Full Time Mothers
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Martha Beck, reviewed by Anne Holmes - Feb '01
Martha Beck and her husband, John, are exceptionally ambitious Harvard graduates on the academic treadmill of further degrees. Living frenetic, driven lives on the Harvard campus, they have a toddler in full time day care, to whom they give 'quality time' in between their relentless graduate schedules. Then Martha discovers she is pregnant again.
This itself would be seen as a 'career error' in their fiercely competitive milieu, but there is a further twist: Martha, like many young women taught to want and expect 'designer babies' - in her case, clever, future Harvard alumni - has an amniocentesis test and discovers that the baby she is expecting has Down's syndrome. Neither Martha nor John is religious. Raised as Mormons in Utah, they have dropped all religious belief during their years in the rational, sophisticated campus world. There is immense, subtle (and not so subtle) pressure on Martha to abort the baby, Adam, as he comes to be called.
To their own surprise, and the consternation of their colleagues, they discover that they want to keep him. The book is about all the extraordinary - 'mystical' would be the right word although Martha finds it hard, from her rational perspective, to employ it - events and strange coincidences that precede the birth of this little boy. His unseen, but powerful, presence, changes his parents from having a modern, career-oriented outlook on life, with its assumption that children will 'fit in' with this lifestyle, to a totally different philosophy. They jump off the fast track into a different world and find their lives transformed as a result.
The book is written in a hilarious, deadpan, laconic style, with a certain self-deprecating humour that is very American. To be recommended to all mothers who recognise that babies - whether disabled or not - will definitely transform their lives and who welcome, rather than resist, this knowledge.
Available from Judy Piatkus (Publishers Ltd), 5 Windmill Street, London WIP IHF. £9.99.