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Book Review: Mother in the Middle by Sibyl Lockhart

Book Review: Mother in the Middle by Sibyl Lockhart

I chose this book because it sounded like such an intriguing combination of memoir and science: a neurobiologist discovers her mother is suffering with Alzheimer’s and must become her mother’s caregiver, even as she is pregnant with her second child. A constant contrast drawn between the developing brains of her children and the disintegrating brain of her mother. In that it did not disappoint. I loved the way the neuroscience was woven into the very texture of the narrative. It never felt imposed upon the story, but rather was an integral part of how the author with her scientific training and specialist knowledge experienced the major and minor events of her life. Yes, there were a few times when my eyes glazed over a bit at the details of axons and neurotransmitters; but I found if I put the book down for a little bit and came at those passages afresh they were fascinating, never overly technical, and did illuminate the story situation. And in fact, I have realized that I learned and absorbed far more than I would have from a textbook type work, having the science be part of the story made it more interesting, more pertinent and ultimately more learnable.

I really connected to the story when she decides to quit her job teaching at the University and stay at home to be full-time caregiver. No one in her family of her social circle—including her husband—really understands how much work it is to be a stay at home mom, they dismiss her lifestyle as one long Garden Club idyll. She finds a necessary community in a women’s writing group, composed of other intellectual stay-at-home mothers. This rather reminded me of my own experiences with the blog world, though I never approached the level of struggle she has about my decision to stay at home. She is very conflicted as it both feels right and necessary and yet it doesn’t fit in with how she thought her career would progress and she has no understanding and support from friends and family.

This was a very intimate, personal memoir. She brings us along for a very emotional journey and is quite open about the conflicts she experiences as she negotiates her various roles as mother, daughter, wife, sister and professional woman. At times, actually I felt she was almost too intimate. I felt rather uncomfortable about many of the details of her relationship with her husband, especially their sexual intimacy. I really could have used less details about the conception of their first child. The author was raised without religion and her completely secular worldview often felt jarring to me, especially her casual attitude towards sexuality—not that such attitudes are new to me or anything but prevalent in our post-sexual revolution society, but they aren’t my attitudes and it’s not a worldview I tend to want to immerse myself in. At the same time, I realize that same feeling of emotional and physical intimacy was what drew me into other parts of the narrative, such as her descriptions of new motherhood.

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