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A LIFE’S WORK by Rachel Cusk


On Becoming a Mother

by Rachel Cusk

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26987-0
Publisher: Picador

A powerful, often funny account of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering that doesn’t gloss over the pain, mystery, and confusion—but does celebrates the wonder.

Britisher Cusk (The Country Life, 1999) brings her novelist’s sensibility to the story of her daughter’s gestation and infancy, and of her own evolution “from a woman to a mother.” All the usual suspects of new motherhood are here—colic, sleep deprivation, patronizing advice books, isolation, breast-feeding, babysitters from hell. As Cusk explores them all with disarming tales of useless advice and failed strategies, she also explores the painful transformation occurring in her, from a vital, engaged, well-regarded literary figure to a brooding and bewildered babyminder. Although the British support system for pregnant women and new mothers is renowned, she encounters what will be a nine-month siege of bureaucratic advice and detailed instructions on everything from making salads to making love (illustrated). Terrified of childbirth—and of becoming a mother—she seeks solace in like minds and sometimes in literature, including the works of Edith Wharton, Coleridge, and Charlotte Brontë. In a chapter titled “Don’t Forget to Scream,” she describes moving to a small university town where her infant launches into an adventurous toddlerhood and she into a life surrounded by other mothers enlisted into “self-abnegation.” Invoking Proust on the glories of sleep, she nevertheless wonders if the finally successful battle to teach her baby to sleep alone at night was really the right choice: For this is as much the eloquent story of her daughter’s struggle to find a niche in the universe and of a hard-won but wonderful relationship between mother and daughter as it is of grievances.

“The experience of motherhood loses nearly everything in its translation to the outside world,” writes Cusk, but that’s really not true in this account. Mothers and prospective mothers will find the experience as told here daunting—as well as intact, true, and whole.