Mothers in All But Name: Grandmothers, Aunts, Sisters, Friends, Strangers, Nannies
by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard


Wind Publications, 2009. ISBN 978-1-893-23993-7.
Reviewed by Duffie Bart
Posted on 07/07/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir

Mothers in All But Name, by Marguerite Guzman Bouvard, is a collection of diverse and absorbing essays by women who have raised children they have not given birth to.

Raising a child is a daunting task and can be considered more so when it is undertaken by a woman who is not the child's birth mother. The caregivers' experiences in this revealing and touching book underscore the courage inherent in many women. Their voices speak of resiliency and unwavering love, often resulting in uniquely strong bonds and pleasurable lifelong relationships.

Each woman tells her own story, in a straightforward style that is often painful and admirable. The sometimes contradictory expression of feelings by both child and caregiver create dramatic and instructive stories that provide insights for the reader.

The themes that weave in and out of the essays in Mothers in All But Name are the commitment that these caregivers feel for their charges, their unwavering loyalty, the complexity of the human relationship, and the power of love. And yet, in spite of the daily demands of motherhood, and the mutuality of love so often experienced, they profess to feel uncomfortable asking to be called mother. While many of the problems encountered in these relationships are the same as those found in traditional nuclear families and in single parent relationships, these unconventional women tell of specific issues unique to and often heartbreaking in the lives of these children.

Ms. Bouvard argues that these women deserve to be accorded that nomenclature and feels they should receive the same recognition and stature as birth mothers (instead of having to resort to names such as "Auntie" or some sort of nickname). Interestingly, Ms. Bouvard enjoys a fabulously close relationship with her niece, Michele (in part her inspiration for this book). She has sponsored Lao refugees and taken in children in times of need. She is a poet and author of many books, and a Resident Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. She shares opinions from her own experiences and from interviews she conducted in essays preceding each chapter.

Her preface to Friends as Mothers begins: "I believe that families are not only blood relatives, but sometimes just people that show up and love you when no one else will." I cannot refer to each woman in this engrossing book, but I do wish to mention Sheree, a nanny who grew up in a close and loving family in Trinidad. She writes of her experience taking care of two little girls and the value of children being loved and attended to by an extended family. Sheree sums up the message of this book clearly and succinctly: You may have children and not behave as a mother. You may not have children and be a mother. Ms. Bouvard suggests that we expand our notion and definition of motherhood. These essays provide excellent evidence that she is very right indeed.


Marguerite Guzman Bouvard is the author of several books on the topics of human rights, grief, politics and a memoir. Her most recent book is The Unpredictability of Light. She is a Resident Scholar at the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

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