Winner of the 2018 Norbert Blei/August Derleth Nonfiction Book Award, from the Council for Wisconsin Writers “Motherhood, complicated and personal.”—The New York Times “In a work that veers from confessional to cautionary tale to small-town crime blotter, Baker offers a harrowing account of her childbearing years at the center of the Midwestern methamphetamine crisis. . . . The author writes with an imaginative, studied complexity . . . [in a memoir] which readers may find themselves unable to put down or soon forget.”—Kirkus Reviews “Emotionally engrossing reading . . . A feminist’s perspective on prolific procreating; the unusual premise of linking addiction and crime with motherhood and birth will keep most readers on the line.”—Library Journal “The Motherhood Affidavits is a gripping blend of family memoir and true crime, bound together by an acute awareness of class and economic hardship in small-town America. Baker’s frank account of her Midwestern family life and her husband’s work as a public defender reads like a real-life Fargo, by turns darkly comic and desperately poignant.”—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl and The Fortunes “The Motherhood Affidavits is the most compelling and original memoir I’ve read in years. In her profound exploration of marriage, parenthood, baby-lust, and crime, Laura Jean Baker takes a compassionate yet unsentimental look at the ways in which the poor and unlucky are driven to act in ways that might seem unforgivable . . . until we realize how close we, too, have come to committing the same horrifying mistakes.”—Eileen Pollack, author of A Perfect Life “Who’s more desperate, the young wife and mother of five, or the petty (or not so petty) criminal? Laura Jean Baker doesn’t ask this question directly, but it’s always right below the surface in The Motherhood Affidavits. With humor, grace, and compassion, Baker connects her own vulnerabilities with those of the driftless and often clueless clients her attorney-husband takes on. What comes of this hard-sought, hard-won wisdom is sublime.”—Peter Geye, author of Wintering “Sometimes tender, often harrowing, always a page-turner, The Motherhood Affidavits examines Laura Jean Baker’s own impulse to parent—as well as the full scope and expression of human desire, whether for love, passion, comfort, power, or just plain survival. Stunning and memorable—and definitely not just for mothers.”—Judith Claire Mitchell, author of A Reunion of Ghosts “In this trenchant, frank, compelling memoir, hope and invention crash into hardscrabble economics, and Baker lights up the fractured lines between legality and criminality. The Motherhood Affidavits smartly explores Baker’s own pull to the chemical transformations of childbearing and the shifting realities of her marriage, then vaults beyond as she chronicles the lives of fellow city residents who’ve landed on the other side of the law.”—Nancy Reisman, author of Trompe l'Oeil “Brilliantly conceived and deftly written, The Motherhood Affidavits is a uniquely powerful—and memorable—book. Simply calling it a ‘memoir’ really doesn’t do it justice, as it vividly weaves together Laura Jean Baker’s experiences with those of her husband’s hardscrabble legal clients. A read that is as gripping as it is provocative.”—Shawn Francis Peters, author of Judging Jehovah's Witnesses and The Catonsville Nine “Like an Olympic ice skater nailing a triple axel, Laura Jean Baker makes it look easy. This unflinching and elegant memoir glides between tales of childbearing, parenting, and true crime. Ambitious in its scope, harrowing in its subject matter, and dazzling in its execution, The Motherhood Affidavits asks necessary questions about the intersections between the body and the state and between addiction and empathy.”—Shelley Puhak author of Guinevere in Baltimore “Laura Jean Baker's memoir is the perfect combination of rollicking narrative, whip-smart prose, and searing self-reflection. Here is a writer in whom we find the steely beauty of a defiantly original voice.”—Thomas Larson, author of The Memoir and The Memoirist “This book goes where few mothering memoirs dare, tossing aside over-idealized images of the Mother. Baker’s story is of a woman unafraid to honestly examine her own parenting through the lens of all humanity. Her writing is lucid and utterly original. And her tales of mothering gone wrong—both her own and rural America’s—are visceral, compassionate, and unflinching.”—Melodie Edwards, reporter and anchor, Wyoming Public Radio “This memoir of motherhood—and much more—mines, in the best way, the material of the maternal memory, an excavation that renders gold filigree out of the spoils of the past. The Motherhood Affidavits addresses, witnesses, and testifies to the nature of our scuttled and sutured-back-together lives.”—Michael Martone, professor of creative writing at The University of Alabama and co-editor of The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction
Better Call Saul meets La Leche League in this creative memoir.In a work that veers from confessional to cautionary tale to small-town crime blotter, Baker (English/Univ. of Wisconsin-Oshkosh) offers a harrowing account of her childbearing years at the center of the Midwestern methamphetamine crisis. The author and her high school sweetheart, Ryan, returned to their Wisconsin hometown to raise a family only to find that Oshkosh had traded its overalls for opioids. Ryan scraped together an unsteady income as a public defender for the many townsfolk cursed by addiction and its attendant woes: assault, theft, murder, child endangerment, and criminal neglect. Although she portrays Ryan's law practice as a noble ministry defending the weakest from too-severe punishments, Baker is hardly the meek pastor's wife in this paternalistic scenario. Her only source of relief from the anguish of bipolar depression was getting high on oxytocin, the feel-good hormone released during pregnancy, breast-feeding, and near-death experiences, but she had to continue to have babies in order to keep this precious "oxy" flowing. As the children kept coming and the family's debts piled up, they descended into the moral quagmire of the impoverished. Baker blames her failings as a mother and citizen (ignoring seat belt laws, letting her children's front teeth rot) on her self-diagnosed addiction. Even as she compares her escapades and temporary insanity to the meth addicts all around them, she details her family's hypocrisy in being willing to profit from, but not befriend or live among, her husband's clientele. In order to gather the drug-addled denizens to her breast in narrative solidarity, she subsumes their tragic stories in her own and makes the disturbing anecdotes from their case histories serve as evidence for her theories about motherhood under duress. The author writes with an imaginative, studied complexity that, when joined with the disquieting subject matter, results in a memoir both evocative and irritating but which readers may find themselves unable to put down or soon forget.An unflinching dispatch from the intersections of motherhood, poverty, drugs, and mental illness.