Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish – a raw, funny and fascinating account of motherhood ★★★★

When Hollie McNish became a parent, she soon realised that there was a lot – an awful lot – that nobody talks about. So she sets about to change that in this compassionate, raw, truthful collection of poetry and prose about motherhood. The early days of the book take us through her morning sickness at Glastonbury and her anxious granny trying to put a ring on her wedding finger every time she leaves the house, through to trying to keep a toddler occupied on an 8-hour train journey to Scotland and finally waving her off to her first day at nursery. Hollie lays bare the delightful, mundane, exhausting and thrilling experiences that make up modern motherhood.

‘First thoughts after birth: 1. Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ was not as funny on the birthing CD as I had hoped.’

This is a poetry collection, but it’s much more, too – Hollie shares her journal entries from those early days of pregnancy through the goriness of birth and the newborn exhaustion and delight, the ‘one long daydream’ of trying to keep a small human alive. Her writing is candid and funny, playful yet serious, as she discusses the policies that create gendered chasms in the domestic division of child-rearing to the inelegance of having to breastfeed in a toilet cubicle because there are no other options.

‘I now know who is to blame for post-baby relationship issues too. The government. The one that gives you two weeks’ paternity leave so that as soon as you have a baby, the mum and dad are thrown into separate world where one thinks the other is getting to stay at home and bond with the baby on a comfy sofa and the other curses the independence and adult life the other still gets. And no one can understand the other’s world any more.’

She openly explores the identity shift upon becoming a parent – both within and outside of herself. Society, she soon realises, is full of opinions. People heckle ‘teen mum!’ at her on the street (she’s 27), tut loudly when she travels with her toddler during rush hour, demand to know why she continues to breastfeed when her baby can walk and talk. When she’s able to get away to a workshop and poetry slam for a few days in Latvia, she revels in being someone other than a parent, just for a small stretch of time. Some of my favourite poems in the collection were Reading To You and The League-Table Toddlers. Even if you’re not ordinarily a poetry fan, her writing is so fresh and accessible, and the diary entries contextualise her thoughts very well. I knocked off one star because it probably could have been edited a little more rigorously (it’s long!) but I nevertheless devoured it in a few days.

It’s also not just for parents or parents-to-be – likelihood is we will all know someone with a child, whether now in in the future – and so I’d recommend this one for anyone who wants to better understand this unique, bizarre experience that many people go through but that no-one really seems to openly talk about.

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