Friday, 12 August 2016

The Things You Do For Love by Rachel Crowther - Blog Tour Guest Post

Today I am very excited to bring a guest post from Rachel Crowther, author of The Things You Do For Love as part of the blog tour. So without further ado I'll hand over to Rachel!

What Would I Tell My Daughter About Life And Motherhood?

I went back to work when my first daughter was 11 weeks old, as a junior paediatrician
working an 82-hour week. Overnight I was transported from the sleepy, milky world of new
motherhood to the glare and noise of the hospital, rushing to deliveries in the maternity
unit where I’d given birth less than three months before and trying to save the lives of other
women’s babies who’d been born ‘flat’ (deadpan medical slang for purple and floppy and
not breathing). I spent long days and nights trying to get drips into premature babies on
SCBU, dealing with five-year- olds with leukaemia and their traumatised families and
toddlers with severe asthma in A&E.

I felt horribly inadequate, both as a doctor without enough experience to manage the
medical challenges, and as a mother who felt acutely the suffering of every child and its
parents – AND, of course, as a mother whose own tiny baby was at home with a
childminder. The sick children I encountered at work, whose parents longed for them to be
well and out of hospital, made me feel that the ideal of the family safely and happily at
home was what mattered most in the world – and although I was helping to promote it for
other people, I was doing it at the expense of that experience for myself and my daughter.

After six months, I moved, with relief, into a part-time role in community paediatrics. But
when I found myself spending whole days at home alone with my nine-month- old daughter,
I was at sea all over again. I had no idea what you did all day with a baby, and the pleasures
I’d longed for during those tough months in the paediatric wards seemed like a myth. I felt
I’d failed as a doctor and a mother: I was disappointed in myself, and furious with the world
for tripping me up twice over.

Things got better, of course. I made new friends; I enjoyed my new job; I fell in love with my
daughter again. She was the most amiable and easygoing of children, and on my bleaker
mornings I remembered to give thanks for the fact that neither of us was in hospital. But
even so, I couldn’t help feeling that my relationship with her had been tainted.

So when I got pregnant again, I hoped, guiltily, that I could get it right this time. And in some
ways things WERE easier, even though I vomited every single day of that pregnancy and
struggled to keep up my sessions at work. She was a delightful baby too, and life settled
down into a new, almost serene equilibrium after she was born.

But did the contrast between their early months make a jot of difference to my relationship
with either of my daughters in the long run? Of course it didn’t. Even my memories of them
as babies aren’t very different, and there are just as many photographs of each, just as
many details of their first smiles and words and steps in my diaries. After three more babies, the only insight I can offer is that children – especially babies – regard the circumstances of
their lives as normal, whatever they are.

But as my daughters have grown up, I have often wondered whether, or how, my
experience of life – especially of work and motherhood – might be helpful to them. They are
very different people to me, and they live in a different age. Given how fast the world
changes – socially, politically, financially, culturally – and how different the parameters of
our daughters’ lives are from ours, just how relevant is our experience to them? What can
any of us say to our daughters to help them negotiate the big wide world?

Well, mothers can certainly give their daughters something to judge themselves against,
identifying what they admire and aspire to, and what they would want to do differently.
Every mother’s life is, perhaps, the ‘beta model’ for her daughters: a rough draft they can
improve on.

And talking of rough drafts, stories are – as in so many areas of life – perhaps the best way
to inform and guide and illuminate. Every child loves stories about ‘before I was born’ or
‘when I was a baby’, and most families have a repertoire of good stories and bad stories,
cautionary tales and epic family sagas, ancestral myths that have lost sight of the strict truth
behind them. Narrating our lives is something we humans do naturally – and long before
books were invented, parents invented stories for their children, too. Stories that warned
about the dangers of their world, perhaps, or emphasised the moral values of their society.

Some families pass things on in written form – a family Bible, or a recipe book. Women are
often the keepers of these traditions, and there may be more to them than the words on
the page suggest. In her wonderful article ‘La soupe aux poireaux’, Marguerite Duras writes
about recipes for leek soup being handed down through generations of French women. At
first sight this might look like a way for mothers to pass on a particular way of doing things,
and to reinforce the place of women as domestic and subservient – as makers of soup. But,
Duras says, the secret message of this tradition is about the transformative power of the
female line. The collective history and knowledge shared by women in a family can provide
a space for reflection and re-evaluation: it can be a springboard to help us reclaim
womanhood and motherhood as powerful, creative, life-affirming forces.

So yes, we should share our experiences of life with our daughters. We should tell them the
stories of our failures and triumphs, let them into our secrets, and pass on our recipes for
gravy or chocolate cake or leek soup. We should tell them about their babyhood, too, give
them the start of their own story and encourage them to find their own way to live out the
rest of it, in the hope that they will transform not just their own lives, but ours too.

Photo credit to Roger Smeeton

About Rachel Crowther

Rachel Crowther is a doctor who worked for the NHS for 20 years and the mother of five children. She dabbled in creative writing between babies and medical exams, until an Arvon course prompted her to take it more seriously. She’s also a keen musician and cook. The Things You Do For Love is her second novel.

The Things You Do For Love synopsis

An elite surgeon with a brilliant but philandering husband, Flora Macintyre has always defined herself by her success in juggling her career and her marriage. Until, all at once, she finds herself with neither.

Retired and widowed in the space of a few months, Flora is left untethered. In a moment of madness, she realises there's nothing to stop her running away to France.

But back home her two daughters - the family she's always loved, but never had the time to nurture - are struggling. Lou is balancing pregnancy with a crumbling relationship, while her younger sister, Kitty, begins to realise she may have to choose between love and her growing passion for music.

And even as the family try to pull together, one dark secret could still tear them all apart...

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