When my dear friend Kat came to visit on the day after my son’s first birthday, she brought with her several books, one of which was Rachel Cusk’s brilliant, startling book A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother.
Kat expressed regret that she had not gotten the book to me sooner, but now having read the book, I have to say I think her timing was perfect. I’m not sure my elated, exhausted heart could have stood the revelations this book provided any sooner than now. In short, it is a deeply moving book which may reveal to you the core of your secret heart during that first year of motherhood.
My husband and I don’t typically fight but this year has brought several merciless arguments, many of them ending (or beginning) with my husband saying, “I know how you feel” (and he has every right to believe this as he has been an excellent provider of care for our son and has suffered exhaustion and has experienced the deep love) and with me saying, “No, you don’t.”
I keep trying to explain how I feel to my husband but cannot find the words and it seems I don’t have to now because Rachel Cusk has found them for me. The fear, the loneliness, the exhaustion. The desire to escape, to find the lost self. And above and beyond all, the exquisite, blinding, all-encompassing love for this being who once shared your body and forever more seeks independence, as you seek reconnection.
Simply put, Cusk is fearless in her examination of motherhood.
Here, at the end of the book when Cusk witnesses a new mother with her own mother in a shop, she encapsulates so beautifully, how I feel, or rather, how I have felt:
“She can’t bear something to go unresolved, unfinished, for she fears that nothing will ever be resolved again. She’s trying to keep up, to stay in time, but she’s swimming against a powerful current. I see her steal looks at her mother, brimming with longing and confusion and hurt. After all these years she has discovered her mother’s secret and it is somehow disappointing, a let-down, for she is in those first days of her parturition both mother and child, and the passionate emotion she feels for her vulnerable self finds no reflection in her own mother’s disapproval, her compassionless urge to dispute. Years of human politics have adhered to her mother’s heart: they hang from it like stalectites, like moss. Her own heart is new, raw, frantically pulsing. Will time turn it, too, unfeeling?
The baby cries and cries; and it is all I can do not to lift it from its stroller and hold its small, frightened body close against my chest, hold it and hold it until it stops, so certain am I that it would, that it would know that I knew, and be consoled.”
Cusk is funny, smart. Her views may shock you if you are not used to honesty. At its core, you will probably see what I saw as I read, that this is a woman who deeply loves her children and who understands how we become a mother to the world when we become a mother.
With that, I say thank you very much for writing this book, Rachel Cusk, and thank you very much for giving it to me, Katrina Denza.