Chitra Ramaswamy, Expecting (2016)

chitra ramaswamy, expectingChitra Ramaswamy’s Expecting is, unusually, the memoir of a pregnancy. The book has nine chapters, representing the nine months of pregnancy, taking the reader from the difficulties of morning sickness and secrecy in the first few months right through to childbirth in all its joy and horror. But while many books on expectant motherhood would surely detail the trials and triumphs of a new baby, Ramaswamy ends hers with the birth of her son, focusing purely on the pregnancy; on her “life in tandem” (p. 17). She picks up on this again in her essay for 404 Ink’s 2017 collection Nasty Women, when she notes that her interest purely in pregnancy, rather than motherhood, was seen as “too niche, too risky, too bog-standard, that women are only interested in their pregnancies until the baby comes along, that motherhood eclipses everything, that pregnancy can never be more than a prologue” (p. 166). What these critics of Expecting have failed to comprehend, then, is that pregnancy is surely of interest to everyone, since that is how we all came to be. Furthermore, Ramaswamy makes it very obvious just how little understood pregnancy really is, even by those experiencing it – she feels “estranged from my own body” (p. 28) in the first few months – and therefore is in the same situation as everyone else who doesn’t know what making a child entails. This is a book to tell pregnancy as it is.

Ramaswamy highlights the transferable nature of the experience of pregnancy in Expecting by drawing links between literature and expectant motherhood, looking at everyone from James Joyce and Marcel Proust to Margaret Atwood and Nan Shepherd.  Writers I hadn’t previously heard of are also mentioned by Ramaswamy, such as Kate Clanchy who has written poetry on her own experience of pregnancy. Clanchy’s work is relatable for Ramaswamy, who “saw the world in my womb” (p. 41) just as Clanchy had. Pregnancy as a metaphor for artistic creation is also touched upon, reinforcing that the writing of this memoir required work (labour?) from Chitra Ramaswamy, just as creating her son did.