Book Review: My Shitty Twenties

My Shitty Twenties, by Emily Morris, is a memoir focusing on the author’s pregnancy and early years of motherhood. At twenty-two years of age, having just completed her second year of a three year degree course at Manchester University, the author was horrified to discover that she was pregnant. Nevertheless she decided to keep the baby. The father had no interest in either her or his child.

The book recounts how this party loving, messy living student had to defer the university life she loved and work full time whilst continuing to live in shared digs with students. Her mother offered her a room in her childhood home but Emily was reluctant to leave Manchester. Friends and family were supportive but she felt guilty at the prospect of single motherhood instead of a degree.

The account is searingly honest. There is none of the rose tinted, sugar coated wonder prevalent in typical tales of growing a child. This is the reality of a cessation of activities most regard as fun. Emily gave up cigarettes and alcohol. She discovered the long list of banned foods for mothers-to-be, and strangers all too eager to share with her their toxic views on a young, single woman bringing a child into the world alone. Whilst her friends continued to party, Emily grew fat and joined the on line forums frequented by opinionated women, where she learned the passive aggressive language of well-meaning advice.

When the baby was due Emily realised that she would have to move in with her mother. After the euphoria of escape to university this was difficult for all concerned. She would not bow to the popular notion that women should give birth as naturally as possible. She stayed in hospital for as long as they would keep her, eager for the medical professionals’ support.

Once home with her baby Emily endured the loneliness of early motherhood, the difficulties in simply leaving the house with a young child. Health Visitors pressured her into joining mother and baby groups; her experiences of these are painfully recounted. She now had little in common with many of her old friends.

Reluctant to conform to the widely derided stereotype of single mother on benefits, Emily was determined to find a job and fund her own place to live. She learned that employers regard mothers of young children as unreliable, especially when they have no partner to share the burden of the inevitable childhood sicknesses.

When her baby became a toddler Emily decided to use a small inheritance to prove to herself she could still enjoy life despite having a child. She started to find ways to take pride in what she could achieve.

This is not a book about a baby but rather a young woman becoming a mother, who would have preferred not to be single but just about coped anyway. The open and honest style of writing is refreshing and a welcome addition to the often infuriatingly upbeat accounts of parenting, a task that may be rewarding but is rarely easy. Emily’s treatment by the smug mums, signaling their virtues in the guise of advice or minor complaints, reminded me of my own experiences. Guilt and pressure to conform are ever present demons.

Around half of the book recounts the author’s pregnancy with the remainder focusing on the eighteen months after. Although I just occasionally lost engagement, and felt minor irritation when a recollection did not follow the mainly linear construction, this remained an empathetic read that many will relate to.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.


Summer hiatus

I will go back to my book blogging soon, but so much is happening just now, life, and I am not reading as much as I would like. I have a fabulous pile of books that I am excited about getting through. Time though, I need more time. And space. I am sorely lacking in a space to call my own.

Husband has been out of work for a little over a month. With no signs of paid employment on the horizon he is doing his best to enjoy the sunny weather, and I am doing my best not to worry. He wants to be more active than the rest of us desire so I am peace keeper, trying to balance everyone’s requests. Compromise rarely leaves anyone feeling truly satisfied.

The three teenagers are doing their thing: sleeping late, staying up into the wee small hours, emptying the fridge of food and appearing with random demands at moments of their choosing. They are fine and good, although as scathing of my efforts as ever. I feel so busy. What they see is me working away with no worthwhile goal that they can discern.

My fiction writing has had to be shelved for now, I miss the places it took me. It requires periods of peace and quiet that are not currently available in my full house. It requires a state of mind that I have not got the space to acquire. With my family around all the time I am regularly reminded just how little they regard what I do. They see my purpose as to cook and clean, to service their needs. Mostly I choose to comply.

Yet I do so much more and this matters to me. I have completed the history course that I was studying on line with the University of Leicester. I have set up the book sharing initiative which will enable me to regularly distribute books amongst the travelling public in my area over the coming weeks and months (see @BooksAsYouGo on Twitter). I have read and reviewed some fabulous books, receiving welcome feedback from authors and publishers that my efforts are appreciated.

It feels good to be appreciated.

Husband wants me to go on more walks, to enjoy days out to places of interest, to join him at the gym or the swimming pool. Sometimes it feels as though he wants me to be more like him. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these activities, but perhaps not as often as he would like.

We have had our away days. They have been enjoyable even when I have had to work my socks off to keep everyone cheerful, not always entirely successfully. Sometimes I try so hard and realise afterwards that nobody required it of me, that it was unnecessary.

I feel an undercurrent of disappointment, that I am not behaving in quite the way that is desired.

The weather has been unusually warm and sunny. My hens are laying well. Thanks to Husband’s efforts our garden is being brought under control. My children are pursuing the interests of their choosing. My little family is fine.

Do all mothers feel pressurised, responsible for the peace and happiness of the entire household? What is it with the guilt that I feel when I am yet again discovered to have spent another couple of hours on my computer?

It sometimes seems that those who matter the most to me see my role purely in terms of what I do for them.

In a little over three weeks my children will return to school. I want to make the most of our freedom, to spend time together, to please them and Husband. Yet still, yet still I have so much that I want to do, things that matter to me and which make me feel that I am more than a shadow.

I have been blessed with a wonderful life, but no life can be entirely perfect all of the time. It is a question of balance. Perhaps that is what I am struggling to find.