Reading Mary F. Pols' Accidentally on Purpose is not unlike watching the recent movie Knocked Up: career woman has one-night stand with younger man she met in bar, gets pregnant, decides to keep baby, and bemoans the father's flaws while downplaying her role in the decision to forgo a condom. The plots differ (for example, the fictional parents end up together), and of course, only the former is a true story - a well-written, emotionally honest memoir of Pols' journey to motherhood and increased maturity.
After her fling with 29-year-old Matt, Pols is optimistic: "I never once gave any thought to pregnancy. I was a 39-year-old woman. What chance did I have of still having an eager, ready egg on the one night in 11 months that I'd had sex?" Once the surprise and chagrin has passed, Pols discovers that, while Matt may not meet her standards in many ways, he is supportive and looks forward to being a father.
She also takes a hard look at herself - her penchant for men who don't want her, her role as the youngest in a large family, her uncertainty about the next step in her career (after many years as a film critic for Bay Area newspapers). She details with wit and humor her efforts to juggle her many challenges, whether chronicling her attempts to get a visiting cousin to take care of her or detailing her ill-fated efforts to bring baby Dolan to a film screening.
The author's musings about losing her parents and becoming one in the space of a year are touching. So, too, is her realization that giving other people leeway helps her be kinder to herself. Pols mentions movies here and there, including Knocked Up. She notes that the movie was similar to her and Matt's experience in many ways, "but one part of [our] story, the part where I am at war with the circumstances that brought me my son, is over." It's a fitting ending for an engaging memoir: life isn't Hollywood-perfect, but it's pretty wonderful - and Pols seems genuinely happy with that.
Linda M. Castellitto writes from North Carolina.