Welcome to your new life – another Goodreads review

Welcome to Your New LifeWelcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only thing more difficult than writing about childbirth is taking part in it — I presume. In Welcome to your new life, classical pianist and writer Anna Goldsworthy navigates the turbulent waters of pregnancy, birth and the first years of child-rearing with a successful blend of humour and insight.

We are reminded time and again how visceral the process of pregnancy and birth is. The very first image is of a long-term vegetarian urgently craving the juices and fats of a cevapi sausage. Enduring the agony of childbirth, the end of the process is “a sweet, slithering riddance”. After birth, like all babies he is an amalgam of poo, mucous and vomit. Expressing milk for the first time, she burps him and “you express the elixir of life down my back”.

Everyone has opinions (some strongly held) about pregnancy and child-rearing that would be difficult to express without hectoring the reader. Goldsworthy, an admitted perfectionist, avoids regaling us with certainties, but we meet many who do not. Each of these encounters features a disjunction that Goldsworthy uses cleverly for comic effect.

At a pre-natal birthing video session, the scene is set with a gentle, herbal tea sipping about-to-be mother and her midwife. Soon thereafter, the gentle herbal tea sipper is transformed into a bellowing Ms Hyde as she begins to push. As this goes on, the “breezy midwife” comments that pushing is, “{s]ometimes accompanied by a burning sensation”.

Along the way Anna encounters demands for birth plans, censure for ‘not breast-feeding properly’, arrogant doctors and the myriad expectations that are routinely heaped upon new and expectant mothers, often in trying circumstances. It’s the very ordinariness of Anna’s experiences and her laconic description that provides the humour. During labour, Anna is presented with a hospital menu, and she explains that she is without a pen. The nurse responds;

She purses her lips. “You’d be amazed at how many women present at labour without a pen. You’ll just have to source one from somewhere.”

Alongside gentle humour, Goldsworthy plumbs fascinating depths. Her description of mother and baby as “lovers in reverse” is clever and poignant. The awareness that this new life is mortal weaves through the book like a subtle stage backdrop. While her baby is being born, her brother lies on a surgical table in London, the surgeons unable to control his bleeding. At the end of the book, Anna is again pregnant, and her beloved grandmother lies dying in a hospice.

As the reader progresses, we glimpse intimate details, but are also somewhat remote from the process. We are introduced to parents, siblings, and a supporting cast of friends, acquaintances and professionals, but we never learn the baby’s name (until the afterword). This, and the second-person perspective, helps us feel that the main protagonists draw ever-closely in upon each other as the narrative progresses.

To make a topic come alive for someone with little background in it is a great achievement. My greatest disappointment with this book was that it had a final page.

View all my reviews


One thought on “Welcome to your new life – another Goodreads review

  1. Pingback: 2014 Australian Women’s Writers Challenge | Blogfest at Tiffany's

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