The Spanish Riveter: From QUIÉN QUIERE SER MADRE by Silvia Nanclares, translated by Lily Meyer

Just before turning forty, Silvia falls in love, and soon after, she loses her father. It is then that she decides to get pregnant. She feels that her life owes her another life. This courageous autobiographical novel reels off the milestones that every woman with  a desire for pregnancy faces month after month: biological urgency, uncertainty, the ghost of infertility, the reactions of loved ones, mechanical sex. Within all this, Nanclares does not forget the good: love, family, friends and passion.

People say that every woman without children has a story. What about women with children?

Sonia barely realised what was happening before she was touching Simon’s head.

Laura had her baby at home, in a kiddie pool, a couple of hours after her water broke during choir practice.

Gloria got an episiotomy at the public hospital.

Celia left the private one without a single stitch.

Lidia sobbed her way through her Caesarean section. So did Bárbara. Both would have died during vaginal births.

Lorena panicked when she realised there was no alternative option. One way or another, her son was coming out.

Ana had one and then two scheduled C-sections. 

Natalia failed to remember, when her period was late, the name of that stranger with whom – shit – she had also failed to remember a condom. Lucas is seven now.

Alba asked the midwife, who was at her house for a visit, if she was in labour yet. Her midwife laughed and said Alba would know when the moment arrived. Guess what? She knew. 

Carolina was shocked by her own howls during labour, as if they were coming from another person.

Helena was in labour forever.

Tania asked her brother to sneak her some food.

Sara fostered eleven-year-old Lena, then started the long process of adopting her. 

Inés’s water broke at night when she had her third baby. She went to bed, knowing the show wouldn’t start till morning.

Paula says no way in hell. She’s an extinctionist.

Cruz wouldn’t put it like that, but she’s not interested in reproduction either.

Olga tells a story about an Asian woman who spoke hardly any Spanish. She walked into Labour & Delivery, pointed at her stomach, and cried, ‘Knife! Knife!’

Nora had her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice – and she was still born vaginally. A miracle.

Julio came out butt-first.

Victoria’s stitches got infected.

Bibiana and her friends made a placenta milkshake and drank it.

Andrea has chronic abdominal distension from her twins.

Ari didn’t want her nipples to get stretched out, so she decided not to breastfeed. Pepa requested pills to suppress lactation, too. Afterwards, she heard judgemental murmurs running through the whole maternity ward.

But this story doesn’t start with my friends and their stories of motherhood and not-motherhood. It starts much earlier. It starts with me alone in front of the television, transfixed by the Sesame Street episode where Maria goes into labour. She wailed uncontrollably. As I sat in my parents’ house, watching a woman give birth, a desire popped into my head. It was as sudden as the baby’s emergence. I thought for years, looking back, that I wanted to be a midwife.


I wanted a baby. I wanted one right that second. I was seven. I started corralling all the little kids I could, wearing my younger cousins out with my early maternal fantasies. At my mom’s instigation, the adults I knew began calling me The Paediatrician.

My ambivalence about maternity showed up later on.

For a while, I had a Facebook album called ‘Friend Thieves’. It represents an era of my life. So much of the 2000s is a blur in my memory, a shapeless mass of zeroes and years. But I know that around my thirtieth birthday, some of my girlfriends started ditching our communal lovefest to raise and nurture little creatures who demanded all their attention. I was jealous. Friendship with mothers was a real revolution in my little world.

My album contained photos of my friends’ babies. Occasionally, instead of saying, ‘I’m pregnant,’ a friend would tell me, ‘You’re going to need to add another thief.’ But after curating my gallery for a long time, I got rid of it. I had given Mark Zuckerberg the rights to enough baby pictures. Besides, I was starting to wake up. Pretending to laugh at the mothers being born around me had been a good joke, but it was starting to get stale.

Now I have friends with fourteen-year-olds, seven-year-olds, four-year-olds, and infants. I still have a lot of friends without kids. 

One of my new habits is looking up birth years so I can subtract children’s ages from their mothers’. Alicia had Tomás at forty-one. My Grandma Teresa had her last at forty-two, as did Julianna Margulies, of The Good Wife. Elvira had her first, Aitor, at forty-three, long after she’d assumed she wouldn’t be a mother. Renata Adler had her first and last at forty-six.

My story is made of stories. I need points of reference. My possible pregnancy, my intense Kinderwunsch – of course German has the perfect word: Kinderwunsch, the desire to bear children, the search for a baby – and my imagined labour: all are beads on the chain of a tale of fertility and family that’s mine already. I have more faith in this rosary of potential than I do in science, medicine, or technology. I trust it more than the ageist fatalism of the gynaecologist glancing at me over her prescription pad. I pray by writing, which is the only way I know.

Silvia Nanclares 

Translated by Lily Meyer

From QuiÉn quiere ser madre

(‘Who Wants To Be a Mother’)

By Silvia Nanclares

Translated by Lily Meyer

Published by Editorial Alfaguara (2017)

Read The Spanish Riveter here or order your paper copy from here.

Buy books from The Spanish Riveter through the European Literature Network’s The Spanish Riveter page.

Silvia Nanclares develops theatrical, audio-visual, literary, and artistic training projects, and is a screenwriter and newscaster. Nanclares runs a literary podcast called En Tu Feria Me Colé and is a columnist for El Diario. She is the author of a story collection and the novel Quién Quiere Ser Madre.

Lily Meyer is a writer, translator, and critic. Her translations include Claudia Ulloa Donoso’s story collections Little Bird and Ice for Martians. Her first novel, Short War, is forthcoming in 2024.

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