The Mothers' Group tells the story of six very different women who agree to regularly meet soon after the birth of their babies. Set during the first crucial year of their babies' lives, the story tracks the women's individual journeys—and the group's collective one—as they navigate birth and motherhood as well as their shifting romantic relationships Each woman strives in her own way to become the mother she wants to be, and finds herself becoming increasingly reliant on the friendship and support of the members of the group. Until one day an unthinkably shocking event changes everything. This is an unflinching and compelling portrait of the modern family in all its complexity and intensity: love, sex, and marriage, and all the joys and tensions of raising children in an increasingly complicated world. Moving, provocative, tender, and utterly gripping, The Mothers' Group will draw you in and never let you go.
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)|
About the Author
Fiona Higgins is the author of Fearless, Wife on the Run, The Mothers' Group, and a memoir, Love in the Age of Drought.
Read an Excerpt
She lay naked on the dune, the sand stuck wet against her skin. Seagulls circled, calling to their mates through the sea fog, curling low and languid across the beach.
The smell of rotting seaweed was distracting, even as his tongue and hands moved over her.
She looked down at him, beyond her bare stomach.
Let go, he said. Let go.
She arched her back, pulling thousands of grains of sand into tight fists ...
Startled by a sharp rapping at the front door, Ginie opened her eyes. She blinked, registering where she was. On the couch. In the lounge room. Next to Rose. The dream sprinted away and disappointment plummeted through her. She felt cheated.
Sex had become a thing of the past. Alongside other common pleasures like Sunday morning sleep-ins and uninterrupted showers, Rose's arrival had signalled the abrupt departure of Ginie's sexual appetite. She closed her eyes again, wondering if she'd ever get it back. That delicious sexual abandon with Daniel, a level of intimacy she'd never known before.
The knocking at the door resumed, more insistent now.
For fuck's sake, she thought, I'm tired. Go away.
She glanced at Rose, a soft bundle of pink in an old-fashioned bassinette, a nostalgic gift from her grandmother. The knocking hadn't disturbed the baby at all. Once she was asleep, nothing much did.
Maybe if I just lie quietly, Ginie thought, whoever it is will leave.
She stared at the modern chandelier suspended above her, its crystal beads catching the morning light. What time was it? She couldn't have been asleep for very long. Her laptop was still perched on her knees, cursor flashing in an unfinished email.
She'd been out of hospital for five weeks and Rose was doing everything right. Feeding from a bottle, settling easily, sleeping as well as a newborn could. A textbook baby, so her mother said. As if she'd bloody know.
As usual, thoughts of her mother sent a wave of anger coursing through her. Ginie took a deep breath, attempting to calm herself.
Her Buddhist-leaning life coach had taught her 'mindfulness', the technique of watching her anger as if she was a third party. It was all part of making peace with her mother's absence during her childhood, apparently. Had Ginie's mother been sick or died, it might have been easier to understand. But instead, as a primary school principal, her mother had devoted her life to education. She'd worked slavishly during school terms and holidays, ensuring thousands of children reaped the benefit of her dedication. Other people's children, Ginie had sometimes reflected.
When her mother wasn't working, she'd always seemed more occupied with her siblings. Ginie could remember watching her older brother at endless weekend soccer matches, her mother bellowing encouragement until she was hoarse. Or sitting by her side in the rooms of countless specialists, from orthopaedic surgeons to occupational therapists, discussing her younger sister's medical condition. Hip dysplasia at birth, her mother had explained to anyone who'd listen. One of her legs is longer than the other. Ginie had always been the dutiful middle child, compliant and sensible, playing Best Supporting Actress to her siblings.
But none of that mattered anymore. When Ginie looked at her present life, one thing was sure: it was far superior to that of her siblings. It was her time now.
She exhaled, soothed by the thought.
The tapping at the door grew louder.
She glanced again at Rose, certain the noise would wake her.
Through the opaque leadlight panels of their front door, she could discern two figures. Her iPhone flashed an impatient alert: Daniel (Mobile). Her husband again.
I've organised painters for the nursery. They're waiting outside.
She rolled her eyes. Hopeless prick.
From the moment they'd discovered she was pregnant, she'd repeatedly asked Daniel to repaint the room for the nursery. She'd been frantic at work, organising the complicated handover required before she went on maternity leave. As the most senior female lawyer at the firm, she earned a hefty salary that allowed Daniel to pursue his writing and photography ventures. Most of which came to nothing.
'I'm tired,' she'd complained to him, eight months into her pregnancy. 'I really need you to repaint the nursery. Please, Daniel.'
'I'll get to it,' came his stock-standard response. 'Trust me.'
And then the baby had arrived, a full month early, and Daniel had run out of time.
Ginie read the message again, then tossed the telephone onto the coffee table.
Angry? she thought. I'm fucking furious.
Rose stirred in her bassinette. A tiny arm reached out of the muslin wrap. Ginie's anger instantly receded. From the moment Rose had been pulled from her body, covered in vernix and squirming in the light, Ginie was smitten. The depths of her newfound tenderness for this tiny mysterious creature had taken her completely by surprise.
For a moment she watched, transfixed, as her daughter's delicate hand grasped at the air. Floating fingers, no bigger than her own fingernails. My daughter. She shook her head, marvelling. Just a few months ago, the concept had seemed so abstract. Yet now, here she was, a mother to this living, breathing, milky soft being.
The knocking persisted. Ginie couldn't ignore it any longer.
She glanced at her watch and hauled herself off the couch. The first session of the mothers' group was due to begin. A reminder had arrived from the local baby health centre a week ago but she'd chosen to ignore it. She couldn't imagine anything worse than sitting around with a bunch of women she didn't know, eating biscuits and talking babies. Now, with the painters banging down the door, attending a mothers' group seemed an attractive alternative to watching paint dry.
She opened the front door and directed the tradesmen to the nursery, on the lower floor of their split-level home. Then she placed Rose in the pram and gathered up the nappy bag, a bunny rug and several stuffed toys.
'Nicole, we're going out for an hour or two,' she called up the stairs.
There was no reply. The nanny had arrived from Ireland yesterday, but she still hadn't surfaced. Jetlagged, no doubt.
The baby health centre was at the top of a hill, only a short walk from the car park. Yet the all-terrain baby jogger, purchased by Daniel the week before, was heavier than she could manage. She was forced to stop along the way to catch her breath, her caesarean scar throbbing beneath her jeans. It was a crisp June day, the sky so blue it almost hurt her eyes. Cerulean, Daniel would call it, in his writer's way.
When she arrived at the centre, the mothers' group had already started. She hated running late, for anything. Flustered, she pushed open the glass door with a force that caused it to slam against the adjacent wall. A group of women turned in her direction.
'Sorry,' she mumbled. She turned her back on the group and attempted to pull Rose's pram up the step.
'Shit.' The door was heavy against her back, and the pram unwieldy. I've got a law degree, she thought, and I can't even get a baby jogger through the bloody door.
A woman with honey-coloured hair appeared at her side. 'Let me help,' she offered, holding the door open for Ginie.
'Thanks,' said Ginie, hauling the pram inside. 'I'm still getting the hang of this.'
'Heavy, aren't they? I got mine jammed at the supermarket checkout the other day and a security guard had to help me. I was so embarrassed.' The woman grinned at her. 'I'm Cara, by the way.'
'Well, hello! Come on in.' A bespectacled silver-haired woman sat at the front of the group, waving a clipboard in Ginie's direction. This must be Pat, the chatty midwife who'd telephoned several weeks earlier to check on her post-natal progress. Ginie had declined her offer of a home visit.
'Have a seat, Ginie,' the woman said, consulting the clipboard and ticking her name off. 'I'm Pat. You're just in time for introductions.'
A dozen chairs were arranged in a semi-circle, but fewer than half were occupied. Most of the seats closest to the door had already been taken. As if the women in them might run from the room at any moment, Ginie chuckled to herself.
Cara returned to her seat, in the middle of the row, and leaned over a bassinette to check her baby. Ginie steered her pram towards an empty chair on the far side of Pat, sidestepping car capsules and nappy bags. She sat down next to a woman with wavy black hair and startling green eyes, who was attempting to comfort her baby. She smiled at Ginie in a distracted way, while pushing a dummy into the baby's mouth. This only seemed to enrage the infant, all red-faced and writhing in its pram.
'Shhh, Rory, shhh,' the woman soothed. As the baby's cries grew louder, she stood up from her chair and began to push the pram around the room.
'Well,' said Pat. 'Now that everyone's arrived, let's get underway. Welcome.' She smiled. 'You're all here because you've had a baby in the past six weeks and you live in the Freshwater or Curl Curl areas. So, let's get to know each other first. I'd like you to tell us your name, your baby's name, and something you'd like to share about your birthing experience. We'll start at the front.' She waved a hand at Ginie.
Ginie shifted in her seat. She was adept at public speaking in corporate settings, but this was different. She felt strangely nervous.
'Okay, I'm Ginie,' she started. 'This is Rose. She's asleep, obviously.' She glanced down at Rose and, for the first time, realised how much she resembled Daniel. They shared the same high cheekbones and sandy-coloured hair. She looked at Pat again; she couldn't remember what else she was supposed to say.
'Would you like to tell us something about your birthing experience?' prompted Pat.
'Oh yes, sorry.'
Birthing. She hadn't properly described the experience to anyone. It was something she'd rather forget.
'Um, I was in labour for fifteen hours, then I ended up having a caesarean.'
Pat nodded, the picture of concern. 'And how did you feel about that?' Ginie shrugged. 'Relieved, actually. I was bloody glad to get her out.'
'Right. Next.' Pat nodded at a voluptuous blonde. Ginie sat back in her chair, grateful the focus had shifted elsewhere.
She hadn't been ready for Rose's arrival at thirty-six weeks. It was seven thirty-five am and she was steering her two-door black BMW across the Spit Bridge, notorious for its peak-hour bottlenecks. At any other time of day, it only took her thirty minutes to drive from her home in Curl Curl to the Sydney CBD, but on this particular morning she'd already spent an hour behind the wheel. She was speaking to a client, leaning towards the hands-free phone on the dashboard, when she felt a sudden warmth between her legs. She glanced down to see light red fluid oozing beneath her, creeping across the cream leather seat. For a moment she stared at it, as if it was a phenomenon disconnected from herself, then she swerved out of her lane and towards the kerb. Flicking on the hazard lights, she'd abruptly ended her call and telephoned Daniel.
'There's something wrong. I'm ... bleeding all over the car.'
'Just take a breath, Gin,' he'd said. 'Do you think you can keep driving to the hospital?'
'Oh for fuck's sake, Daniel, what do you think?'
'Alright, I'll call an ambulance. Where are you exactly?'
The ambulance officers had determined quickly that neither she nor the baby was in danger.
'The baby's kicked a couple of times, so that's a good thing,' said one.
'What about all the blood?' she asked.
'Looks like your placenta has started bleeding,' he said. 'It's quite common at the end of pregnancy. Very soon, you'll be a mum.'
'So close to Mother's Day too,' said the other. 'You planned that well, didn't you?'
Oh yeah, very well, she thought. That's why I'm going to the hospital in an ambulance, propped up on a stretcher, wearing a business suit.
'Trying to give us all a scare, eh?' the obstetrician joked as he attached the CTG machine to her bulging abdomen. 'Let's see what's going on in there.'
The scan indicated that the baby was fine.
'You've had a placental bleed,' he confirmed. 'We'll give it twelve hours and see what happens. But you'll have to stay in hospital, I'm afraid.'
At least she'd brought her laptop.
Several hours later, she felt the first contraction. But after fifteen hours of labour, her cervix was only five centimetres dilated. She was slippery with sweat, exhausted. Daniel stood next to her, offering her water, a cool washer, lip balm. And what should I do with that? she wanted to scream at him. Stuff it up your arse? Instead, she ignored him, pacing the room and squeezing a cushion as the contractions peaked.
She wished she'd opted for an elective caesarean. At thirty-nine and with private health insurance, she could have demanded one. But a part of her wanted to conquer childbirth, as she had conquered all the other challenges in her life to date. An elective caesarean seemed like a cop-out, and Ginie wasn't a quitter.
'Ginie.' The voice came from afar.
She looked up from the cushion and watched the obstetrician mouth the words. 'I'm recommending a caesarean.'
'Okay.' She was beyond caring. She squeezed her eyes shut against another crushing contraction.
The operation was a haze of anaesthesia and bewildering sensations. She was conscious throughout the procedure, with Daniel standing beside her, stroking her hair. Two obstetricians hovered over her abdomen, talking between themselves like pilots landing a jumbo jet.
'I tend to go in here, less vascular,' said one.
'Do you?' replied the other. 'I prefer a more muscle-sparing route.'
She felt suddenly nauseous. 'I think I'm going to die,' she breathed.
The anaesthetist, an impassive man in his fifties, leaned towards her. 'It's just your blood pressure dropping,' he said, not unkindly. 'Let me fix that for you.' He injected a vial of clear liquid into her drip and, almost immediately, she began to feel better.
She clung to Daniel's hand and begged him to talk to her, to drown out the matter-of-fact commentary of the obstetricians.
Suddenly there was some forceful pushing and pulling, as if her insides were being wrenched apart.
She couldn't take any more. 'Daniel, I ...'
'Here we are,' announced one of the obstetricians.
A bloodied baby floated above her eye line, not even crying. It was a little girl. She was perfect.
Back on the ward, Ginie's pain was intense. The wound itself — incision through skin and muscle — throbbed with even the slightest movement. The painkillers they had given her appeared to be having little effect. She watched with interest as the curtains began to billow of their own accord, swelling in front of the unopened window. It was a narcotic hallucination, she knew, yet the pain was getting worse.
She tried to explain this to an officious-looking midwife at three o'clock in the morning.
'Well,' came the stern reply, 'you're not due for any more pain relief. If you have an intervention like a caesarean, it will hurt more. Natural births are much easier on the body. Pain is very subjective, dear.' The midwife bustled away.
Ginie was too exhausted to object. Defeated, she lay back on her pillow. Rose was in the nursery; the midwives would bring her in when she woke. Ginie desperately wanted to hold her again, to bury her nose in her folds of soft flesh, but she couldn't even climb out of bed. The noise from the nursery was audible across the corridor. Every time the door opened, the sound of babies crying was like cats mewling in an alley.
Six hours later, Ginie's limbs trembled beneath the blanket, defying all control. Her wound was throbbing, weeping through the cotton pad stuck across her pelvis with surgical tape. Beneath her hospital gown, her nipples were chafed from repeated unsuccessful attempts to clamp Rose to her breast. So much for natural, she'd thought, as a midwife palpated her nipples like a farmhand milking a cow. Nothing much had happened, despite these exertions. A thin watery substance had oozed from her right nipple, which the midwife attempted to capture with a syringe.
'Hello there,' chirped a friendly voice. 'How are you this morning?' She'd never seen this nurse before, a young woman with red hair. She strode over to the window and threw back the curtains. The sunlight was painful.
The nurse turned to her. 'You're shaking. Are you alright?' Without warning, Ginie's eyes filled with tears.
'How's your pain?' asked the nurse.
Ginie's voice cracked. 'I've been telling your imbecile colleagues all night. But they're too interested in making sure my milk comes in, never mind my fucking pain.'
The nurse looked taken aback.
Instantly ashamed of her outburst, Ginie began to cry. 'I'm sorry ...'
'We'll fix that straight away,' said the nurse. She patted Ginie's hand. 'You shouldn't be in that sort of pain, you poor thing. I'll call the anaesthetist and get something stronger written up for you.'
Excerpted from "The Mothers' Group"
Copyright © 2012 Fiona Higgins.
Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Preview chapter from Wife on the Run,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 stars The Mothers’ Group is the first novel by Australian author, Fiona Higgins. Six first-time mothers meet in a Mothers’ Group: the events of their first year of motherhood are narrated from six very different perspectives. Ginie is a high-powered lawyer, the family’s bread-winner; Made is the Balinese wife of an Australian engineer; Suzie is a single mum and trained masseuse, Miranda is married to a widower with a toddler, Pippa is a reticent woman with an enthusiasm for natural therapy; and Cara is friendly and empathetic with everyone. Despite a hesitant start, and their inherent diversity, they begin to socialise, sharing experiences and ideas and supporting one another. They face a variety of obstacles and manage to vault many hurdles, but the unexpected events of their Mother’s Day picnic will be their biggest challenge yet. Higgins touches on a myriad of topics, some relevant to early motherhood (lack of sleep, lack of partner support, in-law interference, use of nannies, congenital defects, sibling rivalry and peri-natal genital injury), others more general (racial intolerance, inequity of earning power, infidelity, poverty, incontinence and alcoholism). Higgins gives the reader a realistic plot, characters that are easy to identify with, and dialogue that can be heard in any café or park. The beachside suburbs and their culture are well drawn. The climax and the aftermath are no perfect Hollywood happily-ever-after, but totally believable. This is a brilliant debut novel. 4.5 ★s