Excerpt from That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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That Kind of Mother

by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam X
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
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  • First Published:
    May 2018, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez
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1

THE BOOK LIED. BOOKS LIED; SHE KNEW THAT. WALK, IT SAID. HOW?
Rebecca felt anchored, or not quite: like she was immersed in honey or quicksand, something thick and sticky. Books were bullshit. What could a book tell you? Her knees ached and there was—well, effluvia was the word for it, a word so lovely it disguised its meaning. What if she leaked onto the linoleum? How humiliating, but the book said Walk and the doctor said Walk and the nurse said Walk so Rebecca, obedient student, walked.

"You're all right, darling?" Christopher was English; he could use a noun like darling without sounding patronizing.

"Fine." Small talk seemed silly when giving birth. She was holding on to her husband's arm, despite feeling herself the sort of woman who did not need to hold on to a man's arm. They'd been married in front of a judge, for God's sake. "Fine," she said again.

Christopher was eager. "You'll tell me. If you need to sit." "Doctor Brownmiller said to walk." Rebecca was more curt than she meant to be. It was embarrassing to conform to type. To snap at her husband while ceding to labor was predictable if less shameful than discovering she'd defecated in her polyester maternity pants that morning. That was hours ago. It had been a long day, it would be her child's birthday. "He said it's good for bringing on the labor."

"Do you want a Popsicle?" Christopher's Etonian vowels rendered the childish word something funny but of course it was still pathetic, like Rebecca was a toddler who needed placating instead of a patient giving birth.

Rebecca released Christopher's arm. You're free, she thought. Go away. She rounded a corner, leaving him behind, telling herself to hurry, colliding with a woman who was stapling something to a corkboard. "Oh." This was the beginning of an apology that dissolved into pain. Rebecca was too distracted to be polite.

"I'm sorry, Mom." The woman smiled at Rebecca.

Mom? Rebecca looked at the corkboard: a pamphlet, folded in thirds but splayed open, amateurish line drawings of a placid mother and her indistinct newborn. Mom, then, soon enough, and forever. Rebecca was still standing too close, so the other woman, black, solid, but somehow vague, stepped back. "My fault." Rebecca breathed as they had practiced in the childbirth class her sister Judith had recommended she take. Judith was an obstetrician, a mother herself, but most important, she was the oldest child and used to having her instructions followed. "I wasn't"—Rebecca breathed in again—"watching."

"No problem at all." The woman put a hand on Rebecca's arm. "No problem."

Someone, maybe this same woman, had stapled up a magazine clipping showing the princess of Wales, on the steps of St. Mary's, resplendent in red with a demure bow at the neck, her hair in two perfect waves. You couldn't see the infant (the spare) in her arms, but weren't they just the Madonna and child? Behind them stood the prince in his double-breasted jacket, about as interested in the baby as God is in the rest of us. Rebecca didn't know what the coming hours would hold but knew she wouldn't come out looking like Diana.

She continued on her pathetic walk. Time passed. Discharge emerged. Her body thrummed. It seemed to have nothing to do with her. Their birthing class rehearsals hadn't approximated this. Pain! Christopher hovered in Rebecca's line of sight and implored her to breathe. His approach was more martial than she'd have liked. She was annoyed by his imprecations, puzzled by Christopher's very presence. It was like having him by her side when she was going to the bathroom. Two or three times she forgot altogether what they were doing in that room, sorry, they called it a birthing suite, with its rose-beige wall covering and forlorn fake flowers.

From That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam. Copyright 2018 Rumaan Alam. Excerpted with permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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