Martha Wainwright: ‘I’m glad the doctor opened his mouth’

Martha Wainwright: ‘I’m glad the doctor opened his mouth’

Martha Wainwright
Photo Credit: Carl Lessard
Words by Martha Wainwright

The following is an extract - the opening two pages, no less - from legendary folk artist Martha Wainwright's new autobiography, 'Stories I Might Regret Telling You'.

I was born Martha Gabrielle Wainwright in New York State in 1976. My mother, Kate McGarrigle, and my father, Loudon Wainwright III, loved me—or at least they grew to love me. Loudon told me when I was a teenager that he didn’t want me at first and pressured my mother to have an abortion. My mom freaked out just as the procedure was about to start, though, and the doctor spoke up. He was concerned for her and he pointed out that Loudon and Kate were married, had some degree of financial stability, and had one child already, my brother, Rufus. Maybe not the best reasons to bring a child into the world, but I’m glad the doctor opened his mouth.

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I was surprised when Loudon told me this story, and it also hurt my feelings. I had always felt a little out of place in the world, and knowing that I’d only just barely made the cut didn’t help matters any. Perhaps he should never have told me. I don’t think my mom would have. When I asked her about it, she said that he had given her an ultimatum. Something like “the baby and me or else the baby and the career but not all three.” I never understood why exactly, but perhaps Dad felt threatened by her remarkable talent and didn’t like the attention she was getting from record labels at the time. My mother was beguiling and a force of nature and maybe it was all too much for him. I suppose I could ask him about it again, but I don’t want to. Kate is not around to hear his answer, and anything he says may be the truth as he sees it but will not be the whole story.

My parents separated anyway, only months after my birth, and my mother carried me and my brother back to her native Montreal. Decades later, I had to navigate a bad divorce myself, and found that being able to explain or express in an exact way how things go wrong is impossible. Their marriage, like mine, was rocky, and now I understand, better than when I was a teenager, why I almost wasn’t born.

Montreal is where I grew up, but my brother and I would visit our father and his side of the family in New York three or four times a year and over the summer holidays. We would travel on Eastern Air Lines with our names hung around our necks, chaperoned by what was still referred to as a stewardess. Other times, Kate drove us down, along the Taconic State Parkway.

We spent some of those summer visits on Shelter Island at the eastern tip of Long Island. I always felt like an island myself, and Rufus and I spoke French to each other sometimes so as not to be understood by our father. I have spent my life traveling between these two cities, New York and Montreal, and have never felt fully at home in either, which has suited me fine because I was taught to be an outsider. An outsider with a ferociously close family.

Stories I Might Regret Telling You has debuted on the Canadian bestseller’s list and is available through Simon & Schuster. Find out more information and purchase Martha Wainwright’s autobiography here.