Anna-Leena Harkonen


Heikki Saarinen/Hemevamos


Our Myths of Motherhood

I’ve heard women sigh that pregnancy was the best time in their lives. If this is bliss, the rest of their lives must be shit.

Faint Lines, an autobiographical work of fiction by Anna-Leena Harkonen, is an open and honest account that challenges our myths of motherhood.

I read the book soon after it was first published, and I remember being deeply impressed. When my book club selected Faint Lines, I read it again, more analytically, now as a mother of two small children.

AT FIRST, the thought of having a child seems distant to Harkonen, but her attitude changes gradually, almost unnoticed, until she realizes she wants a baby. This occurs in the middle of a writing projectabout childlessness.

Her first pregnancy ends in miscarriage, as does the second one soon after.

At the same time, she reflects on womanhood and her relationship with celebrity culture and the media’s insatiable hunger for “good stories” at whatever the cost: she has lived under public scrutiny since the publication of her first novel at the age of eighteen.

WHEN SHE becomes pregnant again, it’s difficult for her to trust that she won’t miscarry again; there are so many uncertainties. When this pregancy progresses, she can finally rejoicebut only for a moment.

Harkonen learns that she belongs to several risk groups. She undergoes screenings and eventually finds out that she has intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. She is hospitalized because she needs continuous monitoring.

Although she keeps feeling worse, she experiences strong feelings of happiness in the later stages of her pregnancy.

At the cafeteria, I peek at babies sleeping in their beds, and it hits me: I want a baby! This is something I could never have imagined myself doing. This is not a vague desire to perhaps have a baby someday. I want a baby. I want this baby. I want it now.

THE FINAL STAGES of the pregnancy are difficult and trigger some sort of panic disorder in Harkonen and sow the first seeds of anxiety: she cannot sleep and grows increasingly and incredibly tired.

When the baby is finally born, she is so tired that she doesn’t know how to survive. However, her nurse in the ward doesn’t think highly of “celebrity moms,” so Harkonen is sent home all too early.

Much-trumpeted motherhood is not rosy pink for Harkonen; it has much darker and more sinister tones. As an analytical person, she recognizes the severity of her state and tries to get help, but she is not taken seriously by a surprising number of people.

I cannot think of a scarier place than this apartment. Everything reminds me of the life I’m about to lose.

FAINT LINES is a bold book in many ways. It questions our persistent myths of motherhoodand also healthcare professionals’ competence to be there for mothers who need mental support.

It’s appalling to read how contemptuously and belittlingly the nurse treats a “celebrity mom” who tries to tell her how tired she is.

It seems that our myths of all-powerful motherhood may prevent new mothers from getting the support they need to cope. New mothers are urged to take initiative as soon as possible, which must be goodbut what if a mother clearly states that she is tired and needs both help and rest?

They may be told to trust their instincts, get over it, and stop complaining.

Susa Huhtala, book blogger at With Sense and Sensibility

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