Sunday 22 June 2014

Book Review - And then I peed my pants ... my misadventures in new motherhood, Megan Phillipson

My two offspring are now young adults but over many years I’ve been interested in all things maternal and have made an occupation of reading related texts. My interest spans both the academic and the popular and though I’ve made a concerted effort I can’t keep pace with the output.

Women across the western world are having their first child later in life. They often have both academic and workplace achievements. They’ve travelled, they’ve shared houses, they’ve often lived with their partner for some years beforehand and know each other well.  The vast majority of couples today aspire to a form of gender equal or egalitarian family and yet after the birth there are trends towards gendered roles. The evidence shows that the birth of an infant is a critical life stage and there is often a gap between expectations and experience.

Though there is little reference to these wider trends, assertions such as these underlie Philippson’s book. She writes in the first person and thus leads her reader through her innermost thoughts and reactions up to her child’s first birthday. We quickly learn that the birth was traumatic and even after an event filled year Megan cast back a dissonant eye. I was a mature aged mum. I had my first child in my early 40s and second a couple of years later. And though my partner and I were amazed by the unrelenting requirements for the care of an infant and then a toddler, I can see we had it relatively easy.

I understand that the experience of birth and beyond are as individual as there are people but Megan and her husband faced challenges. There were continuing problems with breastfeeding. I don’t think this is uncommon. A good friend of mine had to give up trying very early on but Megan was heroically persistent. Likewise, I’ve heard of these ‘night games’ with lengthy and unrelenting crying but thankfully this wasn’t the case for us. Statistics on these kinds of issues would make for interesting reading, though it is well known that maternal fatigue is universal and difficult. Across the research there is recognition of the need to improve support services for young families while the trend seems to be in the other direction, dependent on location.

I’m glad I’ve read Megan’s book. This is a year-in-the-life of a new young family. The book isn’t simply easy to read, it leads you through, wanting to know and experience what comes next. I imagine that Megan may be met with hugs and kisses from her readership. I know I want to thank her for her honesty, but I also want to congratulate her for her cleverness. It’s no mean feat to get through a tough first year with a baby but it’s great to have done so while eloquently sharing your story. Megan’s book will now be shelved among favourites such as The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre and Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich but these are another story.