When you’re not a mother it’s hard to imagine what motherhood is like. Anyone you know who becomes one assures you that you have no idea what it’s like, and replaces you with some other woman who does, and you never see her again. The End. So then you have to tax your mother on the subject. ‘What’s it like — giving birth?’ And she says: ‘It’s fine. You just breathe,’ before snorting derisively, ‘but she had gas and air’ when an aunt later claims to have done it without any pain relief.
In the absence of any actual information from any source whatsoever you start to blame the omertà on the idea that childbirth is exactly like that scene in Alien in which a bloody, flesh-coloured thing bursts out of John Hurt, and all the rest is screaming. Which is why this memoir is so overdue, because the only thing it doesn’t cover in baby-making is how you persuade anyone to impregnate you in the first place. (‘What is wrong with me/n?’ I want to yell at Clover Stroud, but alas she cannot hear me.)
‘Having a baby is like joining a cult,’ this mother of five admits, adding that for every woman (like me) desperate to get in, there’s another alternative me (whose vagina’s been ripped apart) frantic to get out:
At the school gate, I smile and try to look happy. When another mum asks me how I am, I lie. I don’t say that I frequently feel crushed, bored, angry and completely f—ed off.
The story begins when Clover is pregnant with a heartbeat that will become her fifth child, Lester. (‘“Why on earth would you do that to yourself?”, a woman at a party asks me when I tell her how many children I have.’)