then that surrender of the self to demands that press the boundaries of endurance and to a small person who, once here, will make any previous life seem impossibly incomplete." Great With Child: On Becoming a Mother is the true story of Rienstra's journey conceiving her third child, her pregnancy, birth, and postpartum depression. It is fresh, witty, and utterly charming.

Rienstra's memoir is powerful and compelling. There were numerous passages that were just so moving, I had to underline them so I could visit them again. Here are a few of my favorites:

"When marriage presses ahead past naiveté, each partner may be surprised to find that real intimacy takes work, and there will be betrayal, disappointment, and lonely journeys on the way to it."

"Cycles pass, the blood comes, and each time, it tears out the footings of another possible future." (On trying to conceive)

"The desire to gaze and gaze at the baby's every detail—who can resist this pleasure? For months we waited to see and hold this enigmatic creature, but now his eyelashes, his ears, his fingernails, his finely traced hairline are like smooth, intricate letters spelling out mysteries if we can read them. Genetic coding's infinite permutations, life's tenacity, the holiness of creation—these mysteries hush our distracted hearts to wonder."

As a mother of three, I connected with Rienstra's experiences. I felt the same disappointment every time the appearance of my period announced that another month had passed without conception. I felt immense joy and anticipation with my third child as much as my first, just as Rienstra did. Great With Child: On Becoming a Mother is a wonderful, emotional book about motherhood in all of its weak moments, as well as its glory.


Debra Rienstra is assistant professor of English at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she has taught since 1996. Her books include Great With Child: On Becoming a Mother (first published in 2002 by Tarcher Putnam and now reissued by WordFarm) and So Much More: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality (published in 2005 by Jossey-Bass). Visit her website.

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