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Book review: Mama - passionate salute to motherhood

Antonella Gambotto-Burke's sixth book is part memoir, part reportage, part social analysis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:35pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:52pm

Not interested in motherhood? Are not yet or never will be a parent? Read on because this book takes you deep into modern motherhood.

That is to be expected from Antonella Gambotto-Burke - an occasional contributor to the Post - who is renowned for probing issues such as suicide, addiction, sexuality and celebrity culture. Part memoir, part reportage, part social analysis, Mama, her sixth book, is shaped around her conversations with 10 experts, who echo her theme that our lack of respect for motherhood is linked to growing dysfunction and unhappiness in modern society.

The experts include the late British anthropologist and "high priestess of natural birth", Sheila Kitzinger; French obstetrician and the father of water birth, Michel Odent; influential Australian psychologist and parent educator Steve Biddulph; and Hungarian-born Canadian developmental psychology and addiction expert Gabor Maté, to name but a few.

Mama is about intimacy - and the lack of it - and it probes our vulnerability around intimacy with such cogency that it can trigger a journey into one's own past, however raw or unresolved.

Early on, Gambotto-Burke reveals that she, like many of her contemporaries, once perceived motherhood as a "consolation prize for women that didn't have what it takes to make it in the workplace". All that changed with the birth of her daughter Bethesda. "This was," she writes, "hands down, the most exquisite moment of my life."

Having lost a brother to suicide and her mother to "a corrosive relationship", Gambotto-Burke was shocked by the profound love she felt for her daughter. She was also surprised that she and her husband experienced, through parenthood, "the kind of romance that, for years, endured as bliss".

An exponent of attachment parenting, Gambotto-Burke slept with her daughter until the child turned four.

She points out that "throughout history the most brutal cultures have always been distinguished by mother-infant separation," and cites a litany of ways in which the maternal-child attachment is being eroded in our times, and with it our capacity to love and be loved.

She reports Odent's belief that oxytocin, the hormone of love, fundamental to birth and bonding throughout life, is growing weaker and with catastrophic results. "Our culture has come to be defined by adrenaline," she opines. But then, chilling facts and controversial ideas are seamed into this offering as measuredly and as purposely as are the lists of tips for mothers. Disagree with the thrust of one of her well-crafted sentences, and you'll find your heart pierced by another.

Mama: Love, Motherhood and Revolution by Antonella Gambotto-Burke (Pinter & Martin)