been several years since Rebecca Walker became estranged
from her mother, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice
Walker, a rift that shows no signs of repair. But now that
Walker has a new book exploring her nine-month odyssey to
childbirth, that mother-daughter relationship has been opened
up and dissected again, revealing oftentimes painfully squirmy
details. The younger Walker, who is biracial and bisexual,
has spent a lifetime -- and a career -- sorting through
her issues. Her medium of choice: the memoir, which she
likens to ripping off her clothes and strolling through
a crowded street.
got a knack for self-exposure -- and for courting controversy.
are going ballistico," Walker, 37, said Tuesday night
after appearing at Borders Books in Tysons Corner. "It's
stirring up feelings on both sides."
would be her memoir, "Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood
After a Lifetime of Ambivalence" and a certain chapter
where she describes the difference between her love for
her teenage stepson, Solomon -- whom she still parents with
her ex, the singer-musician (and D.C. native) Me'shell Ndegéocello
-- and her love for her biological son, Tenzin.
it, she wrote: "It's not the same. I don't care how
close you are to your adopted son or beloved stepdaughter,
the love you have for your non-biological child isn't the
same as the love you have for your own flesh and blood.
It's different. . . . It isn't something we're proud of,
this preferencing of biological children, but if we ever
want to close the gap I do think it's something we need
to be honest about. . . .
I would do anything for my first son, within reason. But
I would do anything at all for my second child, without
reason, without a doubt."
came a profile earlier this month in the New York Times,
in which she sharpened the distinction. While she knows
that she would "die for" Tenzin, she said, she's
not sure she would do the same for her non-biological child.
letters to the editors ensued. As did angry postings on
her blog RebeccaWalker.com, such as this one: "I do
not want to speak for all the infertile women in the world
who cannot birth their own 'natural' children but your comments
in the NYTimes about adoptive parents not experiencing the
same level of love as biological parents were about the
most insensitive I have ever experienced."
says she was caught off guard by the fallout. These are
her feelings, she says, her truth -- a "brutal truth,"
as she later put it -- but hers nonetheless. She says she's
not trying to denigrate the many different incarnations
of family and deem one type of love as lesser. Not lesser.
think it's healthy to talk about different kinds of love,"
she says after the reading. "You love each of your
children differently. We have to be comfortable with thinking
that there are different kinds of love. . . . I think my
first son feels differently about his biological mom than
he does me. And I'm fine with that."
an activist, she says, she's spent years celebrating family
in all its guises; right now, she's working on an anthology
that explores that very issue, "Walk This Way: Introducing
the New American Family." After all, she once contemplated
creating her own less-than-traditional family. In her memoir,
she describes how she and her long-term female partner (whom
she does not identify by name) approached a male friend
about fathering a child for them. That union did not yield
a child. But after the couple broke up, Walker met Glen
(she doesn't provide his last name), her Buddhism teacher.
Today, unmarried, the couple live in Maui with their son,
salute her for writing about those mixed feelings,"
says the writer Erica Jong, who, along with her own writer
daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, knows something about airing
mixed feelings about family ties in memoir.
not everyone feels that way. A lot of people feel very intensely
about their adopted children. Whatever your feelings are,
you should be able to write about them, even though they're
wrote critically about her famous mother in her first memoir,
"Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting
Self," in 2001: "My parents did not hold me close,
but encouraged me to go. They did not buffer, protect, watch
out for, or look after me. I was mostly left alone to discover
the world and my place in it."
the two do not speak; Alice Walker has not met her only
are estranged," Rebecca Walker says.
prospect of parenthood can be harrowing for any Gen X feminist
-- so many choices, so little time. Independence vs. the
ticktocking clock; the desire to be adventurously autonomous
vs. the desire to love and be loved. Factor in a feud with
an iconic mother, and for Walker, motherhood was something
to be viewed through a haze of ambivalence.
she got the call from the doctor's office informing her
that her pregnancy was a viable one.
she wants other women contemplating the leap to motherhood
to realize this: Fertility is finite.
the book signing, a woman raises her hand. Like Walker,
she is 37. Like Walker, she's been ambivalent about becoming
a mother. She's newly married. Can't she just wait a while?
Enjoy the honeymoon? Is being a mother worth it?
would you tell me?" she asks Walker.
totally worth it. You don't have much time. Get to it."
"I'm so sorry."
laughs. Ruefully. And the small crowd -- all female save
for one lone male -- laughs with her.