Recently Read: Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

I am captivated by people’s stories. Every so often someone completely unknown to me will pop up on my radar that I become attentive to, and sometimes this fascination is not easily explained. For a long time I thought I was curiously peculiar, others convinced me so, but growing older has made me realise that there is a hole in my heart for someone who can pass on wisdom; someone who can share with me their life memories, their regrets, choices, hopes, dreams, and most importantly, the valuable lessons they have learnt in life over a number of years. I solely put this down to not having a notable Grandmother figure in my life, which results in me being drawn to older people with a story to tell - a real heroine and a role model that could possibly teach me something and shape my life in some way. Kate Mulgrew had never really been someone I had known much about, and it wasn’t until I was introduced to Galina ‘Red' Reznikof on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black that I realised who she was: the infamous Captain Janeway in Star Trek Voyager; the first ever female captain of a starship, and the women that changed and shaped how women in science were perceived from thereon. I was just a young child when the series launched, however I remember seeing a few repeated episodes as a teenager due to my Mum being a bit of a sic-fi fan. Ironically I never followed suit so intensely, but I retained the respect for it. When I read an interview with Kate regarding her debut memoir ‘Kate Mulgrew: Born With Teeth', an impulse to read it was instant. I am not the biggest reader either, so I thought it really must be something to make me feel that way. I read it in one week, and I felt instantly lifted and inspired. I thought to myself 'if this woman can overcome what she has in life, I can overcome what life throws at me'.

What I first noticed in Born with Teeth, is that Kate’s writing is characterised by great knowledge; offering a stripped back, humble and honest account of her life. Her memories are retold in poetic passages written from her soul, of which hooked me after the first line. This was not like the usual celebrity autobiography either, and I could extract a good sense of Kate’s personality from the title of the book: Born With Teeth, which is a literal account of her life’s beginning as she was veritably born with “two pearls on top and two, nonpareil, on the bottom”...

a picture of the book Born with Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Raised by unconventional Irish Catholics, it is evident that it was not only Kate’s dream to work the stage and screen respectively, but also her destined path. Determined to pursue her dream, despite the cost of leaving her family and dying sister, she left the midwestern town of Dubuque, Iowa, for New York to study with Stella Adler. It was the point in her life where she learned the lesson that would define her as an actress: “Use it,” Adler told her; “whatever disappointment, pain, or anger life throws in your path, channel it into the work”. Ironically, there was a lot of those feelings to follow. It’s not just her career journey that is both fascinating and inspiring to me, but more so her honest, and at times brutal, account of bygone times, which ultimately left me sat in complete awe of her strength, in addition to her strong feminist attributes, which left me feeling particularly empowered. As a reader, we are taken alongside her nostalgia; family traumas (including two sibling deaths), marriage, two sons, love affairs, the importance of her work, a sexual assault (which was incredibly difficult to read), and most heart wrenching of all, the painful decision she made to give her daughter up for adoption, of whom she fell pregnant with at the age of 22 - just as her career was taking off in the soap opera Ryans Hope (which actually, is one of my favourite roles that she has played).

This is pivotal to the book, more so than her role as Janeway, which I presumed would dominate the story line (however, what was mentioned about Star Trek was also incredibly interesting to read). The book primarily accounts her two decade journey of longing and anguish in being reunited with her daughter. It was a decision she regretted instantly, but one that the Catholic church didn’t allow her to rectify, or allow her to know a single thing about the adoption, not even a photograph. This haunted me, because being a similar age now to what Kate was at this time, I could not imagine enduring such sorrow. Possibly more harrowing than the birth itself, three days after having her baby, Kate returned to work on Ryans Hope, whereby her pregnancy was written into the show - Mary Ryan would also have a child. Kate was handed a stunt baby by the studio nurse and had been given a monologue to read; a monologue about love, courage, loyalty, and ending with the words: "I will never leave you, Ryan. We will never be separated. That is my solemn promise”. This must have been incredibly tough to perform when she was mourning her own loss of a child. She did it in one take, if that’s not strength I don’t know what is. Twenty years on, when she was reunited with her daughter, now known as Danielle Gaudette, it was insightful to read; it was like this was where her path was meant to lead her, in due time, back to her daughter. Learning that Danielle is now an integral part of her life really puts things into perspective - their paths were too connected to not cross.

Overall, I was left feeling inspired, and taught a very notable lesson of courage and bravery, and what we possess to really overcome those heartbreaking life moments - we need them to lift us up and shape us into who we are meant to be. The ending of the memoir was slightly abrupt, but both dignified and justified. That being said, I felt like I could have read on about her life for a long time after the book had finished. It ended on the happy note of her about to marry her soon to be second husband, democratic politician Tim Hagan. I wanted to know more, I wanted to know how that part of her story ended, and of course, how OITNB presented itself. I understand why she ended it there, but with this open ending, I hope for a second edition; her talents as an actor definitely cross over into her writing in a way that you can’t help to want to read more.

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