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Elisa Albert’s First World Problem fiction: the horror of having a caesarian section

March 11, 2015

My latest blog post for the Los Angeles Times:

Guess what’s the most horrible thing a woman can be forced to endure:

Giving birth by cesarean section.

That’s the message of “After Birth,” the new novel about new motherhood by Elisa Albert that has the critics raving like King Lear on the moor. In Albert’s semiautobiographical world of “After Birth,” everything about childbirth these 21st century days is gruesome (starting with the gruesome pun that is the book’s title), but nothing is more gruesome than this:

“They cut me in half, pulled the baby from my numb, gaping cauterized center. Merciless hospital lights, curtain in front of my face. Effective disembodiment. Smell of burning flesh. Sewn back up again by a team of people I didn’t know, none of whom bothered to look me in the eye, not even one of them, not even once. Severed from hip to hip, iced, brutalized, catheterized, tethered to a bed, the tiny birdy’s heartfelt shrieks as they carted him off somewhere hell itself.”

Why, that’s just awful! No one made eye contact! Let’s ban cesareans!

The book’s overeducated first-person narrator, Ari, mother of a 1-year-old forced by circumstances to live in a dismal upstate New York recession town, has much, much more to say about what it means to have a little bundle of joylessness just ruin your life: “A baby opens you up, is the problem…. There’s before, and there’s after…. To live in your body before is one thing. To live in your body after is another.” About babies in general, Ari says, “Even the best are oppressive fascist bastard dictator narcissists.”

Our heroine Ari is so depressed about this awful thing that happened to her called childbirth that she can’t even finish her doctoral dissertation in — guess what — women’s studies. Yeah, that cliche. And there are plenty more of them in this book. Ari’s a transplant from hipster-epicenter Brooklyn? Check. Husband’s a sensitive but klutzy college professor? Check. Best friend (and rock musician) Mina’s a transgressive free spirit who gives birth effortlessly to her baby at home? Check. What, is this a serious novel or a “Portlandia”-style satire?

Posted by Charlotte Allen


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