“Making babies is magical, mysterious, terrifying, gratifying, and all-encompassing.”
–Annie Schwartz-Jensen in Maternity Leave
I was in the mood for a good novel and as the mother of a six month old, Maternity Leave, by Julie Halpren showed up in my mailbox at exactly the right time! This novel made me laugh out loud many times (covering my face with a blanket to avoid waking my own slumbering baby and husband). It is irreverent, clever, snarky, relatable, fast-paced, and extremely funny. Note: if you object to liberal profanity or require rosy depictions of motherhood only, Maternity Leave will not be the book for you!
“Sometimes I swear I can hear the grinding breaths of the pump even when I’m not pumping. I better get used to it. Me and Old Pumper are going to be spending a lot of time together in the coming months in a storage closet. I wish that were as sexy as it sounds.”
Maternity Leave is written in journal-style and follows new mother Annie through the six months of her maternity leave, from her CNM-attended natural birth (complete with wishing she was “shouting womanly affirmations” rather than “random strings of profanities”) to her search for good child care. In more understated tones, the novel also chronicles the growth of her attachment to her baby, Sam, from her initial fumbling, self-consciousness, anxiety, boredom, and fear that he doesn’t like her to a more easy comfort, smelling his fuzzy head as they walk the neighborhood together with him riding in a Moby Wrap.
“I think I must inhale Sam’s head at least sixty times per day. Why does it smell so good? Is it an evolutionary tactic so that a mom, no matter how harried and confused and depressed she is, finds some inking of comfort from snorting her baby’s skull?
Is it possible to form an addiction? Do they have support groups for baby head huffing?”
While I didn’t identify with her occasional bursts of anger at the baby, particularly because I’m presently desperately savoring the all-too-fleeting-babyhood of my fourth baby, her story brought back with vivid clarity the difficult adjustment I had as a first-time mother with a high-need baby boy. The mind games she plays with herself, the self-doubt, the self-criticism, and the misplaced maternal guilt felt extremely familiar. I would have taken a lot of comfort in reading this novel 11 years ago! I also got a kick out of her wryly realistic Facebook experiences, something that was not part of the maternal landscape when I was a first time mother, but is very familiar today.
We’re prepping the obligatory Facebook birth announcement, and I’d like a picture that doesn’t say, ‘I just shat on a table, and all I got was this slime-covered baby.’
I veto several shots before Zach suggests, ‘This one is nice.’
‘I have a gimpy eye and twelve chins,’ I note.
‘But Sam looks cute.’
‘This is not about Sam, Zach. Sam is going to look cute no matter what because he is a baby. And even if he doesn’t look cute, people will ‘like’ the picture anyway while reassuring themselves that their babies were way cuter. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that dozens of ex-classmates and three or more ex-boyfriends will be seeing this, and I don’t want to look like a hideous, gelatinous troll.’
Maternity Leave can be pre-ordered on Amazon for its September release.
Also see my past post: Non-Advice Books for Mothers for other non-prescriptive reads for new moms.
Disclosure: I received a complementary copy of this book for review purposes.