When I read the preview for Birth in Suburbia, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on the write up, I knew this was a novel and not a textbook, but was apprehensive about whether the author truly pulled this book off in novel format. The preview convinced me there was a story line and what I read was well written, so I asked for the book for review. I'm going to cover a couple of things that I feel hamper this book from being as good as it could be first, so then I can focus on what I liked about it. I'll be candid, I don't like the title. I feel that the title so limits the readership of the book that the author will lose some sales because of it. I'm not sure what I would call it, but I know I would take the word Birth out of the title, as that alone limits the appeal to expectant mothers. The same can be said for the book cover. Three pregnant women holding their bellies will appeal to expectant mothers and very few others. This may be the author's intent, in which case both the title and the cover should serve it well.
The spacing of the book is double spaced and combined with the wide margins and large indents makes the book much longer in page length than it needs to be. Reformatting the book to widen the margins, decrease the indents, and changing to single spacing vs. double would significantly reduce the page length, and as a result, the base cost. By making those changes, the reduction in page length would allow the author a little more freedom with character development, which I felt was somewhat lacking. I believe Carol Falaki to be a good enough author to develop the characters well, but I had a sense as I read the book that some sacrifices were made to allow for detailed explanation of the birth process and to keep the page length down a bit.
Friends Debbie, Helen, and Liz are all pregnant with due dates close together. Chrissy rounds out the group of friends, and she already has a daughter and is divorced, and not eager to enter any new relationships. Each of the friends is facing a different path in life and Birth in Suburbia follows each of these friends down their path toward birth, and in the case of Chrissy, outgrowing bitterness. Carol Falaki has chosen to provide a picture of three different types of births and gives each of her main characters one of the types.
Birth in Suburbia begins with Debbie, who is the central character for the book, unsure about her marriage, and unsure about what to expect from the birth of her impending child. The below passage is what sold me on reading Birth in Suburbia because here was a story line I could sink my teeth into. As the book opens, Debbie is walking down the street on her way to meet Chrissy and is approached by a very old woman.
A pale knotted hand reached out and gently touched Debbie's stomach. Debbie smiled; she was used to it.
"Mothers never leave their children," the old woman said.
"I have no intention of leaving my baby."
"Not you dear. We are all children you know."
Debbie looked past the woman, along the street, to where Chrissy was waiting for her.
"They used to burn midwives as witches," the woman added. "I was one you know."
"A midwife dear, long ago. There's something you should know."
The woman's look was direct, and for a moment Debbie felt like a rabbit caught in headlights.
"Your mother is with you."
The woman lowered her hand and without another word continued on her way. Debbie watched her turn the corner. The sound of the shopping basket wheels faded into the warm air.
That old familiar lump in her throat, that unresolved anxiety, returned. Debbie's mum had died three years earlier.
Liz, unmarried and doesn't want to be, has made the decision to have a home birth, and we follow her as she prepares for the birth of her baby at home. Her mother, Maggie, is very supportive and her father, Harry, just wants to stay out of the way. Helen is married to Nigel, who is involved and excited about the upcoming birth of his child. Helen's mother, Anne, is concerned about Helen's pregnancy because she herself had a bad experience. Helen goes late and ends up needing to be induced and ultimately requires an emergency Caesarean section. Debbie, is married to Sean, but is insecure in the marriage as her due date approaches. She remembers how Chrissy's ex, Jack, started behaving as she got closer to the delivery of Natalie, and Debbie is very much afraid that Sean is having an affair. She also feels alone facing birth without her mother. Debbie gives birth in the traditional hospital, non-complication style.
One additional character arrives toward the end of book - Gemma, who is completing her training to become a midwife. I would like to have known a little more about Gemma, as she was present for all three of the births. Maybe just a bit about why she decided to become a midwife, and some of the challenges she had faced so far in her training. I liked her character because she provided the perspective of experiencing the three different types of births with a fresh eye, rather than someone who has done this hundreds of times in the past.
There is a fount of information about the birth process, and feelings both physical and emotional that birth mothers go through prior to birth, in this book. At the end of the book, my feeling is that this should be categorized as a novelized text book, as it has its feet planted firmly in both categories with the wealth of information it contains as well as the fictional story lines.
Originally reviewed for the LL Booke Review.