Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood
Hardcover, 260 pages
St Martin's Press, 2004
Reviewed by Shana Brown
Colfax CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 5, September-October 2004, p. 183
I know I'm reading a good book when I write down quotes to refer back to later on. I know I'm reading a great book when I want to share those quotes with all the mothers I know. Lu Hanessian's book, Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood is a great book. Readers may be familiar with Hanessian as the host of Discovery Health Channel's "Make Room for Baby," or from various other television appearances. She is also a regular contributor to The New York Times, Parenting, Redbook, and NEW BEGINNINGS. This book chronicles Hanessian's early years of motherhood as she strives to truly know her son, Nicholas, while keeping sight of her own identity.
Hanessian visibly struggles to find her mothering intuition, buried beneath advice books, the media and culture, and well-meaning friends and family. She writes:
I hear voices out there, a Greek chorus chanting at me to show him who's boss. I do the only thing I can do under the circumstances: I let the baby drive. I let his cues guide me. I try to see his needs as worthy of response. To imagine those needs as pressing and fleeting at the same time.
She learns to lovingly respond to her son's needs, letting go of questioning the validity or importance of those needs.
This book provides new understanding for mothers who are striving to meet the needs of their babies while also coming to terms with the overwhelming nature of those needs. Few books so eloquently capture the ambiguity of new motherhood. How can you love someone so much in one moment and then be so daunted by that love in the next? She writes:
Can't a new mother feel momentarily plagued with despair and feel the inexorable worth of this experience, this child, this life-both at the same time?
While relishing her new role as a mother, Hanessian also struggles with her identity as an individual and as a woman.
As hard as I worked to be Somebody, I really had no clue who I was until I became a mother and felt like my identity went missing. Is it because I lost it-or is it that I never had it in the first place?
She finds power in listening to her heart and to her child. This power guides her to act in loving ways despite the challenges from a child who has a will of his own and who is both independent and dependent. Through this relationship, she learns what it means to give to another person completely, without giving up herself in the process.
Hanessian also realizes that she does not travel this road alone. Throughout the book, she analyzes her relationships with her husband, her mother, and other mothers in her community. The way a marriage changes after a child is rarely discussed in depth, but Hanessian is able to succinctly describe the shift from being two in a family to three. She expresses the complicated mixture of feelings: wanting the father to be able to help, resenting that he cannot do more to help, and being thrilled that she doesn't need his help. Ultimately, she concludes, mothers and fathers parent differently and those differences often strengthen children.
In several funny scenes, Hanessian writes about the mothers she encounters at the neighborhood pool. Among new mothers, there is often a veil of secrecy surrounding difficult feelings, lest you be perceived as inadequate. Instead, women talk about schedules, milestones, and birth weight, but "Grandstanding is just a cover, a veil that disguises the vulnerability that we all have but that so many of us pretend we don't."
Hanessian seeks out other women who understand the demands of new motherhood in a way that her husband never will, realizing that:
Somehow, sharing your struggles, confessions, and irrational fears with other mothers can be a kind of lifeline. There is nothing like a little old-fashioned validation from another mother who can listen without judgment, shining a light in otherwise shadowed corners.
As the years pass and the dust settles on her new life, Hanessian has another baby, this time a boy named Ben. Her relationship with Nicholas continues to grow and change through a difficult preschool experience, the pains of sibling rivalry, and her own desires to return to work. All this time, Hanessian is aware of how she is viewing Nicholas. She writes:
It occurs to me that my perceptions of myself and my child will determine my attitude toward him, my role as his mother, my behavior and his. What if some of those perceptions are negative? Or mistaken? Limited? False?
There are many parenting/how-to books for new mothers. Many of them cover the nitty gritty details including how to change a diaper, how often to breastfeed, and how to get a child to sleep through the night. This one is different. So often a new mother hears, "Trust your instincts. Trust yourself. Trust your child." This book shows how the author was able to do just that. Lu Hanessian doesn't hold up her model of parenting as a road map for the correct and proper way to parent. She only holds out the lesson that your child, too, can show you the best way to be a mother.