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26 May 2011


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Yea, I don't have the book anymore but will try to draw from memory... In the scifi part when they (the 'criminals' kept saying Brigid had a son, a baby boy, and the people in control kept saying it was impossible, no one can give birth, etc and then all of sudden, WAIT! it wasn't a baby boy, it was a baby girl!
um, so? ok? it was still a birth of a baby - clearly impossible, whatever - but why did changing the sex of the baby make a big deal? (am I remembering incorrectly?)
The modern birth story seemed real enough to me. I read this section; I read the last half of the book on Mother's Day which seemed strangely appropriate. (I am not a mother so cannot relate - seems everyone's experience is different. My own mother says she can't remember anything,)

1. Wow, I totally missed the switch of genders. This had to be near the end. I was possibly just desperate to finish the book. I do recall, however, that some of the prisoners recanted that the birth had ever taken place. I thought the prisoners were trying to protect the boy’s (or girl’s whatever) life; to make the interrogators believe there had not been a child so that they wouldn’t continue to search for him/her. Maybe the switch in genders was to indicate that there was more than one child born to Brigitta? Of course, it is also possible that Brigitta was never pregnant, that the whole thing was a hysterical mass belief that the escapees wanted to be true (like weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).

Isn’t it funny that the future is still sexist? Why close up the womb? Wouldn’t it be simpler (quicker, less invasive) to just give all the men vasectomies?

2. Cannot answer this one at all, since I have never given birth. I wish often that I had, but it just didn’t work out that way. The descriptions in the book did seem real to me, however. I wondered too if Kavenna had given birth herself, if she was writing from memory, or if she only wrote based on research.

I have a question: Did Kavenna purposely contrast the "doctor's intervention" in Semmelweis's time and modern day intervention in the form of Caesarean sections, both of which result(ed) in higher mortality rates?

I've got to re-read that part of TBOL to see where the switch happened, but it might take me a while--I'll comment here when I find it. Ruthiella, I totally missed it too.
Interesting point about womb-sealing vs. vasectomies, Ruthiella, by the way.
My sister also thought the descriptions of labor pain were pretty accurate. I'll have to do some research on Kavenna.

"Did Kavenna purposely contrast the "doctor's intervention" in Semmelweis's time and modern day intervention in the form of Caesarean sections, both of which result(ed) in higher mortality rates?"

That is not something I thought of, c-sections being so common now and death by childbirth so uncommon. I do think that TBOL does have larger contrasting themes which would tie into that, like science vs. nature and society vs. the individual. This is why I like participating in the Ménage, it makes you think!

Thanks for the question, and if Kavenna is an author I can track down and who answers her email, I will ask it. But first will you clarify it for me? (I'm sorry to be such a dolt but, oh well, that's the way it is.)
It seems like you're asking if Kavenna purposely tried to contrast doctor's intervention in S's day, namely the intrusive exams with dirty hands that led to infection, with c-sections today, both of which led/lead to higher death rates. Is that right? Do c-sections lead to higher death rates?
So sorry if there's something I'm not understanding in your question. I wish I was Ruthiella, she seems to have gotten it. :)

1. Going to re-read the last section tonight, as I also missed the change of gender. I thought the baby was a boy. I do agree with Ruthiella that it could have just been misinformation to the Protectors.

2. Don't have kids, and if that is what labor is like, don't want kids. I don't know if Kavenna has children or not, but all my friends who have kids either can recite every grim detail of birth or claim that they know it hurt but you "forget" the pain once the baby is born.

C-sections are big news in the US. Our c-section rate is climbing to about 40% of all births. One of the perinatologists that I know has fits about it. Thinks that too many women (and OBs) schedule them based on convenience instead of dealing with labor that may start at unopportune times. He says that a vaginal birth is always preferable, unless there are health risks to the mother and/or child.

I did think that it was interesting how now we have so much technology, we can have epidurals and the like, but women think they are "missing" something by reducing labor pains. I wonder if Brigid was trying to be the "great mother" by having a home birth.

I don't have any statistics, but I think I've read that the risk of death to the mother is increased 3X when she has a C-section. Unless there is imminent risk to the mother or baby, which usually isn't the case, this particular intervention is potentially harmful. I was just thinking that despite the doctors' desire to do right by the patient (in the Semmelweis story) and actually causing death, that there was a parallel (although not necessarily deadly, but potentially harmful) in the Brigid story.

I like what Ruth said about about larger themes like science vs nature and society vs the individual. I was also wondering if Kavenna was contrasting Michael's estrangement from/denial of his mother to the dystopian society's attempts to separate the individual from the mother, both physically and mentally, as well.

As for the original questions, I didn't register the gender change really, but at some level I remember thinking the people being interrogated were changing the facts to confuse the authorities.

I don't know if the author has actually given birth but her description was, as I said earlier, pretty much in line with much of what I experienced. I would think the experience, if you're open to it, is much the same physically, for every woman. Kavenna might have been able to ask any number of women to describe their birth experiences and then been able to fashion a realistic portrayal like she did.

One thing that strikes me as odd is why women are so afraid of labor "pain" and why many want to avoid it at all costs. It doesn't really matter where you give birth, in my opinion. It's just a natural bodily function and the biggest thing getting in our way, in many cases, is our fear, and the technology we use to deal with it. Maybe Brigid was trying to avoid the potential complications and interferences by avoiding the hospital and doctors in the same way the women in Semmelweis's time were trying to avoid that specific ward where the doctors were "helping".

CR, Kavenna does have children: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jun/15/joanna-kavenna-birth-of-love. Sorry to jump the gun, but I could not resist. Must. Google.

I was also wondering if Kavenna's assigning Alzheimer's to the writer's mother was a case of duality - tho to what purpose other than my noticing it cuz I had just read Nuland's theory on Semmelweis' 'difficulty' diagnosis.
Thank you Greta for the idea that they were just trying to confuse the authorities by changing the story (boy or girl baby) and/or wow?! did I just read it wrong? I so wish I had the book with me.

So, allow me to change the subject. I have a note that on page 97: "history of mankind littered with discarded gods and goddesses" which reminded me of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. Anyone read it? That's it, nothing earth-shattering but I love when a book has a connection however slight to something else I've read.

and, hey! Wikipedia has a page on JK (I was curious how to pronounce her last name?) "The Birth of Love is structured as a quartet. Kavenna draws all her strands together in a climactic final section, in which birth is shown to be a moment in which past, present and future merge. This suggests that Kavenna is playing with or subverting the fashionable idea of postmodern collapse.[6] Kavenna has suggested that she wanted to write an 'epic' about childbirth, emphasising its central role in the lives of both men and women."
I did notice the furious pacing at the end as being significant but missed a time 'merge'.

I didn't notice any "time merge" at the end either. Or any merging of the story lines at all, for that matter. The entries got shorter, that’s all.

Sorry Care, never read any Neil Gaiman. But I do love when there are literary connections and I get them!

Holy cow--
Let me just say one thing: you all are much smarter than me, and I am humbled by you. Thanks so much for having this discussion--these were two books I enjoyed on a superficial level, but I can't tell you how much your comments are enriching my experience of the books. Now I'm going to have to read them a third time.

I was aware the c-section rate is way up but I don't know, offhand, what the rate of problems with c-sections are. Personally I didn't want one because I do not recover from surgeries well. Although I know the vaginal way is no picnic either.
Not to add too much to your TBR pile, and you may not like to read about your work, but I'm dying to know what you would think of a book like Jennifer Block's Pushed: The Painful Truth about Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care. If you ever check it out please do comment on any top post I've got going--I'll know what you're talking about.

Thanks for clarifying. As noted I'm going to see if Kavenna would answer your question--I didn't really see it come up in the great article about her that Ruthiella linked to.

Thanks for the link! I should have been on top of that but I have not been having an efficient day. You're the best.

Wow, duality, American Gods, and postmodern collapse. You're the type of person I always sat next to in lit classes and thought, why couldn't I have thought of that?
I've not read American Gods but I know just exactly the feeling you mention of finding connections in and throughout reading. It IS the best! Whenever I find links of that I always feel like I'm seeing my very best friend across a crowded room. Very comforting to think things make sense and connect AND I've noticed them. (Except I didn't in this case. :) ) Thanks so much for adding all of this to my thinking about the novel.

Ha! I sadly never took any lit classes in college. Nope, I was in dynamics and circuit theory and Fortran 101. and look at me now! making $0 writing a book blog! sigh. I am technical roadkill. Am thinking about writing/researching some kind of tome ... yea, I don't know but I think I'm best at NF... To be totally honest, this menage is the most intellectually intimidating and stimulating thing I've done in a while. Love these discussions and different viewpoints and wish I could express more accurately what exactly I liked.

Back to pronunciation... I was saying ka- VENn -ah, when I go to thinking that it might be an alternate spelling for CAVANAUGH. all syllables equal.

I've been through the future sections again and can't find anything about the sex of the baby being changed--but it's late and I might be missing it. The references to Birgitta's child that I saw were all to a son, although Brigid had a girl. Perhaps that's where some of the confusion came in?

Since I'm living in a different time zone (GMT) I just woke up and after sleeping on it, I have some other thoughts on the book. It seems to me the author was layering lots of themes and connections between the stories which I was totally oblivious of when I read it initially. Since I no longer have a copy, I can't even check but here goes:

There seems to be a theme of "interference in the name of love": the doctors interfering to "help" but causing death, Brigid's mother trying to be "helpful" but interfering with Brigid's laboring process by stressing her out, Michael's mother's comments interfering with his self esteen and ability to give birth to his book (get the book written and published), and of course, the society's interference with women actually birthing at all in the Sci-Fi bit. All of these gestures of "helping" other humans in the name of love were ultimately counterproductive in that the others were harmed in some way (or killed) so maybe the title is somewhat ironic. I thought it interesting that the "mothers" in the story (actual and metaphorical) all supposedly had the best interest of the children in mind, but the way they showed their love was flawed. Or at least the children didn't experience their gestures as loving or what they wanted or needed.

Well, there you have it. I've decided that, while I didn't really enjoy reading this book, it was actually a good one in hindsight because there was more to it than I initially got out of it. Like the book itself (due to its title) I wouldn't have even read it, or gotten much out of it had it not been for the menage and this discussion.

CR, today I'm off to the library to get Inglorious. I have a new respect for the author and am infinitely curious to see if another of her books will be enjoyable, now that I'm not such a sceptic. :-)

And I hated critical analysis and literature in school. But now it's kind of fun!


I really do think you forget (eventually) once the baby is born. Otherwise, nobody would EVER have more than one kid!

Kathy, I must be an anomaly then, because I remember it exactly and I did it three times. :-)

Greta, you amaze me (not just for having 3 kids when I am not brave enough to have 1) because of that last posting. I think I like TBOL better after this discussion than after my reading it. I never thought to dig deeply into the themes but I see your point. I think there was also an undercurrent of how you struggle to give birth to an idea, theory, book or child and then it can turn on you and become something totally different. You can never totally control something once you have let go of it.

Wow, I love what you've found with the theme of "interference." It's a great point. I think "interference" is also a large part of pregnancy/parenting, frankly--kids are great to have around, but wow, do you lose focus, because you're always getting interrupted while you move from one task to another. At least this is what I find. (And I don't even want to think about CRjr's toddler years--I'm going to be even more scattered trying to keep up with him.) But yet all the "interferences" are kind of what create the love.
Or something. But you've given me a lot to think about it.

Kathy, Greta,
Well, it'd be a boring old world if we all had the same experiences/memories. I do give both of you credit for having multiple kids, full stop.
I find I forget the sensations of being pregnant, but not really the experience in general (and I won't forget the c-section anytime soon, although it really went quite well).

I like what you've found here too. Birth, creation, and letting go--lots of big things to think about after this week's discussion.

Marmota, thanks! I didn't actually like TBOL much to begin with, but after this discussion I think it had more to it than I gave it credit for. What you said above makes a lot of sense too. I can see that as an undercurrent in each of the stories, which adds even more meaning to it for me. Thanks for that insight! Interestingly, I recently got on someone's case for rating a non-fiction book lower because they didn't like the attitude of the author even though they liked the book. And here I was rating the this book lower because I didn't like the attitude of the *fictional* characters. Go figure! :-)

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