Well… this is quite a difficult review to write because this read made for quite uncomfortable reading even though it is now over a quarter of a century since I had my first child but here goes!
Rachel is looking forward to giving birth to her first child. She’s probably not quite ok with being a single mother but she’s prepared, or so she thinks. She’s bonded with her bump and looking forward to welcoming her child into the world complete with a doting grandfather and his second wife. Ok, being the product of a one night stand isn’t ideal but having weighed up the odds, she’s decided not to inform the father who has a chance of a new life away from Liverpool.
In these early chapters we learn more about the baby’s father who she first met as a teenager. Reuben was black and Rachel believes that this was why her father didn’t like him, you see this is a book that is as much about Rachel’s life before a baby, as after and as the book roll on, this is something I appreciated more and more. This background gives the reader real context to her struggle with life after Joe is born.
Before Joe is born, Rachel works as a support worker for truanting children supporting them helpfully back to school or if not into alternative training so she’s no pushover, but has a life dealing with truculent teenagers prepared her for life with a helpless baby? This beginning showing a woman passionate about her work coupled with a splash of jealousy about the woman who is standing in for her during her maternity leave, gives us a great insight into Rachel’s character and what she feels is important in life. Rarely do we hear about the doubts a woman has stepping away from the workplace in such an honest way and better still the points made are done with subtlety.
Labour begins, in fits and starts and Rachel contacts the hospital, she’s turned away, she’s not far enough gone to be admitted. So we got to this bit and my long-buried memories surfaced…
I take out my mobile, ring the hospital. The voice that greets me tries to be reassuring but never gets beyond dismissive:
How far apart? You’ve had how many?
Suffice to say labour isn’t as Rachel imagined and then baby doesn’t sleep. The language fits perfectly with the frustration she feels with the gap between what she imagined life would be like, and the reality.
Evening. The lights turned down low, the ward calm and ordered, all the babies washed and fed and winded, all of them ready for sleep; all except Joe. Joe fights it, struggles, bleats. Unable, unwilling to settle, champing on my chafed and throbbing chest, he writhes and burns and gets angrier and angrier. I am so tired now – desperately achingly tired.
This is an incredibly brave book to write, far from the sentimental picture usually portrayed of early motherhood. Life with a child that doesn’t sleep can be like hell on earth. I remember one awful night when I threatened to throw my daughter out of the window, words said in pure frustration and I hasten to add, not acted upon, but it is tough to be in charge of an infant in the dead of night who won’t be consoled. The author accurately portrays this and although I was horrified at some of Rachel’s actions as she was clearly suffering with postnatal depression as well as exhaustion, my judgement was tempered.
I’m glad I read this book long after the event, and perhaps this book should be given out to young women who believe that a baby will fit into their lives like a beautiful accessory but then, nothing can quite prepare you, so perhaps those of us can read with a wry smile, is the best audience after all.
Go to Sleep was my fifteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017, this one having been bought in April 2015 so fits the bill!