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Who wants to acknowledge the impact of breastfeeding on the shape of your nipples (“I breastfed four children! My nipples looked like fingers”) when we could be using far more flattering buzz-words such as glowing or radiant? Davenport does. The essays in this collection are unashamed, affording the same candour to the realities of motherhood on both the flesh and the mind. Any resistance the reader might feel to reading about mucus plugs or maternal rage is dismantled by Davenport’s natural humour.

Ashe Davemnport's Sad Mum Lady.

Ashe Davemnport’s Sad Mum Lady.Credit:

One of the strengths of the novel is the way it recognises and reflects on the experiences of the other mothers in Davenport’s life. In the opening pages of the book, a pregnant and blissfully unaware Ashe observes the mother upstairs, a ‘sophisticated single woman’, whose adult son has moved back home to nurse his ice addiction, and who turns a deliberate blind eye to his encroaching habit. Davenports acknowledges her own self-righteousness through this chapter and sets up her subsequent fall from grace. The remaining essays see her join the ranks of messy, wilfully ignorant, barely surviving mothers struggling to maintain the facade of getting by.

Davenport’s own mother is introduced next, a woman whose “furious bush” strikes terror into the hearts of her school friends. Observing, and feeling, the myriad ways that mothers are judged isolates her when she later realises that she is struggling. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that admitting depression would mean admitting I was incapable of caring for my kids. I called Lucy because I needed help and she knew it. ‘I’m not coping’ were the words I couldn’t say.” These perceptive insights into the ways that mothers are expected to perform their role to society are dotted throughout the stories, lifting them.

Sad Mum Lady isn’t the story of every mum, and it doesn’t pretend to be. Davenport offers very little context of motherhood beyond her own life and the lives of those close to her, which she acknowledges. The book unpicks the stories we are told (and tell ourselves) about motherhood and mothers, a call to arms to be united in imperfection. Davenport divulges the ugly truths of her own experience, and this is what makes the book resonate. Her hope for the book, in her words, “is that it will help some lonely people feel less alone”.

The raw honesty of this book is catharsis verging on hysteria for anyone who has experienced a shred of motherhood like this. It is the laughter of relief and recognition, the sound of a thousand mothers sob-laughing into the void.