I’ll get right to it. Body Full of Stars frustrated me to no end. The only thing that tempered my frustration and kept me from throwing it at the nearest wall was Molly Caro May’s gorgeous, lyrical writing style. She used pretty words to tell an ugly story.
I’m counting Body Full of Stars as my “Book With a Cover You Don’t Like” category for the #BookRiotReadHarderChallenge2018 because I let this one sit on my shelf for months, avoiding it, knowing that heading back into postpartum territory could be triggering for me. Well, happy to report that May’s memoir didn’t bring me back into that traumatic place but it did have me screaming at the pages over her utter incompetence and stubbornness when it comes to her own health.
May is a new mother recovering from a childbirth that wasn’t what she’d envisioned. I know firsthand what starting life with a newborn is like when that guilt and ache of a birth plan gone awry feels like and on that level, I deeply empathize with May. Navigating the newness of parenthood with her husband is challenging enough, but she’s sustained pelvic floor damage as a result of her pregnancy and birth, adding a complicated layer to an already difficult phase of parenthood. As her tale advances so, too, do her symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder, manifesting as rage and fatigue. She bounces from practitioner to practitioner — at first, medical, and eventually alternative — seeking help for her pelvic floor dysfunction as well as for her mood disorder but ultimately just… stops. She derides the care given to her by a woman practitioner who seems to mainstream for her hippie self. She continues to push her body to take long hikes, knowing that she’ll leak urine through her clothing due to the incontinence. The navel-gazing in this memoir was too heavy-handed to balance out what could have been a raw and vulnerable glimpse into the messy bits of motherhood. Instead, it’s 250-ish pages of her justifying why she doesn’t need medical intervention and instead opts to dig her heels into the dogma of “natural” living. It’s full of woo and pseudoscience (naturopaths and acupuncturists are not medical doctors).
It’s hard to criticize a memoir without appearing to criticizing the author themselves. I want to emphasize how talented a writer May truly is while also pointing out how flawed the content is. I’ve been an advocate for postpartum health for years, including during my work with The Birthing Circle, and it’s maddening when the wrong message gets sent. While May does a great service by bringing pelvic floor health into the larger conversation about postpartum care, there are consequences to suggesting — however directly or indirectly — that new mothers can eschew pharmaceuticals and medical intervention. Telling a story about a postpartum mood disorder and pelvic prolapse and incontinence yet refusing to properly treat these conditions is dangerous.For a woman who uses a lot of her words (which, again, are beautifully written) in Body Full of Stars to spell out her particular brand of feminism, I found her disdain for Western medicine and unwillingness to treat her own womanly maternal body decidedly un-feminist.