Oh Baby! No One Said It Would Be like This; as a New Best-Seller Challenges the Received Wisdom about the Joy of Motherhood, We Asked Three Writers for Their Own Verdicts

Article excerpt

IN A controversial new book, author Susan Maushart dares to suggest what no woman has admitted before - that becoming a mother is not the blissful state modern women are led to believe. The Mask Of Motherhood argues that women today are less prepared for parenthood than their own mothers because they have invariably led financially and socially independent lives.

When they do have a baby, the combination of losing their freedom and the responsibility of looking after someone else comes as a shock.

'Our generation can boast that we know everything about having babies,' Susan writes. 'It's what happens afterwards that we find mysterious, inconceivable, even "unreal".' So is her book a truthful analysis of motherhood today? We asked three women, who have all become mothers in the past three years, to write an honest account of their own experiences as a first-time mum.

FREELANCE writer Frances Hubbard, 35, has two sons, Henry, two-and-a-half, and Toby, 14 months.

She lives with her journalist husband, Nick. She says: LIFE after children? Nostalgia may be bathing the past in candle glow, but I dimly recall a decent salary, regular sex and eating out in places without baked beans on the menu. Frothy little luxuries we once took as our due.

At the risk of sounding negative really, I'm just tired - I know more clearly what it did not involve: physical assault (Toby bites and Henry likes to frisbee saucepan lids into my shins); blackmail (switch on Postman Pat or I'll wail theatrically until the neighbours think I'm being birched); Dettox-scented hours at the doctor's surgery seeking cures for glue ear, sticky eye, eczema and assorted ailments.

I could go on, but I would be wasting my time. The childless, who would benefit from the warning, are already glazed with boredom.

Almost the last subject I wanted to know about before I had children was children. They were surprisingly easy to avoid. The voluntary apartheid that separates mothers from non-mothers kept me miles from duck ponds and Woolworths' video section.

By the time I came home from work, the legion of buggy-pushers who clog the streets during daylight hours had vanished inside to scrape Play-Doh from their sofas.

When I got pregnant I worked through a shelf of Miriam Stoppard, smug in my knowledge of Caesarean versus natural delivery, without having a clue about the reality of parenthood.

High on hormones and images of compliant cherubs playing at my feet, I hardly considered the slog of raising my baby, only the excitement of giving birth. That, it turns out, is the easy bit.

What no book conveys is the profound shock of being suddenly and wholly responsible for another life, a shock that turns new parents into bloodshot amnesiacs unable to recall their own names, but programmed with the exact times of Baby's last 500 feeds.

Children bring joy and promote anxiety. You marvel at their perfection, but worry that they are eating too little and sleeping too much.

Later, your pride in their unique talent for walking/talking/sitting on a pot is undermined by the superior progress of the speccy wunderkind two doors up.

Their vulnerability makes you vulnerable. You love them and want to protect them, but are afraid you won't always be equal to the job.

Not that raising children is recog-nised as proper work. Women, as much as men, downgrade its importance.

I write from home and no longer have a part-time nanny, which means a minuscule ratio of writing to nappy changing. Yet when people ask me what I do, I say 'journalist', because the alternative of 'mother' has a slightly apologetic ring.

That loss of status is a humbling (and probably healthy) blow to the ego.

I want to bring up our sons and I miss them violently when we are apart, but I also miss the independence and recognition of a full-time career. …