In 2013, Sarah Turner started a blog called The Unmumsy Mum. On it she wrote (and continues to write) about her experiences as a mum. The crucial difference between Turner’s blog and the hundreds of other websites you can turn to for parenting advice and experiences is that she’s not afraid to write about the shit bits: the days when you lament the loss of your pre-baby life; the days when you can’t even manage to get a shower; the days when it’s just a bit boring. By the end of 2015, Turner had 325,000 followers on Facebook and a book baby on the way.
The Unmumsy Mum was published in February and became a Sunday Times non-fiction bestseller. Cynically, I assumed that the book would be a rehash of Turner’s blogposts. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to discover that this is an actual book. Although some of the ideas have been drawn from posts Turner’s written, this is partly a book about becoming a successful blogger as well as the first few years of motherhood with two young boys.
When I typed ‘I want my old life back’ into Google during a fraught 3 a.m. feed, I immediately deleted the search history on my phone. I was ashamed of myself because, mostly, I didn’t want my old life back at all. I was head over heels in love with my bald bundle of baby-boy goodness and so very grateful that we had made a family. But there were occasions (like when I had already been up four times and the baby projectile-vomited in the Moses basket) when I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, What have we done? Occasions when I couldn’t stop myself from shouting, ‘I don’t want to do this any more. ‘It’s fucking shit!’ at my husband, whose face told me the baby adventure wasn’t panning out exactly as he had imagined either.
Turner covers everything from pregnancy to finding ‘Mum friends’ to competing over whose day was worse to leaving the house to feeling guilty to whether it’s okay to moan about your kids.
Two things struck me about the book and Turner’s writing: the first is just how honest she is. She lays bare the thoughts and feelings she’s had, regardless of how taboo or unpalatable some might find them; she discusses the physicality of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, including a milking incident that will sear itself on your brain forever; she talks honestly about the difference having children has made to her life and her marriage. The second is that she’s fucking funny.
When morning comes around, I sometimes look at the day stretching out in front of me and think, Oh God. James’s alarm goes off, he gets up, has a shower and gets ready for work. My alarm these days is Henry, who loudly shouts, ‘Are you awake, Mummy? My pyjama bottoms are wet. I can’t find my fire engine. Can I have some Weetos?’ If I’m particularly lucky, a series of recorded Minion farts will be the first thing I hear when I wake up, as the fart blaster from Despicable Me 2 is activated next to my head, waking Jude, who promptly performs his first dump of the day. FML. And so the morning circus begins…
‘Have a good day,’ I sneer at my husband as he leaves the house. On time. Without juggling a car-seat-and-pram-base combo into the car. Without worrying if he’s got enough baby wipes and a clean muslin that doesn’t smell of cheese. Occasionally, listening to actual music on an iPod. Bastard.
There’s an emotional core at the heart of the book too though: Turner dedicates the book to her mum who died in 2002 when Turner was fifteen and there’s a chapter about how difficult it is to be a mum without a mum. The book also opens with a letter to her two boys, explaining why she wrote the book and what she hopes they discover in it – as well as her own concerns about this time in her life being preserved on the internet for all to read.
It’s clear that Turner’s writing has made a difference to others. She talks about the comments and tweets and emails she’s had from people who are grateful to find the person who gets it, the one Turner couldn’t find when she needed to. I knew she was a big deal when I mentioned to a couple of people that I’d be interviewing her at Jersey Festival of Words and they knew who she was. Usually when I mention a writer I’ve been reading, I’m met with blank looks.
The Unmumsy Mum is a brutally honest, sympathetic and funny look at becoming a parent. I’d recommend it to people who think they might want kids at some point, as well as those who already have them, for an insight into what it’s really like.
Sarah Turner, The Unmumsy Mum, will be appearing at Jersey Festival of Words on Saturday 1st October, 8.30pm in the Opera House, where she’ll be interviewed by me. Tickets are available here.