The parent trap?
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Date: November 2002

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Photo: Fourth Estate.

'This is a painfully honest exploration of her extreme feelings, positive and negative, on encountering the shock of motherhood.'

A life's work: On becoming a mother
by Rachel Cusk
Fourth Estate £6.99
Review Veronica Zundel

'The let-down reflex: that sinking feeling you experience when, having breastfed your baby for an hour, he still downs a full bottle.' That isn't from Rachel Cusk's book; it's from the Alternative Dictionary of Childbirth which I was going to write after experiencing my initiation into motherhood. Little did I know how hard it is to mix books and babies.

Novelist Cusk has miraculously managed it, even after carelessly becoming pregnant again when her daughter was six months old (how can you be organised enough to write a book in your baby's infancy and still be disorganised enough to... oh, never mind).

If you are looking for 'the lighter side of parenthood', as per my unwritten dictionary, this is not the place to find it.
Cusk's book is a writer's painfully honest exploration of her extreme feelings, positive and negative, on encountering the shock of motherhood. Amongst her own experiences she slips extracts from classic novels which illuminate the dilemma further.

Some may say, 'What's all the fuss? She only had a baby!' However if like me you were or are an 'elderly primigravida', in the midst of a career, with little experience of children to prepare you, you will recognize an agony and an ecstasy on every page. Her experiences of the loss of identity, the fog of exhaustion, the seemingly endless demands, and yet the almost terrifying love and attachment, bring it all back to me with great vividness. I almost got contractions reading it.

Not that there is a lack of the belly laughs a new mother needs now and then to keep her going. She is hilarious on the 'safety and hygiene culture' and the guilt it induces in less than perfect mothers (ie all of us), the fearsomeness of health visitors (' "You risk damaging her brain. Do you want to have a brain-damaged baby?" I feel it unnecessary to answer this question'), and the baby books the making of which there is no end.

This is not an easy read, but for the professional woman and amateur mother it is a richly rewarding one. I laughed, I cried, I had to do pelvic floor exercises. It might just be educational for fathers too.

For practical parenting support try:

Practical Parent
Family 2000
BBC parenting site

For a Christian-based UK site, try the ubiquitous
Steve Chalke's 'baby'

Or if you need a laugh, go to US-based
ABC parenting. This will give you a link to 'A Christian approach to bedwetting' (saves baptism?). This does also have many less pious links.