Every woman facing motherhood asks herself a million different questions: Who will I become after having children? What if I never have children? How will life change after a baby arrives? As Mother’s Day nears, two novels offer very different portraits of motherhood, allowing readers to see themselves reflected in these honest and moving stories.

The Sunshine When She’s Gone, Thea Goodman’s debut novel, explores what happens when everything in life is suddenly divided into “before” and “after.” The big event? Having a baby.

When Dad bundles up the baby for an early morning walk, an impulsive whim takes him to the airport and onto a plane bound for Barbados. It’s a rash decision compelled by his desire for his wife of “before” to reappear—maybe rest will do the trick? As a father who “had never done anything without first asking [his wife] Veronica” struggles with a sick baby and a search for a complicated goat-milk formula, he begins to better understand his overwhelmed, overtired wife.

Meanwhile the new mom finds herself unexpectedly free from child and husband for a weekend—an eternity!—and she revisits the woman she was before becoming consumed with naptimes and nursing. But her impulsive actions take her down a path as misguided as her husband’s.

This dreamlike story is told from the alternating points of view of the young couple, whose life-altering decisions can only be attributed to sleep deprivation. You may laugh at their absurdity, but author Goodman brings compassion and humor to the domestic struggles of new parents trying to come to terms with the changes to themselves, their spouses and their marriage “after baby.”

ADOPTION AGONY

Told with brave humor by acclaimed author Jennifer Gilmore, The Mothers is the raw story of one couple’s seemingly endless journey to become parents.

After abandoning IVF attempts, Jesse and Ramon decide to pursue domestic open adoption. And the process is bureaucratic, baffling and often heartbreaking.

The author, who wrote about her personal struggle to adopt a child in Vogue, said she turned to fiction to make the process “interesting instead of just emotionally devastating.” And she succeeds. Both brutally funny and honest, Gilmore confronts Jesse’s “obscene wanting” for a child: The hope that never ends. The anger, self-pity and panic. When friends try to tell her that motherhood “doesn’t solve everything,” it does nothing to diminish her need. Yes, Jesse is stubborn, but Gilmore gives her compassion and optimism, even as her world is reduced to pregnant bellies and babies that can’t be escaped.

The path to adoption forces Jesse and Ramon to confront issues of race, drug use and mental illness. It exacts an unknown toll on their marriage even as they forge unlikely friendships with other prospective parents. The process becomes even more tortured when Jesse attempts to build relationships with the birth mothers. She talks for hours with women who may or may not “choose” them—and who might not even be pregnant!

The novel is filled with such keen insight that the ending of this intimate ride is abrupt. Perhaps the author, who hasn’t reached the end of her own story, can’t quite give it to her characters either.

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