Part way through this magnificent memoir, Heminsley is told, as she delivers her son by Caesarean section, that she has an unusual heart-shaped womb. It is only one of a series of events which leaves her feeling more and more dissociated from her own body. But is also an extraordinary motif for this riveting family story which is also about Heminsley's husband's decision to gender-transition. This development turns her world upside down, but also leads to a whole new notion of what it is to be a family. A gorgeous open-hearted read but also a vital, instructive one.
Presumably she didn’t get permission – or didn’t want – to write about D’s experience. And fair enough. But the relentless focus on her own body, with so little space for what D was going through, leaves the book feeling structurally off-kilter. Heminsley offers little of what their relationship, their break-up, or their communication was really like. Did D want to stay with her? How did D react to Heminsley’s certainty that she wasn’t gay and so couldn’t stay married to a woman? How does D manage being on the sharper end of the public transphobia they encounter as a parent?
Heminsley is unflinching in her exploration of her feelings — at one low point she writes, “I was left a husk, while in those grim months it seemed that D, now the parent of a child she would never otherwise have been able to have, was free to start a new life.” But as she doesn’t tell us much about her husband, except that D occasionally wore nail polish and bias-cut tops, it’s hard to know how much of a shock the decision to transition was. She decided to end the marriage as she longed to “lie in the arms of a man”, but has continued to co-parent with D, and freely acknowledges that her struggles are more than equalled by the difficulties D encounters as she embarks on the process of transitioning.