The subject of motherhood is universal due to every human’s experience of mothering, being mothered, or the absence of it altogether. For some, the subject can be a source of joy and strength; for others, it’s a reminder of pain, loss, or frustration.
Author Cassandra Jackson is a co-author of The Toni Morrison Book Club, a professor of English, a writer on race and literature, a mother, and a daughter. In this memoir, she focuses on her journey to becoming a mother and her role as a daughter, and the result is nothing short of revealing.
There is a secret that young Cassandra doesn’t know. Why, she wonders, do she and her older sister look so different? The details of a car crash in the 1960s that killed so many in her father’s family, including his first wife, mother, sister, and 4-year-old niece, for whom Cassandra was named, are never talked about. Both of her desires — for a child and for answers to concerning questions — became as obsessive as they are frustrating, and both are entangled with issues of race.
In this very intimate and candid memoir, Jackson recounts two grueling experiences: undergoing a lengthy period of in vitro fertilization beginning when she was 36 years old and, at the same time, painfully probing family mysteries.
She writes about her and her husband trying to conceive a child and the difficulties they faced. In alternating chapters, she writes about her father and the horrific car wreck that changed his life forever. The wreck impacted not only his own life but the lives of those in his immediate family circle, especially Cassandra.
I have been loving memoirs lately, and this is easily one of the most thought-provoking that I’ve read this year. Jackson bares her soul as she takes us through the insensitive treatment she received from physicians, nurses, and therapists, Black and white, old and young. She exposes how the medical field has failed Black Americans, while also revealing her own journey of infertility treatments and revisiting that horrific car crash.
A Black woman doctor assured Jackson that Black women don’t have problems with fertility, unlike white women. For sure, in the Alabama town where she grew up, there were many teenage mothers, including a 15-year-old who had her brother’s son. “Poor Black girls have babies because nobody expects them to do anything else,” Jackson observes. Near her home in New Jersey, the sight of a pregnant Black teenager elicits “envy and disgust” that the girl has what she, an educated, professional Black woman, is struggling for.
Jackson reveals her desperation when repeated hormone treatments yielded few eggs. When those eggs were fertilized, pregnancies failed. She found herself grieving the loss of embryos, just as she had been grieving her lost relatives: “…people whose ghosts have haunted us ever since I can remember being alive.”
I loved Jackson’s vivid portraits of her stoic but warmhearted father; her judgmental, matter-of-fact mother; and her supremely patient and loving husband. When Jackson is 13 years old, she discovers that her brother Nate has a son. He, his girlfriend, and the boy live in a little white house just a few blocks away. Jackson’s mother’s main concern is if the child is going to tear up everything in the house. It’s such a nonchalant moment, but there are many. It’s a prime example of how sometimes Black families comfortably hold onto secrets as if they were normal circumstances, never giving reverence or weight where it is needed.
Throughout the book, Jackson’s mother is always saying, “It’s a wonder none of us got killed,” after most of her distressing stories. It made me smile as it reminded me of an auntie of mine who says the exact same thing. When you think more about it, it’s really about being grateful for survival in every way possible.
Black women have the right to receive health care that is respectful, culturally competent, safe, and of the highest quality. Unfortunately, it is not always this way. Jackson’s stories of dealing with uncaring and racist doctors at such an early age are all too familiar. The Wreck is also about race, and Jackson fearlessly discusses racism and truths about Black maternal health that are widespread in the medical field. Her anger is justified, yet she is still gentle with herself. This story is beautiful and heartbreaking in the best possible way. Despite the challenging themes of medical trauma and fertility issues, it is well worth the read. Though the book’s subtitle gives away the happy ending, tension never waivers.
Jackson’s brilliant command of language is what will keep you engrossed by this book. Her recollections of her childhood are so vivid, which, in this story, requires a deep vulnerability. The transitions she makes from childhood to adulthood in each chapter work seamlessly and only strengthen the story.
I give The Wreck 5.0/5.0 stars. It’s a perceptive memoir about race, love, and legacy that is not easy to forget. This is definitely a book that you’ll read more than once and share with women in your life.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.