Joan Smith

What Doesn’t Kill You Hurts Like Hell

Ask Me about My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain

By

Nation Books 272pp £20 order from our bookshop

No matter how hard doctors try to measure it, pain is a subjective experience. None of us really knows what someone means when they say they’re in pain, given that what is agony for one person might be bearable for another. But it is clear from this memoir that Abby Norman has endured extraordinary levels of pain, forcing her to become an expert on a subject many people would shy away from.

The book begins in 2010, when Norman was in her second year at Sarah Lawrence, a prestigious liberal arts college fifteen miles north of New York City. She is from Maine and a family so dysfunctional that getting a place at Sarah Lawrence was a major achievement. Norman’s mother was anorexic, so absorbed in and ravaged by her own illness that she couldn’t care for her daughter; what she did do was impose draconian rules about food, leaving Norman perpetually hungry and forced to forage for scraps from other children’s lunches at school. Norman went to stay with her grandmother at the age of twelve, but that didn’t work out either and she eventually moved in with a sympathetic teacher.

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