Photo by Carolyn EbbittI got pregnant at the perfect time -- for me.
For one friend, 20 was perfect. For another, 35.
It isn't something I've thought a lot about over the years, going through the motions of parenting my daughter -- but I'm first and foremost a book geek. And when I read a novel that stirs me to think about my choices in life, the advantage to my job is I can sometimes reach out to the novelist and find out what she's thinking.
And so when I read a conversation between two characters in Leah Stewart's new novel Husband and Wife, I decided to reach out to Stewart to talk about pregnancy, motherhood, and of course, the big holiday in May.
One of the things that struck me about the novel was that it presented itself as a story of a marriage and infidelity, but it was really a look at what motherhood does to a woman. Do you look at life pre-motherhood and post-motherhood?
Absolutely. Motherhood radically changed my life. When I had my first baby, I'd been setting my own schedule for the better part of six years. Except for two stints as a visiting professor, I'd been writing fiction and doing freelance work. I stayed up until 2 a.m. and slept until 10. I was, as one of my friends recently put it, the center of my own life.
And then suddenly I wasn't. For a year I couldn't summon the energy to write or manage to focus, even on those rare occasions I had the time. Obviously, I didn't give up writing altogether, the way my narrator Sarah has, but that year gave me a glimpse of what life would be like if I'd made Sarah's choices.
I do think of the book as being largely about the changes brought about by motherhood to a marriage as well as to one's separate identity. The infidelity plot line gave me a reason to examine those changes.
At one point in the book, Helen and Sarah debate whether it's better to have children young so you don't know what you're missing or later so you have the chance to experience life. Which way do you lean?
For me it was probably the right decision to have them later because it's hard to imagine myself as a parent in my 20s, when I was so focused on getting established as a writer. (And so broke!) But in that scene, Helen and Sarah are voicing something my friends and I have discussed, usually when we're talking about how tired we are chasing our 2-year-olds around and imagining we'd have more energy if we were 10 years younger.
Though most of my friends have waited until their 30s to have babies, I do know some women in their 40s whose children are going off to college, and I wonder if I'll have their second-wind approach to life when I'm in my 50s and my children go off to college.
Sarah seems to put as much weight on her husband's worth as a father as she does on his worth as a man and spouse. Do you think we all reach that point, where the one outweighs the other? Why -- is it just part of growing up, is it something that only comes after motherhood?
I don't know if everybody reaches that point, but it does seem fairly universal among the women I know. And motherhood is definitely what brings about the change. Most of my female friends had careers and financial resources of their own, so only after motherhood did they have to depend on their husbands in new ways. Some gave up their jobs and suddenly needed to depend on their husbands as providers. Some didn't and needed to depend on their husbands as partners in child-rearing.
Photo from AmazonEither way, it changes how you see your spouse and what his role in your life is. Before we had kids, I expected my husband to do the dishes and go to the movies with me and make me laugh. After kids, the list got a great deal longer. And it's not just about the chores. It's about wanting your kids to have the best possible father. So now you don't just think about what you need from your husband, but about what the whole family needs from him.
Do you mind sharing a bit about your personal life -- how old are your kids?
My daughter is 4 1/2 , and my son is a month shy of 3. When I started writing Husband and Wife, Eliza was 3 and Simon was about 7 months, so it seemed easiest to make the kids in the book the same ages. I think careful readers may catch some inaccuracies about child development -- Simon was changing so fast as I wrote the book that the 7-month-old baby probably ends up doing some things more appropriate to 13-month-old babies. It's amazing how quickly you forget what a baby does when.
Mother's Day is coming up -- how will you be celebrating?
I actually have to drive to Columbus in the afternoon to give a reading. In the morning, I'm sure we'll celebrate. My husband usually lets me sleep in, which is about the best gift I can get these days. Plus, there are usually pancakes and presents. My husband makes a mean pancake.
Husband and Wife goes on sale on May 4 -- just in time for a Mother's Day read!
Did you have your kids at the best time for you?