Your eager mother
A loving letter to an unborn child
The following letter is taken from the book, Letters of Note: Mothers—reprinted by kind permission of Jessie Bernard’s daughter.
Renowned American sociologist and feminist Jessie Bernard studied and taught at a number of institutes up until her retirement in 1964, and it was really only then that she became one of feminism’s most important voices by writing most of the seminal books and articles for which she is now known, including The Future of Marriage and The Female World. She did much of this as a single parent to her three children following the loss of her husband, Luther, to cancer in 1951, six months after the birth of their third child. In 1941, aged 38 and pregnant with their first, Jessie wrote their unborn daughter a letter.
4 May 1941
Eleven weeks from today you will be ready for this outside world. And what a world it is this year! It has been the most beautiful spring I have ever seen. Miss Morris (a faculty colleague) says it is because I have you to look forward to. She says she has noticed a creative look on my face in my appreciation of this spring. And she is right. But also the world itself has been so particularly sweet, aglow with color. The forsythia were fragrant and feathery. And now the spirea, heavy with their little round blooms, stand like wonderful igloos, a mass of white. I doff my scientific mantle long enough to pretend that Nature is outdoing herself to prepare this earth for you. But also I want to let all this beauty get into my body.
I cannot help but think of that other world. The world of Europe where babies are born to hunger, stunted growth, breasts dried up with anxiety and fatigue. That is part of the picture too. And I sometimes think that while my body in this idyllic spring creates a miracle, forces are at work which within twenty or twenty-five years may be preparing to destroy the creation of my body. My own street, the war takes on a terrible new significance when I think of that. I think of all those mothers who carried their precious cargoes so carefully for nine long months—and you have no idea how long nine months can be when you are impatient for the end—lovingly nurtured their babies at their breasts, and watched them grow for twenty years. I think of their anguish when all this comes to naught.
Your father thinks parents ought to get down on their knees and beg forgiveness of children for bringing them into such a world. And there is much truth in that. But I hope you will never feel like that. I hope you will never regret the life we have created for you out of our seed. To me the only answer a woman can make to the destructive forces of the world is creation. And the most ecstatic form of creation is the creation of new life. I have so many dreams for you. There are so many virtues I would endow you with if I could. First of all, I would make you tough and strong. And how I have labored at that! I have eaten vitamins and minerals instead of food. Gallons of milk, pounds of lettuce, dozens of eggs. Hours of sunshine. To make your body a strong one because everything [depends] on that. I would give you resiliency of body so that all the blows and buffets of this world would leave you still unbeaten. I would have you creative. I would have you a creative scientist. But if the shuffling genes have made of you an artist, that will make me happy too. And even if you have no special talent either artistic or scientific, I would still have you creative no matter what you do. To build things, to make things, to create—that is what I covet for you. If you have a strong body and a creative mind you will be happy. I will help in that.
Already I can see how parents long to shield their children from disappointments and defeat. But I also know that I cannot re-make life for you. You will suffer. You will have moments of disappointment and defeat. You will have your share of buffeting. I cannot spare you that. But I hope to help you be such a strong, radiant, self-integrated person that you will take all this in your stride, assimilate it, and rise to conquer.
Eleven more weeks. It seems a long time. Until another time, then, my precious one, I say good-bye.
Your eager mother