No one ever talks about what happens to a woman after she’s given birth to a difficult child. Many women hear, “It’ll be different when it’s your own child”, just to placate them into getting pregnant. Motherhood can be a delight but we rarely hear about the excruciating and thankless aspects of it. That’s what Audrey Audrain, publicity director of Penguin Canada, reveals in her debut novel The Push, an in-depth ‘journal’ at what new mothers go through, and the harrowing aspect of your child being a terror that breaks you down bit by bit.
Blythe Connor hasn’t had the best history with mothers. Her own mother abandoned her at a young age, leaving her father to raise her. It’s a scar that plagues her throughout her adulthood, and when her husband suggests having a child, she plans to not become the lack of an example she had growing up.
Except, things don’t go according to plan. The elation of growing a child inside you is one thing; you have to take care of that person when they emerge into the world, full of a personality you may not expect. Violet cries for hours, unwilling to settle in Blythe’s arms. To be rejected by a creature you created feels like the utmost betrayal. A child and their mother should want each other, especially after bonding for nine months. The more Violet refuses to be held by her own mother, the more Blythe feels like she isn’t going to survive motherhood.
At first, Blythe wonders if there’s something wrong with herself because Violet gets along best with her dad. Other people remark on how clever, polite, and kind she is, yet Blythe never experiences any of that. There’s almost a violence behind Violet’s interactions with her. And it isn’t until she has her second child, Sam, that she realizes the lack of unconditional love in her relationship with Violet. The devotion she feels for Sam makes up for Violet’s continual snubbing. Unfortunately, an accident takes her beloved son away much earlier than expected.
Society teaches us that women are supposed to want to be mothers. From the time we’re able to hold objects and walk, dolls are pushed into our hands to signify the ultimate role we’re meant to play in the future. The problem is not everyone is meant to be a mother, and being forced into that role will only cause resentment down the line, as was the case with Blythe’s mother and her grandmother. And in the end, having one child while losing another breaks Blythe’s idea of a happy family apart.
Audrain’s writing takes us down the rare and truthful path of motherhood, with all of its sleepless nights, bloodstained sheets, the thoughts of ‘Please, go away’, the hemorrhoids, the discomfort, the automated actions that keep the child alive, the irritated thoughts at everyone else, and seeing her own body as a mere vessel instead of a human being. It’s all laid bare for everyone to see, and hopefully understand that motherhood is, and will never be, a smooth ride.
As a debut novel, Ashley Audrain captures the core of what motherhood actually is, with all its hopelessness, pain, and loss with excruciating detail. The Path not only shows us the transformation of an independent woman to a container that holds a new life and its gory aftermath, it points out the stark reality of how much of becoming a mother is truly a thankless job – one that too many aren’t given enough credit for.