I loved The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes and it’s sequel, both written by this talented author, so I looked forward to starting her new one as soon as NetGalley granted it. As usual for this author it was full of big emotive issues, mixed with the funniest dialogue, strong female characters and an interesting set up. In the narrative from 2010, our four characters meet at an infertility support group. There is a second narrative from 1976 where we meet Catherine, a young girl from Ireland who becomes pregnant as a teenager and is sent to one of the now infamous homes for young mothers, run by the Roman Catholic Church. Coming from a Catholic family myself and finding out I would find it hard to conceive at the age of 25, I was concerned the storyline might be too close to home. I remember being given a list of telephone numbers at the hospital, of women who volunteered for a charity supporting those who had miscarried. I only called one number. Next to the names on the list was a little warning that some of these women had gone on to have healthy pregnancies and there might be children in the house when I called. I knew my outcome would be different by this point. I didn’t have the mental or physical strength to keep getting pregnant, then lose the baby multiple times. I had decided after losing my fourth child that I couldn’t keep going. It was a very hard choice, but the right one for me. I can remember ringing that number for support, only to hear a baby crying in the background. I put the phone down and locked myself in the bathroom so I could grieve in peace. As I read though, I found a kinship with these characters and wished I’d had a group like this to belong to, at a time when my family and friends were supportive, but really didn’t know what it felt like.
Within the group there are women at different stages of this difficult journey. There are so many different reasons for infertility and the author covers most situations within the group: those pursuing IVF; some going through the adoption process; some using donor sperm to have a baby with their same sex partner; women with medical conditions like endometriosis. One has anti-phospho lipid syndrome (often named Hughes Syndrome after the doctor who discovered it) which is my diagnosis and means that it’s possible for patients to get pregnant, but difficult to sustain a pregnancy. Patients with Hughes have sticky blood, making it very difficult to for blood flow to go through the placenta and to the baby. Pregnancies usually fail within the first trimester, my latest miscarriage was at just 12 weeks with twins. As the character in the book relates to the others, often it isn’t detected until the first scan and then an operation must be performed to ‘to remove the products of conception’. As she points out, the medical language may create a distance for the doctor, but for the patient it feels very wrong to see the words ‘termination’ on the consent forms and even harder to sign away the baby you have wanted for so long. The interactions with the NHS were so true to life it felt like the author had popped inside my head and rifled around in my memories. However, there was comfort in knowing this was a shared experience and that other women had been through this feeling exactly the same as I did.
Four women with very different reasons for their fertility problems are drawn together in the group and slowly develop a very strong friendship. A new face in the group sessions seems to bring them together. Ronnie is challenging at first. She seems super confident, asks uncomfortable questions, and invites the others to the pub. She has a strange ability to pull uncomfortable truths and intimate details from those around her, but never seems to disclose much of herself. I found myself starting to question why she was there in the group. Yet as time went on I warmed to her, she seemed feisty and frequently made me smile. Caroline is just about to hit rock bottom in her fertility journey. They have spent a lot of money on medical bills and rounds of IVF, but have never conceived. After discussion with her husband some time ago, they are meant to be never going through it again. Yet Caroline can’t stop yearning for a baby of her own and in her desperation she’s driving her husband away. To make things worse her beloved dog has just died. In a very fragile state she starts to consider just one more round of fertility treatment but her husband isn’t on board. She has to face a very hard decision; is her desire to be a mother, stronger than her love for him? Natalie and her girlfriend have decided to have children using a donor who is very close to home – her girlfriend’s brother. Her girlfriend thinks that if the baby is a blood relative to her, she might be more invested in the idea of becoming parents. Janet’s husband may be having an affair with one of the receptionists from his work place. How can she find out what’s going on? The women are very much a team and support each other, even if one of them is doing something crazy.
Between the present day sections there is the story of a girl called Catherine, back in 1976. Catherine finds herself pregnant after her very first sexual experience with a boy from school. He claims to love her, but she is about to be let down very badly. Catherine’s family are poor, whereas her boyfriend’s family are wealthy and well known in the area. His father is a local magistrate. So when Catherine tells her religious parents what has happened they immediately summon the parish priest and before she knows it Catherine is sitting at the back of his back being shipped off to the nuns at a mother and baby home. We already know the terrible way young girls were treated in these places from films like The Magdalene Laundries and Philomena, but I must admit there were parts of Catherine’s story that genuinely made me cry. I couldn’t believe the casual brutality of these nuns, who are supposed to be women of God. They really made my blood boil. I found it was Catherine’s story that drove the book for me, her plight kept me reading and there were a couple of moments in her story where I was so involved I forgot everything going on around me! The heartbreak, betrayal and psychological abuse this girl goes through is horrendous and her ability to keep going and survive is incredible.
I think that this author enjoys writing about women’s issues and their friendships. She has an awareness, that although we love our partners in life, it is often our female friends that hold us up and keep us going through the worst times. I refer to my best friends as my non-sexual life partners! I had an inkling about the mystery at the centre of the story. What did happen to the baby Catherine had stolen from her at the mother and baby home? I read this in a day, because I was so drawn in by the story and these women who felt completely real to me. Anna McPartlin has such a storytelling skill. She has a way of mining your emotions until you’re sobbing over someone who isn’t even real. For those who’ve been through any of the experiences featured, it might be a difficult read in parts, but I promise you won’t feel let down or misrepresented by the way she depicts your experience. This was sad, funny, warm and poignant. A little bit like life.
Meet The Author.
From Anna’s Amazon Author Page.
I’m an Irish novelist and a TV scriptwriter. Currently with 7 fiction titles available to buy online and one children’s title under the name Bannie McPartlin. As of August 2019 I’ve just finished writing ‘Under The Big Blue Sky,’ the follow up to international best selling title ‘The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes.’ This title will be published by Bonnier Zaffer and will be available UK &I IRE and amazon Summer 2020.
My previous short incarnation as a stand-up comedian left an indelible mark. I’m described by all who know me as a slave to the joke and my work focuses on humour and humanity in even the darkness situations.
So if you’d like to take a trip to the dark side and if you are a fan of big, bold characters check out my titles and I hope you enjoy.
If you are not a fan of moderate to severe cursing, best to move on. Either way good luck to you.
I dabble in twitter but often forget it’s there (@annamcpartlin). I’m better on Facebook but not brilliant Anna McPartlin and I really giving it a good old go on instagram #Trying (mcpartlin.anna) and my website is annamcpartlin.com.
Anna McP XXX