Since having babies, I have read a lot of books about motherhood but none as interesting as this one. Rebecca Asher, a former deputy editor of Woman's Hour, begins wth her own experience of becoming a mother. The first two weeks, while her husband was at home on paternity leave, were much as she had expected: exhilarating, exhausting and messy. But then her husband went back to work. Suddenly she was left alone with an utterly dependent infant for 12 hours a day, every day. Instead of being a respected member of the paid work-force, she faced a life of 'gruelling, unacknowledged servitude'.
This might have been easier to bear were it not for 'the disparity that was emerging between my existence and that of my husband'. Where previously they had been on the same path, equally free to pursue their careers, social lives and hobbies, now he alone 'pushed ahead with his exterior life' while she was left holding the baby.
She started jealously fantasising about his working day: a silent, uniterrupted walk to the office; a coffee and a flick through the papers at his desk; the satisfaction of completing a task. By the time he returned home, to find her covered in that day's combination of the baby's bodily fluids, she would be consumed by resentment.
So far, so regrettably familiar. Most mothers will, to some extent, recognise themselves in Asher's testimony. However much you love your child, you might, as she puts it, come to resent motherhood itself. For Asher's generation, and mine, the 'social demotion' of motherhood comes as a shock. Daughters of Thatcher, raised in a post-feminist age, we grew up imagining ourselves to be truly equal. We kept pace with the opposite sex through school and university and the career-building years of our 20s and 30s. Yet the moment we reproduce, we are zapped back to the Fifties.
The way the current system works - with women enjoying generous maternity leave and men almost none - actallly conspires against women by locking us into an outdated template of family life. While you are on maternity leave and your husband is working frantically to support his new family, it makes sense for you to do all the work of parenthood: not just the shopping, cooking and mopping, but arranging medical appointments, play-dates, childminders, nurseries and the rest.
Before you know it, you're a house-wife. Great, if that's the way you like it, but not if you want, or need, to work. the division of child-rearing duties, once established, is not easily rearranged. It is almost always the woman who ends up scaling back her career: 41 per cent of mothers in relationships work part-time, compared to just four per cent of men. This has a predictable effect on women's long-term prospects: mothers who work part-time are four times less likely to hold a senior post.
Many women, after years of education, drop out of the job market altogether, overwhelmed by the difficulties of combining work and child-rearing. All this is not just bad for women's aspirations and family harmony, it is also a drain on the economy.
Where most of us grumble about the inequalities of parenting, Asher is out to change them. Her solutions are radical: six months' leave for each parent, fully paid by the State, legislation to give all parents the right to work flexi-time, and the provision of universal, high-quality chidcare. It's radical, but not impossible. Countries such as Germany, Iceland and Sweden already do many of these things, transforming the role that fathers play in their children's upbringing, and lifting the burden from mothers so both sexes are better able to enjoy the pleasures of work and family.
Asher is an elegant writer and a lucid thinker. She has marshalled a huge amount of data and made it digestible and entertaining. This is a polemical book, stuffed full of research and case studies; yet it is gripping enough to read through the night. It left me fired up with reformist zeal. To the barricades, my fellow mothers: let the revolution begin.