Book review: Mother by Hannah Begbie

From the opening line, Mother warns you this isn’t going to be an easy ride. “We were a normal family for exactly twenty-five days.”

Cath has been through hell to have her daughter Mia. Just when she thinks she has her happy ending, she is crushed when her little one receives a devastating diagnosis. 

As she struggles to come to terms with the debilitating and ultimately fatal condition her baby must now live with, she is driven to desperate actions that threaten her family, and her baby’s life. 

I knew a little about cystic fibrosis before reading the novel, though I confess I didn’t realise quite what an impact it has on the sufferer’s day-to-day life. 

Cath soon learns that her daughter can’t visit certain places and will be on medication for life. They will always live in fear of infections and the horrific knowledge that Mia’s life will be cut short. 

Having dreamed of becoming a mother for so long, the diagnosis is a harsh blow to Cath, who had imagined a perfect life with her happy, healthy family.

Now with a new reality that she must face up to, Cath decides to take action and try to find a way to help Mia.

While attending a help group for parents, she meets a charming and handsome man – Richard, whose daughter Rachel also has CF. 

The couple grow closer, but their relationship threatens not only their respective marriages but also the health of their children. Cross infection between sufferers of CF is a very big concern. 

The book explores this right from the early pages, when it describes how members of the CF support group are encouraged not to shake hands or have physical contact, so as not to take bugs home to their ill loved ones. 

In an interview with City University of London – where author Hannah Begbie studied novel writing – she reveals the idea for the romance part of the book was partly inspired by Romeo and Juliet. 

She explains: “What if you met someone you were attracted to – fell in love with, even – but every time you saw them it put your child at mortal risk of infection?”

Cath knows that every time she sees Richard, she is putting her child in danger. But when she’s with him he helps her forget the pain, makes her more hopeful for Mia’s future. She cannot help herself, and yet she is terrified after having contact with him, imagining the germs she now carries that threaten her daughter. 

Mother lifts the lid on the emotional fallout of a cystic fibrosis diagnosis. The novel is told from Cath’s point of view as she experiences the grief, anger, hopelessness and guilt while coming to terms with Mia’s condition. 

One of my favourite lines in the book is when Cath is heading to the first support group meeting and imagines the questions she needs to ask them: “What is this island we have been exiled to? How long have you been waiting for the boats and how do we bring them here quicker?”

I feel like this summed up the horror and fears of such a monumental diagnosis, you feel trapped and you’re desperately looking for a way out. 

Begbie’s youngest son was diagnosed with CF at just a few weeks old, so much of what she writes about comes from her own experience of coming to terms with having a child with the condition. 

Motherhood is a bleak novel, and I spent most of the time reading it with a growing sense of dread at what was to come. 

I suppose in that way it gave me a teeny tiny hint of a insight into what it must be like to be a parent facing such a diagnosis. You wonder if life will ever be good and normal again. 

But while the story is heartbreaking, it is also ultimately uplifting. Definitely a must-read, but do be prepared to shed more than a few tears. 

 

I was sent this book as part of the Mumsnet Book Club.  All opinions are my own. 

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