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Summary

In this memoir of her 40 weeks and five days in hell, Andrea Askowitz takes an unflinching look at her pregnant life from struggling with hormones to poor body image to a self imposed exile from family to take us on a ride through the turbulence of single lesbian motherhood. Along the way we meet her liberal parents as they struggle with their daughter's choices, the lover she longs to reconnect with who goes M.I.A. before the pregnancy, the friends who turn out to be no help at all and strangers who offer up some unlikely kindness. Andrea presents herself real, raw, impossibly cranky yet deeply touching with her self-deprecating dark sense of humor that will make you wince or better yet send you into uncontrollable fits of laughter.

©2008 Cleis Press (P)2012 Audible, Inc.

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  • KIC
  • 10-02-21

An insufferable real-life L-Word


At first, I thought the author was just neurotic. Tightly wound, but well-intentioned. After listening for 2 hours, I was just about ready to return the book, though I listened to the rest of it out of curiosity, because I find train-wrecks interesting.

Spoilers ahead.

***

I started off sympathetic for Andrea. Her anxiety was understandable, given her friend’s pregnancy and resulting cancer. Andrea was dealing with worse than average pregnancy symptoms. Not hyperemesis, but about as bad as you could get without being hospitalized. Pregnant people get too much flak, right? Women should be allowed to complain. I was prepared to be on Andrea’s side.

What I didn’t expect was what a high-maintenance, naval-gazing nit wit Andrea was before sperm got anywhere near her cervix.

Early on, the Andrea relates a few jaw-dropping anecdotes:

Years before her pregnancy, Andrea gave her gf Kate an anniversary card, in which she told her girlfriend she wasn’t sure if they’d stay together. To paraphrase, “Happy anniversary honey, sometimes I think about breaking up.” Kate said that being in a relationship with Andrea was like trying to build a house on an fault line, waiting for the next earthquake. I can see why.

Andrea harassed and judged Kate about her eating (she ate two grilled cheese sandwiches in one day! How could she possibly look after a child if she can’t look after *herself*?) Andrea’s fat-phobia was pretty tiresome in general. She didn’t want to become a fat, butch, lesbian cliché. Gee, from a fat lesbian reader who’s not exactly femme, thanks for your disdain.

At the age of 35, she related to her parents’ divorce like a teenager - that’s just her level of emotional maturity. She hadn’t an ounce of sympathy or patience for her father, despite his near-endless indulgence for her; nor did Andrea have any consideration for her father’s long-term girlfriend, yet still expected him to listen to and be supportive of her in her mature adulthood.

Andrea shows no hint of self-awareness or personal growth through 95% of the book, despite noticing the themes in what people say to her. Her high school friend said, “Andrea always tries to get what she wants.” Andrea’s response – “doesn’t everyone?” No Andrea, they don’t.

Her mother admonished her for *announcing her pregnancy at a relative’s funeral*, asking why she needed to talk about herself so much in the eulogy. Andrea’s response – “doesn’t everyone?” No girl. People talk about the deceased and how much the deceased affected others. You aren’t supposed to go on about your pregnancy and how you hope your future baby will be like the deceased, because that’s actually just talking about your baby, which is an extension of talking about yourself. It’s not homophobic to point that out.

Andrea just didn’t seem to get how insufferable, how rude and inconsiderate, and how self-centered she is, despite receiving this feedback from multiple loved ones and professionals in her life!

Another friend kindly, but frankly, outlined for Andrea the ways in which she has been a bad friend and how friendship is built on reciprocity. Andrea’s response – “that is the cruelest, most ungenerous thing you’ve ever said to me! Don’t tell me I have to give to get, that’s insulting.” - No introspection. No self-examination. Poor, pregnant, Andrea.

As I said, about 2 hours in, I was utterly turned off.

Origin Story Andrea is insufferable, but Kate stayed with her for *years* trying to work things out… and yet it was Andrea who said she was waiting for Kate to grow up. Her complaints about Kate were endless and menial. She dumped Kate and would beg to get her back. After repeating this cycle for eight years, Kate finally had enough and moved on. She got together with someone new and hopefully nicer.

As soon as was Kate secure in a new relationship, Andrea wrote a love letter to her! And then proposed to her! WTF! What. The. Actual. F.

Then after crossing far too many boundaries with Kate, she asks Kate to check up on her, and repeatedly stated that she loves her. To paraphrase, “I’m sorry about proposing to you and disrespecting your current relationship, but I really want to be your friend and I love you. Can you please check up on me? I really need it.”

Weeks later, Andrea expresses outrage and disdain for Kate who has NOT checked in with her! “This is why we can’t be together,” Andrea wept. “Kate is too selfish to step outside of herself and see what other people need!” No irony.

This is the same person who refused to invite her father’s girlfriend of five years to her baby shower, because he’d cheated on Andrea’s mom with this girlfriend. Years ago. Remember, at the time of the narrative, Andrea was 35… and you could practically hear her stomp her foot. No dad, your girlfriend can’t come!

Kate does eventually call, for classic codependence reasons. Kate could use a friend talk, as she’d had a difficult time at work. Andrea responds by insulting her whole profession. Not, “I’m so sorry you’ve been the target of an attack campaign designed to undermine your professional integrity!” She chooses to say to the woman she’s been pining after, “There’s no such thing as journalistic integrity, no such thing as truth.” FACEPALM.

At what point is this behaviour diagnosable? My neuro-atypical wife’s diagnosis is associated with self-centered and oblivious behaviours, and yet she CARES when she’s missed the mark or stepped on toes. Andrea refuses to even acknowledge her behaviour is wrong!

To her brother, she said, “Do you ever think of anyone besides yourself?” “Look who’s talking,” he replied. “What’s that supposed to mean???” Everyone close to Andrea is just over her shit, and told her so because she’s a crazy-maker in all their lives – and Andrea’s response was to write and publish a book about how she’s the victim in all of this. Her pregnancy was miserable and lonely and it’s everyone else’s fault! (Foot stomp!) The way she wrote herself is utterly unsympathetic! If she’d only injected some self-depreciating humour into this train wreck to indicate some self-awareness in hindsight, I think she would have had a really great book… but the tiresome way she writes herself as the victim in every situation shows how little she changed.

Back to boundary problems: she on a first name basis with her ob-gyn and writes about her doctor’s breasts, smile, and the general crush Andrea has on her. She flirts with her doctor. Her straight, married doctor. Then she feels gut-punched to learn her doc was pregnant for five months and didn’t tell Andrea. Her patient. Boundaries. Goddamn.

She goes on an aside about how women are more evolved than men. Just… did I time-warp on to a 1970s TERF lesbian commune? She doesn’t want to become a fat butch lesbian cliché but she’s fine with being a man-hating lesbian cliché?

Speaking of TERFs, she made an uncomfortable mention about meeting some people in the queer community who “seem to feel they are born in the wrong body”. She asked herself the open-ended question of how SHE might feel if her child grew up to be trans. She didn’t actually say anything overtly transphobic, buuuuut I feel like she’d be on the wrong side of the fence at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival. Given her complete lack of empathy with her closest loved ones, I doubt she has any empathy for trans folks.

Just when her therapist starts calling Andrea on her shit, Andrea quits therapy. Of course she does.

By the way, a doula is NOT a “cross between a midwife and a nurse”. In fact, a doula is not qualified to be either a midwife or a nurse. Doulas are unregulated and unlicensed, unlike nurses or midwives. There was a bit of medical misinformation in this book, but it turned out just fine for Andrea, and I did enjoy her birth story.

In her third trimester Andrea hits the “horny phase” of her pregnancy. This does not improve her personality, or her choices, OR her respect for other peoples’ relationships. Mega-cringe.

There is a brief flicker of self-awareness when her hypno-birth coach reiterates the oft-repeated grievance – that Andrea’s behaviour shows she has no regard for the needs of others. Andrea has a brief epiphany of how she’s so good at seeing self-centeredness in others because she is self-centered herself, how her rudeness is related to her fear and vulnerability. I thought for one moment, maybe the author IS going to experience some character growth. Instead, it fizzles. She takes no responsibility for her previous behaviour, her long term friends and family inch back towards her after her birth, and she fills her circle with new mother friends.

The book ends on the “my baby made me better” note, without much exposition to support that outcome aside from the bare-minimum acknowledgement of what an insufferable pain in the ass she’d been until she gave birth and was forced to think of someone else. She shows she did a better job being a friend to Kate while Kate’s mother was dying, than she was to their mutual friend who died slowly and painfully of cancer. Yay for Andrea, being a slightly better person.

I’m glad I finished it because a hair’s breadth of redemption is better than no redemption at all, and it’s frankly more than I expected of Andrea. This ending was a bit of a relief, but that may have been simply because the whining was finally over.

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