Pregnant and Afraid? Maybe this book will help

I read Follow the River by James Alexander Thom because my mother-in-law handed it to me. There I was, pregnant for the first time at 30, living down the street from her. She had five children, three of them by the time she was 30.   I had married her oldest nine years before and precious little had been said about our likelihood of procreating until the day we announced that we were happily pregnant.

She seemed a little reluctant when she turned it over to me, assuring me that if I didn’t like it, I should just put it down. “I just read it, and I thought maybe you’d take to it, because, well…” she said pointing to my growing girth. So I plunged in. It wasn’t my usual fare, but I was touched by her gift, and intrigued. She’d never given me a book before.

Based on a real story of 1755, it told the harrowing tale of a young woman, kidnapped from her settlement in Virginia – I’ll tell you by whom in a minute – and held captive during a 1000 mile trip through the wilderness before her unlikely escape with another woman, and then her harrowing trip back home, following the river. How could she survive this? How could she give birth in the wild? How could I even consider being afraid if she’d pulled this off?

Until about fifteen minutes ago, I’d recalled it as a kind of feminist tale of courage and endurance. But then I looked it up to refresh my memory and read some reviews that taught me a few things.

First surprise, written by a man. In our current world,  reviewers find the depiction of her thoughts and feelings to be rather off the mark, “obviously written by a man.” Sorry to say I didn’t detect that back in the day.

Second surprise, I hadn’t recalled the brutality of her captors, Shawnee Indians who raided her settlement and killed most everyone else. I swear I remember some kindnesses in the story. I’m generally touchy about the treatment we visited upon Native Americans, so wished this to be a nuanced story without just good guys and bad guys, or good women and bad guys.

Third surprise, her two children were with her. I only remembered the baby she bore during the trip.

Fourth surprise, she left her children behind when she escaped. Yikes.

Still, the story came along when I needed it. I took in what I could and made up my own narrative, which I now know is pretty much what we all do all the time.

I later gave the book to another pregnant person; was it my sister-in-law? I can’t remember that either, but maybe it made the rounds for a while. It was a book for a moment in time , and that time is gone now, for me anyway.


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