It isn’t every day that those in the breastfeeding education and support field run into a fiction book where the main character is a lactation consultant. But that’s what I found last month looking at my options for review books on Amazon Vine in “The Gap Year” by Sarah Bird. As the mother of two daughters, I enjoyed this book a great deal.
The book is narrated from the point of view of both a mother and a daughter, trying to understand how one year of their life created a "gap" between them. At first, I found the mother's voice to be written in a bit of a pretentious, flowery fashion, but eventually that seemed to settle, or I just got used to it. The daughter's voice is extraordinarily well-written... very much like the voice in my own head that I remember around the age of 17.
The book does a good job reminding us how we can see the same event two very different ways. As a mother, the book reminded me that as my daughters age, it is important to see them as separate individuals and that no matter how well I think I may know or understand them (and their friends) that their inner life is their own. Sometimes the way that a situation seems from the outside (and as mothers, we ARE on the outside) is not the truth. In this book, the mother's understanding of the daughter's boyfriend, her feelings about college, her participation in band and her daughter's friendships was way off from the way that her daughter saw her own life.
That said, the book is also a reminder of the single-minded way that teenagers can be inconsiderate and even heartbreaking to their mothers. It was easy in the book to see the daughter's point of view, but also to see when, even so, she was being needlessly dismissive of her mother and sometimes just a real brat.
As a lactation educator, I found the short sections that focused on the mother's career as a lactation consultant to be very satisfying and technically well-written. As much exposure as I have had to the topic of breastfeeding, I found that the mother said things in new ways to me, and ones that I'll take with me. She used breastfeeding as a wonderful metaphor of how mothers are just doing the best we can as we go along with our children -- for the mother in the book, she found supporting breastfeeding mothers to be something they could control and fix for other mothers, even though she was not able to breastfeed herself. In breastfeeding, there often is help and answers and interventions to make things "right." If only these things were available for the rest of our children's lives. (And even at that, with help existing, many mothers don't get that support.)
While the mother's own life with her child was falling apart, she could at least go to work and fix this small but important bit of mother-child relationship for these new mothers and give them the feeling that just for a little while, they had it all worked out and were doing exactly what their child needed. The breastfeeding classes and breastfeeding information was delivered well, with humor, and not in a way that it takes over the story. It just adds an interesting layer based in the concepts of control, well-intentioned parenting and fear of failure.
I'm sure that other reviewers will write more on the role of the father in the story, but this was not a particularly interesting focus for me, other than how it contributed even a bit more to the deepening divide between mother than daughter -- one more thing about her daughter that she didn't know or understand.
Overall, this story of "good mothering gone bad" was a well-done tale of how separation from our mothers can't really be painless or simple and how all mothers must, in their own way, suffer through this period in the hopes of the final mothering "prize" -- a lifetime relationship with our children. The lactation sections were a treat – well written and accurate in terms of advice and guidance and the bonus of connecting with the character in a rare way for those in our uncommon field.