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Summary

When first published in 2001, it divided female critics and readers. One famous columnist wrote a piece demanding that Cusk's children were taken into care, that was she was unfit to look after them. Oprah Winfrey invited her on the show to defend herself and the book as protests grew about its honest, gritty account of the misery of those early months. It is a seminal, stand-out book on the complications of being an ambivalent mum in an age of white-washed, Annabel Karmel'd new families.

©2020 Rachel Cusk (P)2020 Faber Audio

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Brilliant writing but watch out for tough content

This is a brilliantly written, raw and honest account of pregnancy and motherhood. However, I think it’s important to warn that some of the content might be difficult to listen to if you are in early parenthood or experiencing depression/anxiety. Listen when feeling robust.
Something grated on me, which was the discussion of co-sleeping in ‘primitive’ societies. I think a lot of the Asian countries where it’s very common would be pretty offended by that description! Also, discussion of Ferber method without full context. But I appreciate the author’s aim isn’t to provide any kind of manual. The issue is that the author’s style is quite authoritative and so any missings seem problematic.

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It is a scandal

that this book isn't first among descriptions of motherhood. The upheaval it has caused is unwarranted: it describes my motherhood down to a tee. There is nothing shocking in the author's reactions to the economy-driven business of pregancy, institutionalised delivery and nursing, and the racket around childcare up to and including schooling. Cusk may not even know it, but she has dared to describe the possibility of an innovative modern maternity as something that transcends instinct and moves mankind into a new intimacy which woman as mother as made by the newborn soul pioneers. This makes for the kind of motherhood, that eventually might make a difference to mankind.

Cusk separates true love, empathy and devotion to another being from the more primal bonding she found tricky from the start of her pregnancy caused by a dissociation from the (physical, mental, soul) power of womanhood afflicted upon too many of her generation. Of course, she is clueless on how to handle childbirth and child rearing, too intelligent to trust the manuals and alas also too intellectual to feel her innate potential for motherhood.

She doesn't come within a mile let alone an inch of abuse or even neclect. All Cusk reallly means to highlight is that currently we aren't doing a brilliant job with our traditional beliefs and expectations on how to integrate a newcomer, a little person of their own making. Her generation came to experience the brick wall that is one's own (birth) trauma and she is honest enough to accept that we don't know who we are until others make us into something that suddenly fails us anyway.

Cusk never gets metaphysical, or even existential much, but I was prompted to think all along: what if babies are souls come to help us? Aren't babies on a physical level largely neural networks reflecting their physical reality? (And on the whole quite a lot more robust than our neurotic health care system has us believe in the West.) Cusk does, at some stage, find herself indivisible from her daughter on every level; she recognises herself as a baby-mother unit and it is maybe a bit frustrating that she doesn't come to the conclusion (sooner) that babies are highly sensitive to super-sensible connections that run far deeper than biology can explain. They seem to be huge antennae for our unnarrated truer self. A mother will have to learn to tell her story to her baby in ways that soothe them both.

If babies remind you of Munch's Scream especially when wailing uninterrupted for 3.5 hrs (maybe a teeny bit too long, Ms Cusk?) it is maybe because there is only one way to go, just as with all birthing: through it.

Cusk's account is quite safe to read as an expectant mother because it is something you can keep in the back of your head when times get rough and your other baby whisperers don't cut it anymore: this too will pass, as Cusk's grown daughters will testify to. I would recommend though, you supplement this literature with a huge dollop of self-empowering joy and above all the intent to relax into motherhood, when the first year, is more that three quarters, a matter of standing by and sitting it out. Just see what happens next, day by day, trusting in the relationship of mother and child above all as the main incoming on a need-to-know basis.



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