‘Why is Evan using his shared parental leave now, didn’t you want to save it?’ In profile, I watch Sophie’s expression. You don’t owe her an answer, I think, feeling my own face flush. Just say any old thing, but Sophie offers the truth. ‘Because now is when we have William, he might never come home.’ I study the other woman for signs of embarrassment and find none. I am perfectly poised behind them – I could so easily bash her on the head with the Penguin Book of Names, 1995 edition, like Whack-A-Mole, and she would never see it coming.
Trigger warning: If you are a pregnant woman with a fear of premature birth, this may not be the book for you (though you should definitely pick up a copy once your child has reached a good gestational age, because it is beautiful rather than terrifying and, yes, it will make you cry but hey, what doesn’t?) Equally, if you have spent time in a neonatal ward, this may rub a bit raw
Opening on a musing about the joys of twin girl pregnancy, author Francesca Segal begins Mother Ship on an optimistic, almost idyllic, note. She describes her experience as a ‘smug’ one… Until everything falls apart. Francesca is awoken – at 29+6 – by a dampness, and every expectant mother’s fear is realised in what she sees: blood.
What follows is a day by day account of what comes next. What comes after you wake to a proverbial bloodbath, what comes after you haemorrhage on the bathroom floor at the hospital, what comes after your babies are removed from your body 10 weeks earlier than they are ready for, and what happens after you are introduced to the neonatal unit, a land of relentless rules, endless hand sanitiser and face-covering goggles that protect your baby’s underdeveloped eyes. A land that also comes to contain persistent kindness, unwavering commitment, and lifelong connections waiting to be formed.
Mother Ship should be a harrowing read. And I’ll admit, though this may be due to the hormones, that I cried more than once when taking in Francesca’s account of her twin girl’s first 56 days of life. But it was completely the opposite. Instead of scary, this story was eye-opening in its account of the reality of premature birth, and of the lengths the NHS will go to to save such tiny humans that can’t – by any stretch of the imagination – save themselves (as the author notes, people in other countries have to remortgage their homes, sell their businesses, worse, to pay the bills associated with this kind of thing – we get it for free, and it’s something that we take far too for granted.) It was also uplifting, with its equal mix of hope and courage, and just a dash of gut wrenching fear, the kind of which most parents will never have to experience. And of the kind that all parents would never have to face, were this an ideal world. As such, Mother Ship is, in the purest sense of the word, incredibly human. And, in its exploration of parenting, caring, marital ties and female friendships, is a tale that knows how to make you feel something. That feeling for me, personally, being gratitude.
A must-read for any expectant/mother with a taste for the stories of our people (other mums), Mother Ship is a stunning portrayal of the realities motherhood can bring, and the depths of our love for our children. I would not hesitate to read it again.
You can pick up a copy, here.
What to drink while reading Mother Ship: Sweet, hot tea
What to eat while reading Mother Ship: Party Rings
What to wear while reading Mother Ship: Something comfortable. You may find yourself sat in the same position for a while. (Why not get into bed, too? Treat yourself!)