Review: Loving Emma: A memoir by Carol A. OrtlipLoving Emma – A story of reluctant motherhood
Carol A. Ortlip
Published by Alyson Books
Reviewed by Angie Bartoli
This book is about women and how they support and nurture one another and their children within a community and society that at times is less than supportive.
Loving Emma – A story of reluctant motherhood is about a lesbian couple, Carol (the author) and Gemma. At almost fifty years of age, Carol is asked to take in and raise her partner Gemma’s six year old niece. The story of Carol’s ‘reluctance’ unfolds, written in lyrical and gripping prose. As a couple Carol and Gemma make a concerted decision not to become parents. Five years into their relationship, this choice is compromised as amidst the heavy snowfall and wind in a Vermont farmhouse, Emma enters their lives.
The child’s mother (Tanya) had a troubled adolescence and has been self medicating since the age of thirteen. Now, as an adult woman and mother, with only other women in her family to rely upon, she is diagnosed as being bi-polar and dependent on drugs. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to consistently parent her daughter.
The author, Carol A. Ortlip, has no biological bond to Emma. Yet she feels a connection to the child. Told with raw candidness, the author’s own repressed childhood demons and personal struggles with alcohol dependency are reawakened.
Joint parenthood is set to test the couple’s relationship, resilience and inner strengths.
Ortlip tackles difficult contemporary issues such as substance misuse, complex family structures and child rearing with forthright ease and bluntness. Real life issues are accompanied by real words that will linger in the mind of the reader for a long time.
By the end of the book, the future of the couple’s relationship remains tenuous. Some readers might find this unsatisfactory. But this is not fiction where simple ‘happy ever after’ endings abound. This is reality – where decisions are rarely straightforward, adequate or comfortable – but simply real if not reluctant at times.
Angie Bartoli is an academic working as a senior lecturer in social work at the University of Northampton. She is a qualified and registered social worker with experience in both the voluntary and statutory sectors within the field of child care and child protection.
Her particular interests are embedded within diversity and human rights (especially gender, lesbian/gay issues, teaching and learning with and from African social work students), safeguarding children and the benefits of group work as an approach when working with people. Due to personal recent experience, Angie has developed a growing interest in homophobic bullying, especially within schools.
Angie reviews academic books (for SWAP) and fiction (for a women’s writing blog). She is currently expanding her own academic writing career and is an avid reader and has recently become the editor of the University of Northampton Social Work Book Club. When not reading or writing she enjoys living proudly in Northampton with her partner and their two children.