Anna Jefferson is the author of ‘You Can Take Her Home Now,’ a novel about early motherhood and friendship. We gave it a glowing review and were so excited to meet Anna in her hometown, Brighton, and chat about some of the themes of the book.
Interview by Sam Eades.
What made you write about that first year of motherhood? What is so special about that time?
I started writing a blog, You Can Take Her Home Now, soon after my daughter was born seven years ago. All the baby books I’d read talked about pregnancy and birth, but where was the chapter about bringing your baby home and how you felt like you were losing your mind? Writing the blog was initially a way for me to record and order my thoughts, but soon afterwards other mums started reading it and getting in touch. It turned out everyone felt like they were winging it.
The blog became the inspiration for my debut novel of the same name. The characters developed lives of their own, but the emotional rollercoaster they experience in those first few days, weeks and months is most definitely informed by my own experiences.
The first year is a special time because it is incomparable to anything you have experienced before. Nothing can prepare you for the shock of bringing a human being into the world. I wanted to write a novel that conveys the raw intensity of that adjustment and how you start to find your way through it.
Emily is such a brilliantly messy character. Where did she come from? And was it important for you to show her flaws?
There is so much pressure on women to keep all the plates spinning. To be the best you can be at parenting, at work, in relationships. To bounce back and fit into your old jeans soon after birth. To hold it all together while enjoying every moment of being a mum, because you are repeatedly told how quickly they grow up. When what you really need is to be told, ‘You’re doing fine. You’re dressed. The house doesn’t look too much like it’s been burgled. Your baby is full of milk. You are amazing.’
I wanted Emily to be real. To show how she loves the bones of her baby, but also has moments of craving her old carefree life. To show the strains it can put on a relationship but also how it can bring you and your partner together in ways you never imagined. Emily used to be a party girl, she was the first one out and the last one to leave, and now she has to learn to be herself all over again as the mother of a new baby.
One of the themes of the novel is female friendship during what can be a very lonely time for new mums. What made you explore this topic? How did it reflect your own experiences?
I really wanted the novel to express the importance and power of the women in your life. How female friends can be your lifeline, providing massively needed hugs when necessary or equally essential belly-laughs. They are the ones who will tell you when you stink of stale baby milk and need to change your underwear, or ignore it when realising you haven’t done any washing for ages and are down to your last maternity bra. I genuinely don’t think I would have survived early motherhood without brilliant women.
Being a new mum can be cripplingly lonely, especially when your partner goes back to work and you have to navigate through the day with a tiny baby on your own. I remember a female friend from work dropping by in the afternoon to see how I was doing when my baby was five weeks old. I had been trying to get out of my pyjamas for hours, but every time I put my daughter down she started crying hungrily, so I’d been pinned to the sofa feeding for what felt like an eternity. My friend, an experienced mother of two at the time, took her from me and insisted I had a bath. I couldn’t have been in there for more than ten minutes but it felt like the most incredible ten minutes of my life. And when I got out, she’d got my baby to sleep and put her in the Moses basket, made me a cup of tea and emptied the dishwasher. At that moment I would have married her!
But it’s not just old friends who come through for you. There is an intensity to the friendships that develop through new motherhood. There is no room for pleasantries when your stitches are still healing and you need to talk to someone about mastitis. There is a raw and brutal honesty with the women you meet who have also just had babies. An immediate bond formed when you are all trying to steer your way through the early days. These are women you can WhatsApp at 3am when the rest of the world is sleeping.
What advice would you share with other mums-to-be of how to navigate those first few months?
The best piece of advice I was ever given, days after giving birth, was, ‘Don’t let anyone in your house without bringing food, and don’t let anyone leave without doing the washing up.’ Your body has just gone through the most physically gruelling experience. In any other circumstance you’d be confined to bedrest for weeks, but when you give birth, you are handed your incredible, fragile new baby and sent on your way. I remember leaving the hospital feeling like I’d shrunk and the world had got larger and noisier. So I would say to new mums, never refuse help. Always say yes to a cuppa. If someone wants to fill your fridge, let them. Grab any opportunity to rest. Don’t worry that your body looks unrecognisable – you are a warrior and it has created a whole human being, it’s going to look different. And most of all, enjoy the intoxicating smell of the top of your baby’s head, which is, unquestionably, the best smell on the entire planet.
You Can Take Her Home Now by Anna Jefferson is out now in ebook and audio book and due to be published in paperback in early 2020.