Did Motherhood Make Me a Writer?

Did you ever wonder what your mother would be if not a mother? Or how your choices will define you?

With the release of A Boob’s Life, I’m often asked how I became a writer. It wasn’t my plan. And the answer surprised me.

Sure, I read a lot when I was little. I hoarded library books and skipped my own birthday party the year my mother gave me Eloise before the guests arrived. I mean, a raisin-eating turtle in the Plaza Hotel versus Pin the Tail on the Donkey? No contest. Naturally, I started writing, but not seriously. When I moved from the Midwest to the movie-making capitol of the world, my goal was to run a big movie studio and make movies that changed the world.

Then I had a baby.

“What do you do all day?” my dad asked. He caught me on the kitchen phone between feedings, diapers, and dinner. Frustrated, I hung up the phone and wrote short, funny essays in an attempt to explain. Combined, they became my first book, Welcome to Club Mom: The End of Life as You Know It. The editor changed the subtitle to cheerier The Adventure Begins. And so it did.

When it was time to go back to work, my options were limited. I couldn’t afford decent childcare unless I worked such long hours that I wouldn’t see my baby again in daylight. I had another baby and wrote another pithy book while breastfeeding through radio interviews. After reading a badly written bestseller, I dared myself to do better. Three mornings a week, I bartered for babysitting with a neighbor. I gave myself a year. 66 Laps is about a young mother who suspects her husband is having an affair. After twenty-two rejections, it won a literary prize, a contract with Random House, and gave me the confidence to keep writing.

Frustrated by the challenges of working at home, I wrote an essay for Mommy Wars, the notorious anthology about the battle between Working Moms and Stay at Home Moms. Since I lacked the advantages of either, I wrote, “I Hate Everybody.” Katie Couric laughed about it on the Today Show. Two screenplays, three novels, and seven years later, she would read another essay of mine, a NYT Modern Love column, on NPR.

I’ll never forget the day a novelist I knew from teaching at the Writers Program at UCLA asked when I would pick a major. He meant a genre, like crime or mystery, that provided loyal readers. But I had one: women. And being a woman with children gave me a whole lot to rant about. I mean, write about.

My most recent novel, What A Mother Knows, came out during my breast cancer treatment and was a Recommended Read at Target. If you want a mystery for Mother’s Day, it’s about a woman whose love for her missing teenage daughter is so deep she will do anything to find her, including go to jail for murder.

With A Boob’s Life, I’ve written a true account of what it means to live in a woman’s body: beauty and the breast. I never intended to write a memoir, let alone show photographs of my body at every stage, or research the connection between Playboy and politics. But I needed to understand the real story, and naturally, I want to share what I’ve learned.

If I didn’t have children, would I have accomplished more by now? Would I even be a writer? I don’t know.

Motherhood gave me identity, material, and purpose. And as a writer, I have a voice. I get to say what I think, to share my experience to help others, and to help make a difference. It’s another way to change the world.

How has motherhood affected you? How has it affected your mother? Lots to think about, right? And lots to read. It’s A Boob’s Life.

Leave a Comment