The doorways are wide enough to fit the bulkiest of buggies, highchairs stacked in a corner, and our conversation is interrupted by high-pitched shrieks or crying jags. Levy says that mothers on maternity leave tend to meet there because it has a screaming baby. The place is a regular haunt for her and her children. The staff are kind to the children.
The book is a sincere attempt to break the discourse about motherhood out of this silo and bring it to a broader audience. It is an unvarnished look at the grimy, lonely, frightening, alienating side of pregnancy and motherhood, as well as the erosion of Levy's sense of self and self- worth in the early months and years. Twenty years after my oldest child was born, it stirred up feelings that I had buried.
Levy’s first birth was ‘Completely standard, nothing interesting happened.’ That’s sort of the point
That sounds sad, but it isn't. Levy is an author. She did comedy as an actor in her 20s and she is a witty presence on social media. Bumbo, Dookie, Shnuggle are just a few of the baby names that are mentioned in the book. There is a revoltingly accurate description of the various kinds of filthy motherhood. She is good on the idea that mothers can feel a lot of joy around their babies.
Levy met her husband in her 30s and at that time she was writing children's books. They got married and tried to have a baby when Levy was older. She thought she had figured out how she felt about having a family when she tried to have one. She was catapulted into a traumatic five day labour with lasting physical and emotional consequences. She found maternity leave lonely and strange without her family by her side.
She felt a sense of failure as a baby and as a mother. Levy is a Cambridge graduate, lifelong hard worker and high achiever. If you get to be proud of your textbook labour, there must be something wrong with you. She had always been good at things, but if she wasn't, she would put her shoulder to it and get better at it. You can't do that with babies.
At what point is the pain not worth it? If I die? I don’t know that I’m OK with that
Levy had a rough time, but she is conscious of that. She said she would not have registered in his day if she had read This Is Going to Hurt. Nothing interesting occurred. The idea is to challenge the way we minimize and deny how hard mothering is.
Levy's attempts to express what she was feeling were repeatedly shut down. She says that people got up and walked away when she told them how hard the birth was. The people put their hand up and stopped me talking. It was very interesting. I didn't have the words to tell them what was happening. She didn't find it easy to express her struggles. One of the mothers in her NCT group had a stillbirth. "'I conceived my baby in two weeks and now I feel like my life has fallen apart,' that's not an easy conversation to have with people you don't know well, neither of you has slept and you're both holding a baby that might go off at any She messed up her courage when she said how hard it was to stay at home with the baby in the book. I really like it. That was the end result.
A chapter called Some Discomfort skewers the weirdly euphemistic way female pain is treated, and is one of the main themes of the book. Levy was told by a doctor that she didn't need to worry about having sex 18 months after her baby was born. She angrily said that you don't have "dental discomfort". She says that getting a baby at the end of labour is a justification of really shitty care of women. You can jump through endless hoops of suffering if you say something is worth it. Is it worth it? Is that the case if I die? I am not sure if I am ok with that.
The idea that women's pain doesn't matter, but the unfairness of mothering, the structural absurdity of how we are expected to confuse on uncomplainingly, came as a shock to Levy. She thought it wouldn't be a problem because she's a feminist. My narrative as a person had been completely replaced by my narrative as a mother and subsumed by the narrative of my child. I felt like I was a poor mother if I wasn't okay with that. She says that if you are going to do it correctly, it has to be front and center. She felt like she was failing because of the two things: the cost of child care and the fact that she had been in debt for years. I sit down and try to get back to zero.
She said less and less as the years went on and life became harder and harder. She has spoken and the distinction is important. Levy had his second child when his first child was 39 years old, and he spent time in the NICU after his C-section. It was hard to get people to understand her feelings. I thought I could write something when people kept asking how I was. She posted it on the internet. She made a big gesture. It went up in flames. She kept writing about her life as a mother and her inability to work as her husband worked from another room and she cared for the children. The essays were written in 40 half-desperate minutes.
I’m desperate for men to read the book; I’m desperate for people without kids to read it
Levy likes to buy strange second-hand clothes from teenagers on Depop and is interested in the absurd. She says her life is happy. It is difficult, even as it is. There is anger running through her writings. Is she still alive? "I'm angry." The expression of love and wonder is diminished by everyone. She wants to see the full spectrum of emotions that come with being a mother. You can feel anger and hurt and self-loathing and wonder all at the same time.
Levy finds the book unnerving because it puts the two on a collision course. The spectre of Rachel Cusk, who wrote A Life's Work, a memoir of maternal ambivalence, looms large.
It is worth it to shine light on the ordinary, extraordinary difficulty of mothering here and now for non- mothers. She wants men to read it and people without kids to read it. This is a discussion that goes beyond the buggies.
On July 21st, Don't Forget To Scream was published. You can buy it at guardian bookshop.com.