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Book Cover

Libby Page

The Lifeline

"The Lifeline" is the new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author and local Frome resident, Libby Page who will be talking to Sherborne Literary Society members on 21st May about her book and what motivated her to write the story. Basically,"The Lifeline" is Page’s own story about her struggles with new motherhood, lack of bonding with her baby and the coping techniques which gave her the courage to understand that motherhood is not easy or straightforward, as baby books and well-meaning friends might portray.

Kate is overwhelmed by the demands of her newborn baby and feelings of being an inadequate mother. The added stress of moving from London and a job which she loved, to a village in Somerset where she has no local friends or network, means that she is left isolated. Her thoughts are filled with the terrifying realisation that she does not feel a connection to her daughter, Rosie, and experiences haunting thoughts which are anything but maternal love. She constantly compares the unrelenting struggles of her new life to feelings of estrangement from her close friendship group, her fulfilling and challenging job and the freedom of movement and spontaneity which she has lost. Kate experiences emotions of inadequacy, particularly when friends and strangers tell her how lucky she is to have Rosie, reminding her that 'she must, she absolutely must savour every single second of it', even though she derives no enjoyment from the lack of sleep and incessant demands of her baby.

Kate meets members of The Tired Mums Club at the local coffee shop but instead of showing solidarity and sharing stories about their own motherhood struggles, every woman introduces herself by her child’s name rather than her own, as if being a mother has reduced them to a nameless zombie, whose only focus in life is the demands of their child. She remembers the feeling of panic leaving the hospital with Rosie, ‘she went in as just Kate and came out as a mother and was left to figure out everything that came next by herself’. Kate finds the atmosphere oppressive and, already at the end of her tether, this group of women only serve to exacerbate her nightmare, 'because they are good mothers, says the voice in her head'. Her husband, mother and sister are very supportive but Kate is nervous to open up to them and reveal her true feelings, 'What kind of mother doesn't love their baby?'. It is only when a stranger sympathises, 'Having a newborn is like having a tiny dictator ruling your life … it's absolutely relentless', that she understands that her experiences are no different from every other mother.

Phoebe has a hugely demanding job which completely consumes her life, leaving her exhausted and wrung out. Her job, as Community Mental Health Nurse Harrison, is both unrelenting and highly pressurised and this affects not only her personal relationships with her boyfriend, her family and her beloved grandmother, whom she can’t find the time to go and visit but also her diet of late-night junk food and increasing dependency on alcohol. When her boyfriend moves out because he never sees her and her grandmother gets taken to hospital, Phoebe is forced to confront the fact that her job is dominating her life and is crushing her. As her father tells her, 'You need places and moments where you can let go and unwind'.

Both women need to find time to look after themselves, to provide a break from their demanding, all-consuming lives, and it is at the local wild swimming group, The Farleigh-on-Avon River Swimming, Bathing and Recreational Water-based Activity Club, that they find transformation and friendship, 'a swim in the river always makes everything better'. Here Kate and Phoebe find the space and freedom to be themselves and find a community who are supportive, open-minded and non-judgemental.

Page’s narrative style is richly colourful and full of natural description, emphasising her love of the country. Themes of mental health, support network groups and social care are addressed but there are humorous interludes throughout. Phoebe, collects her patient, Maude, from the police station, taken into custody for walking nude on the dual carriageway, but mistakenly has brought an outsized T-shirt with the slogan ‘Yes sir, I can boogie’ emblazoned across the front for Maude to wear, and Kate’s baby, Rosie, projectile vomits over her best friend’s wedding dress.

"The Lifeline" explores the belief that women are invincible and can cope, no matter what, however, whilst there are women who propagate that superwoman myth, the reality is that most new mothers are absolutely exhausted most of the time and others stress about their demanding jobs. As Jada Pinkett Smith said, 'When I'm tired, I rest. I say, "I can't be a superwoman today'". This book will remind women that networking, friends and local support groups are important lifelines, and pretending that all is well when it really isn’t, is not good. As Phoebe says to Kate, 'Thanks for listening'. "The Lifeline" acknowledges that motherhood can be tough and isolating, and allowing time for oneself is not selfish. Page writes on her blog, 'this feeling of being alone in my struggles is the thing that ultimately inspired me to write a novel drawing on that time in my life', and her new book certainly provides an honest viewpoint.

Rosie Cunningham

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