Maternity Leave by Julie Halpern

In brief: This is the story of Annie’s maternity leave with baby Sam – pimples, squeeze bottles and home shopping in one sleep-deprived format.

The good: There were funny, tender, sweet and ewwwww moments!

The not-so-good: Kind of icky at times for the non-mothers.

Why I chose it: Cute cover, thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy.

Year: 2016

Pages: 276

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: Chicago

My rating: 7 out of 10

I finished reading Maternity Leave over a week ago and I’m still not overly sure what to make of it. I’m not certain as to who the audience is either – is it new mums who can relate to the protagonist Annie and her new baby Sam? As a woman without kids, this had me backing friends into a corner and asking, is having a baby really like that and if so, why do you do it?! The book is hilarious in parts and poignant in others, but I found it a little one-track for my tastes. It’s 90% about post baby life and 10% about cats. Even though I am 100% Team Bird, I found myself hanging out for those non-baby moments. This is not to say that Maternity Leave is an awful book. Julie Halpern is a talented writer who excels in finding the humour in humiliating and icky situations. She’s also fantastic at getting into the heads of her characters, warts and all. I think main character Annie and I could be friends if she promises not to talk about babies too much.

So what’s the book about? The name pretty much says it all. We begin at Annie’s labour and follow her through her maternity leave. Annie’s a teacher by trade, but now the focus is all on baby Sam. Like 24/7, 100%. He’s cute, but he can’t do anything. Annie has to do it all. She was thinking that her leave was going to be sweet and all celebrity-like – bouncing back into shape, too cute pics, etc. But it’s not – it’s squeeze bottles, sleep deprivation, crying and screaming (from both mum and baby). This does not sound fun. Annie has quite a time adjusting to her new life as part of a three person family, but towards the end there are signs she’s learning to love it (and that Sam is growing into more than a pooping, crying machine). In between that, there are emails between Annie and friend Louise, who is also a mum but can’t get a moment to herself –ever. Another seems to lead a perfect life, but there might be trouble in paradise (I found this sub plot a bit underused, there were only a few mentions). Annie’s non-baby friend Annika just doesn’t understand that she can’t just rock up to brunch anymore – going anywhere is a Process that must be planned, documented and detailed far in advance. Annie can’t reveal all to her sister, who desperately wants a baby – she would feel like a failure. Amidst this, Annie’s oldest friend, Doogan the cat, is getting old. And husband Zach wants sex!

The story is told in a kind of diary style (not the old school Dear Diary, but a kind of voice message) with emails and Facebook posts attached. It’s light and easy to read. Be aware that Annie does not hold back on discussing anything (including all body parts)! Given a different subject, I think I would have loved this book (which sounds weird, but let me explain). I just couldn’t relate to Annie’s experiences and it’s likely that I was grossed out by parts that mums would know are extreme and probably laughed. The writing and style is great. I was genuinely moved by the storyline about Doogan. Now if the book was about meeting crazy deadlines, working all hours and trying to be a party-slash-baking goddess in the middle, I would be all over that. I’d think that this might be a great book for mums on their second or later maternity leaves, where they would have seen it all before and can hopefully have a chuckle about it.

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