Let's be clear: this is not a book about infertility. The Mother Project is about the extremities of emotion, and a yearning so violent and overwhelming for something that really shouldn't be so hard. Deeply human in resonance, whether you have a child, want a child, or are ambivalent on the issue, you can’t help but root for Sophie – and Mr B, her pragmatic, pulls-it-out-of-the-bag-when-it-matters-the-most husband. Their painful interior world is made bearable by their bond; their inherent respect for each other, the process, and their shared goal to create a tiny human, who they’ll adore and cherish forever. Sophie was failed and wronged by so many, yet her story seldom plummets into woe is me. Yes, she’s enraged and heartbroken, but each setback calcifies her conviction to go on.
But by God has she had a rough ride. There’s no real way of cushioning it, nor would she want me to. I know this because she’s a very dear friend – and colleague. My boss, in fact (were she not on maternity leave). Damn, that’s a spoiler and a half to include in a review of a book called The Mother Project. My defence is that you probably already knew this, from her award-winning column in The Sunday Times, in which she continues to chronicle her journey to motherhood: from a cancer diagnosis at 30 (the treatment for which rendered her infertile), to her life a decade later, with her one-year-old baby, Marlies. Anyway, this beautifully written book is the unabridged version.
I was in the fortunate position of knowing the story as it was happening in real time. So really, I shouldn’t have been so engrossed. But, woah, how could I not be? I am a slow and distracted reader but I swallowed this whole. At times it’s as propulsive and pacey as a thriller, as motherhood hangs so desperately and delicately in the balance. First, there’s Dr Solokov, who oversees Sophie’s first round of IVF in Russia, and who “unceremoniously dumps” her, citing the tone of one anodyne email. SERIOUSLY, WHAT? (I was shouting in the bath). Later, after initially oozing warmth and compassion, surrogate number one, Melissa, begins sending curt, inconvenienced messages. Forgive Sophie – who is paying handsomely, as commercial surrogacy in America dictates – for wanting to be in touch on the day of her embryo transfer. HAVE SOME EMPATHY, COME ON MELISSA, OVERCOMPENSATE. I was reeling, but indeed, “the fuckery of surrogacy is that you have to keep everyone happy”.
And it’s not only emotionally ruinous, but financially so. Surrogacy in America (the supposed “gold-standard”) is “about £85,000.” Ha! That would have been a steal compared to what she actually ended up paying. As the bills wrack up (and up...), the heartbreak is compounded further. It's only now having read the book, that I've been able to piece it all together, you know, what happened when and why. I am forever in awe of any woman who can receive a life-changing gut punch one minute, and deliver a shining presentation the next.
Despite crossing the Atlantic, her surrogate – The Surrogate – Rebecca, was “right in front of [her]! In north London, dammit”. An altruistic angel sent from the mothering gods! When things started to go awry in America (again), Sophie replied to her message on Instagram in which she'd offered her womb. The verbatim inclusion of their initial contact feels like the most privileged peek behind the curtain. I savoured every word. How do you even begin to tell someone you’ve never met, that you want to carry their child?
Well, just as Rebecca did, actually.
The Mother Project by Sophie Beresiner, £14.99 (HarperCollins) launches on Thursday. Pre-order it here.