Before I Let You Go by Kelly Rimmer
(Review copy provided by publisher)
Synopsis: The 2:00 a.m. call is the first time Lexie Vidler has heard her sister’s voice in years. Annie is a drug addict, a thief, a liar—and in trouble, again. Lexie has always bailed Annie out, given her money, a place to sleep, sent her to every kind of rehab. But this time, she’s not just strung out—she’s pregnant and in premature labor. If she goes to the hospital, she’ll lose custody of her baby—maybe even go to prison. But the alternative is unthinkable.
As weeks unfold, Lexie finds herself caring for her fragile newborn niece while her carefully ordered life is collapsing around her. She’s in danger of losing her job, and her fiancé only has so much patience for Annie’s drama. In court-ordered rehab, Annie attempts to halt her downward spiral by confronting long-buried secrets from the sisters’ childhood, ghosts that Lexie doesn’t want to face. But will the journey heal Annie, or lead her down a darker path?
Review: Before I Let You Go, took me on an emotional rollercoaster. In brief, this story explores the impact of childhood trauma and the long-term effects of addiction. Two sisters and their bond and the complex period of time in a woman’s life, known as the perinatal period. I won’t go into the plot because the blurb tells you enough and I don’t want to spoil what happens.
I’m often skeptical of books that explore mental health issues or other complexities in the perinatal period, because i fear they won’t portray the issues realistically or do them justice. I have to say, Rimmer has done an amazing job with this very ambitious novel in covering so many complex issues; childhood trauma, addiction, attachment and family dynamics and perinatal issues. Not at any point did i think “oh that would never happen.”
Rimmer skilfully tells us the story behind Annie’s addiction. She’s not just a ‘junkie’, she’s a real person with a real story.
In my professional life, I’ve worked with a mother who faced similar barriers and challenges to Annie and so I felt very emotionally invested in this story. I work in perinatal and infant mental health, so the focus is mostly on mental health, and i rarely work with addictions. In this particular case i was, admittedly, judgemental and pessimistic about the outcomes for mother and baby. However, i am pleased to say that this woman’s experience of service provision was completely opposite to Annie’s. Rather than punish her, she was provided support and given the opportunity to become the mother her child needed. Annie is not given this chance, well, not in an empathic or achievable way anyway.
In Alabama, where the story is set, the law is quite harsh when it comes to addicted mothers. The law dictates that a woman using drugs in pregnancy is charged and the baby is automatically placed in temporary care while the mother completes a mandatory rehabilitation program. While i whole-heartedly agree that children deserve a drug-free mother and home environment (and having seen first-hand a newborn baby in NICU withdrawing from substances- it is an awful way to start life), the law doesn’t really take into consideration the complexities of the perinatal period and the vulnerability of a woman in the early postpartum stages. These women are set up to fail, because they are ostracised rather than supported. Motherhood is already so fraught with judgement already. I’m not convinced this law considers what is best for the baby (in the long-term) either.
I believe there has been some talk about bringing this into Australia in recent years, and one of the biggest fears that were raised by clinicians in the sector was that women will be too scared to seek antenatal care. This is what happens for Annie. She fears the repercussions of her choices and so places herself and her baby at further risk by avoiding medical care until close to her delivery date.
Rimmer really humanises the drug-using mother to draw on the readers empathy and poses ongoing ethical and moral dilemmas. Annie is introduced as a scared, mother-to-be, with a drug problem. What Rimmer reminds us as the story goes on, is that Annie was once a child too. She was abused, let down by systems (those same systems that went against her as an adult) and there were a series of events and choices made that inevitably led to the pregnancy.
I haven’t really mentioned Lexie, but i found her relatable and Rimmer really drills in the emotional and ethical turmoil that Lexie experiences as a professional (GP) and as a relative of a substance-dependent woman.
I cried several times in this book. I felt anxious and frustrated and sad and hopeful. It’s a book that will get you thinking about the issues raised, and talking about them too. This story stayed with me long after i’d finished it. My copy is about to do the rounds among my colleagues so i can talk to more people about it!