Review of the book "Impossible Motherhood."
Impossible Motherhood is a memoir by Puerto Rican writer Irene Vilar that depicts how she came to have fifteen abortions. She is the granddaughter of Lolita Lebrón, a member of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement who was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for the 1954 attack on the U.S. Congress. Another prominent woman in Vilar’s book is her mother who she witnessed commit suicide by throwing herself from a moving car.
“A heroic grandmother, a suicidal mother and two heroine-addicted brothers”
Obviously, Vilar’s life was by no means easy. Her mother’s inconsistent behavior of care then neglect and the subsequent suicide sent her emotional receptors into overdrive and fueled the behavior that would later make her infamous.
“At seventeen, just as when I was eleven, and before that a child, a toddler, and an infant, I was absorbed with myself. I still am.”
She left home at a young age, attending a boarding school in New Hampshire. Young Vilar was a very good student, receiving straight A’s that led her to college at the age of 15. Once she left to attend Syracuse University her dependent and obsessive behavior became the star of her life. The bulk of the book surrounds a man she calls her “master.” He was her 50-year-old professor, a man she became infatuated with. It was with him she first got pregnant.
“Sexuality spun a casing of shame around me, slowly concealing my origins and ties to my past. But pregnant, my life felt less sub-human. In this unique state I felt hope.”
The man she calls “He” – leaving his name unknown to the reader – never wanted kids. He felt it would take his and anyone else’s freedom away. Because of the “love” she felt for him, she couldn’t allow herself to have his child, but the unprotected sex would continue and he put the sole responsibility on the teenage Vilar to protect herself. The majority of the eleven abortions he fathered happened in their first few years together. She would either go to a clinic to terminate the pregnancy or down a bottle of pills to kill herself or her baby. In these years where she was “in love,” she made multiple attempts on her life due to guilt and shame, attributing it to a maternal spirit.
Around the age of 30, when Vilar’s emotional intelligence began to catch up to her adult behavior, she divorced her “master.” But the abortions didn’t stop with a new boyfriend, who wanted children. Later in the book she uses the phrase “abortion addict,” to describe her plight.
“Each time I got my period, I was sad. Each time I discovered I was pregnant, I was aroused and afraid…. A moment came when not being pregnant was enough motivation for wanting to be pregnant… Getting pregnant began to be simply a habit. If I wasn’t pregnant, something was wrong, more wrong that what was already wrong.”
From time to time Vilar would take birth control pills. She took them frequently when she was determined to complete the edits on her first book, but stopped taking them after.
The question remains. Is her story credible? Was she really an abortion addict? Has she recovered from it all?
When writing the book, Vilar feared what people would think of her; that the multiple abortions was simply a form of birth control. So she framed it as a story of addiction.
As a reader looking in from the outside, who has known people who had abortions, yet not had any herself, this is my personal opinion: I’m truly conflicted. Simply stated yes, she had the abortions as a means of birth control, because she wasn’t addicted to abortions, she was addicted to pregnancy.
“[Her] drama looked like this: tension gradually builds (pregnancy), the painful battering incident occurs (abortion), a calm respite follows.”
With the loss of the mother she felt abandoned and as she put it “self-mutilated.” I believe, in many cases, she alienated the reader with her storytelling style. It was packed densely with accounts of events, sandwiched between flowery prose. In her attempt to convince the reader of her writing ability she only achieved a cursory tale. I couldn’t relate to her or find any sympathy in her plight. At times, I was physically sick with what she did to herself and the not-quite legal fetuses in her womb.
All-in-all, the only conclusion I can come to is that she was not emotionally well and addiction is an appropriate name for what she went through. But I’m more worried if she ever really overcame it. Yes, she stopped her suicide attempts and managed to have children by a man whom she became engaged to after knowing him for a couple of weeks. But I believe she continues to be emotion-fueled and may never take a firm grasp of reality.
It’s important to note that she was worried this book would set back a woman’s right to choose. However, I don’t think the two topics correlate since she is only one person abusing this right, while forever alienating herself from others who are able to set aside their cloud of emotions and make thoughtful decisions.
Should anyone read this book, other than for the shock factor of discovering why a woman terminated so many pregnancies? I can’t say for sure. This memoir didn’t inform me of the perils of addiction and ways to overcome it like I hoped it would. Also, I don’t feel it inspires anyone to believe they can overcome shame. You have to judge for yourself whether a book that depicts a whirlwind of emotions, without cutting into the meat would help, entertain, inform, or change you.