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Den ömma modern review

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Issue number: 2024:1


Den ömma modern

(The Tender Mother)

by Klara Nordin Stensö
reviewed by B.J. Woodstein

Den ömma modern (The Tender Mother) is Klara Nordin Stensö’s first work for adults, and it is a graphic memoir that explores her experience of being a mother, especially the bodily implications that go with that. Her son’s birth is traumatic and leaves her with a sadness and fear that her therapist seems unable or unwilling to support her with, and she also significantly struggles with breastfeeding. For Nordin Stensö, breastfeeding is self-evident, and yet it is not the easy, natural method of feeding her baby that she looked forward to. Though her pregnancy was straightforward, Nordin Stensö finds that her body is not working the way she hoped it would, and so she wonders if it is actually useful and serving the purpose a woman’s body can do and sometimes is expected to.

Many new parents, particularly mothers, will relate to Nordin Stensö’s thoughts and feelings. She feels at times like a failure or a bad mother, she has been let down and left alone by healthcare professionals, she worries about her relationship with her new baby son, and she lives through the blur of postpartum depression. These subjects have been discussed in depth in other recent literature, both fiction and memoirs, but what takes this particular book to a different level is in part the references to other artwork. The pieces Nordin Stensö includes both reflect her feelings in some ways and also deepen some of the comments she makes in both her words and her images. To take just one example, a marble statue from the 2nd century BCE seems to imply that a real mother/goddess is all breasts and open arms, but even if Nordin Stensö wanted that to be her main or only role, which is not the case, the image of the statue is juxtaposed against drawings of her sobbing as she thinks about her baby losing weight despite breastfeeding regularly. The cold marble represents an impossible standard of perfection.

The word 'tender' describes this book well, as Klara Nordin Stensö depicts the confusing, overwhelming, at times upsetting process of becoming a new mother with gentleness and care. The tears and the slender, stretched-out breasts focus the reader’s attention on lactation and longing, and represent the pressure the author put herself under and why breastfeeding mattered so much to her. As a lactation consultant, I wish her story had ended differently, but as a reader, I was glad to see the smile on her face as she gave her baby a bottle of formula.

This is a book that many readers will see themselves in, and it adds to the ongoing societal conversation about what motherhood is and could be.

Klara Nordin Stensö in semi-profile.
Klara Nordin Stensö. Photo: Mimmi Nordin.

Den ömma modern

Galago, 2023

175 pages

Foreign rights: Sofia Olsson, Galago, Ordfront

Klara Nordin Stensö writes and illustrates children’s books as well as work for adults. Together with her sister, Mimmi Nordin, she also runs a web design company, Systrarna Nordin.