As Storm Dennis battered the country, I was home alone whilst The Significant Other worked abroad and The Children were all elsewhere. The house was a womb of warmth, a haven from the crazy wind and water that swirled outside and, for a day, from the incessant demands of family life. So, I picked up My Wild and Sleepless Nights: A Mother’s Story. Curled into the foetal position, I didn’t move until I had read every page and absorbed every drop of oxygen from its flowing arteries. This is a book from the heart, rich in strength and iron; and blood thicker than water pumps powerfully through its pages.
At 45, Clover is an ordinary and exceptional mother: she’s exceptional because she has five children (aged from 3 to 19) and bares her soul as well as breasts whilst describing the emotional journey through the first year of her fifth child’s life. She’s ‘ordinary’ because – like millions of mothers – she loves her offspring with a passion that’s almost indescribable, and yet despairs of the demands of domesticity. Her voice therefore, as she shares with us the inner working of her relationship with each of her children while a bump becomes a bouncing one-year-old, will resonate with the multitude of mums who love their children to distraction but often struggle with that distraction; the absorption and the gloom it can bring, and the way motherhood so often diminishes their own identity. Whilst gaining so much from motherhood, Clover mourns the magnitude of its impact upon the woman she was and still wants to be.
In Clover’s story of her year, she invites the reader into the thick of family life to watch the madcap scrapes of a younger brood and her eldest child disengage from the family which, whilst expected, is nonetheless horrifying and heart-wrenching. This is not the smug how-to guide of those who offer advice on pureed organic carrot and sleep routines, nor does it have the relentless humour of the self-deprecating ‘if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry/pass-the-gin’ genre. This is an honest account of motherhood unmasked, and because of that, whether you have a babe in arms, are considering one, or have watched them fly away, it is a compulsive read. Clover’s story is totally personal and yet universal at the same time. ‘Even though I have done childbirth four times before, I feel as though I am walking onto land I have never crossed, with no map and no water, and probably wearing the wrong shoes,’ she remarks as she contemplates the imminent addition of a fifth child to an already busy family. Did any of us truly know where we were headed? By page eight I was already on the cusp of tears: it was so real, so terrifying and so representative that I found myself holding my breath so tightly it hurt.
Clover speaks all the jumbled thoughts and feelings I had on my own journey – the good, the bad and the ugly – but would never had written, or maybe even admitted. Every page is a step I recall, with its mess, guilt, contentment, joy and luminous shards of heavenly light and love. And because it holds up a mirror in which I see so many of my own experiences and corresponding emotions, it’s incredibly liberating. I now feel I can admit that I used to keep the bedroom window shut tight in case I ever had a moment of madness and threw a screaming baby out onto the road; and later, how I fantasised about leaving it all behind and running away with a passing traveller in an old fashioned Gypsy caravan. My mum, now 70, laughs at how some things have changed but not others: her threat was that she’d sneak off to a nunnery.
By sharing the raw reality of her experience in this evocative and lyrical biography full of vigour and exhaustion, Clover’s open heart pulls together a sisterhood of mothers that stretches far and wide, and gives real comfort and strength. However close their other relationships, new mothers walk alone into the labyrinth of motherhood and it’s a wild and sleepless place, one where you’ll be very pleased to have Clover Stroud on your bedside table.