“Coming to Grips with Self-Exposure” a.k.a. “The Birth of this Book, Part 1”

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

This is the question that DARPA director Regina Dugan asks the audience in her viral TED talk on innovation in engineering. I watched this video a year or so ago while I was eating my microwaved lunch from a Rubbermaid container while sitting at my desk and procrastinating on grading student tests. I immediately had an answer.

I would publish a book that I would have wanted to read as a first-time mom.

I was in a funk.

I had just returned to work after my maternity leave. I was struggling to find a new teaching persona that worked for me. (Who would have thought that motherhood would also change my teaching too? I was a bit shocked by this.) I was also trudging through what turned out to be an eight-week onslaught of daycare viruses. (So. Many. Viruses!) I remember so many days when I would just stare at my desk, pop in another cough drop, and think, Man, I suck at this now. What am I doing with my life?

I kept trying to go back to this teacher that I had once been—a mildly sarcastic (but always encouraging) chatty Mc-Chatterton who didn’t mind going above and beyond. All day. Every day. All year.

But she was gone.

It’s funny that returning to work brought on this realization. Maybe it was how my internal dialogue had changed when I looked at my to-do list. Before the baby, I would think, Oh, my God! I have so much stuff to do that I won’t be done until 9 tonight! After the baby, I would think, Oh, my God! I have so much stuff to do… I just won’t get it all done today.

So when I heard Dugan’s question, What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail, I was primed for an answer. I was chomping at the bit to admit it to myself.

I would publish a book that I would have wanted to read as a first-time mom.

Why was this so important to me, you might ask.

After I gave birth, I was knee-deep in trying to process the whole experience. That’s what I do with huge life changes—I process. Some people take up a hobby. Well, I analyze the shit out of the experience until I’ve seen it from all sides. Then, I contextualize it. And then, I step back to derive meaning and figure out how to go forward.

It’s exhausting, but so, so necessary for me to live happily inside this mind. And I truly had trouble processing the experience of giving birth and becoming a mother.

So what did I do?

I put on my academic armor. Then, I stepped far enough away from the experience so that it didn’t hurt when I talked about it. Then, I ordered a pile of books from the library, and between feedings and changings and all through nap times, I read. And read. And read.

Some of the many books and journal articles I read: September to November 2013

Some of the many books and journal articles I read: September to November 2013

Then I wrote and wrote and wrote.

What did I write? I tried to find academic research to support why birth affects women’s self-identification so much. I looked for research on troubles with breastfeeding to try to alleviate the shame that I felt from formula feeding my newborn. And of course, because I was reading academic research, I wrote with an academic voice.

But as I reread the seventy pages or so that I had hammered out, I thought, “Hmmm… What exactly am I writing?”

It took a while for me to eventually have the courage to write the book that is now available for the world to read . I went through several major conceptual shifts.

  1. Write an academic book.
  2. Not just an academic book, but one informed by other mothers’ stories along with mine.

(This is the point when I saw Regina Dugan’s talk on innovation.)

  1. Okay, not an academic book. Write a more personal book. But include others. Your story is too narrow to gain a wide audience. And you’re a nobody. People don’t buy books from nobodies.
  2. Okay, so it’s hard to get a lot of other contributors to commit…

And then the truly bold thoughts emerged.

What? Publish a book that only has my story in it?

Egotistical. Self-centered. Oh, everyone look at me! I’m so amazing that I’m writing a book about myself! That’s how people would see me.

Well, sure, that’s how they would see if you if you don’t tell them the truth.

Oh, God. The truth. I can’t expose myself like that.

But… what if I tried?

My first step toward writing Becoming Mother happened when I sat at my computer on a July afternoon during my “summer break.” (I use quotes because a summer break to me is never a break. In this season of my life, it is my only time of the year to write like there’s no tomorrow. So I do.) I told myself to just write out the one God-awful scene that I would never tell anyone else about.

And I did.

And, oh man, when I reread it, I thought, Whoa… this is it. This is what I need to write. This is exactly what I would have wanted to read when I was pregnant.


Not just scary truth, but joyous truth. Desperate truth. So-many-emotions-colliding truth. Stephen King writes in his book On Writing, these words: “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”

I needed to find my passion. I needed to find those places in my story where I reveal all those shades of my truest self. Not the faces that my self-esteem wants everyone else to see—but the faces that I hide away. The ones where I am broken, insecure, doubtful, embarrassed, frustrated, angry, and just downright sad. Motherhood isn’t all rainbows and breezy summer days with you sitting in a rocking chair, contentedly nursing your newborn (although that was a nice feeling). If we don’t give voice to those other faces of motherhood, we risk setting future first-time mothers up for incredible alienation.

So I wrote in this way—as if I were reaching back in time and handing myself a book that would help me understand that all the painful and soul-testing moments that awaited me would transform me into someone that I couldn’t have ever imagined.

And she is pretty awesome.

Read “What to do about the postpartum period?” a.k.a. “The Birth of This Book, Part 2”

You can now pre-order a Kindle version Becoming Mother!