Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: the writing life

Why aren’t people buying this book?: Three lessons learned about book promotion

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So I’ve written a great book.

I’m selling at events where I can easily reach my primary audience–mothers.

So why are only 2% of people who attend these events actually buying this book?

It’s not because the book sucks. I’m getting glowing reviews from strangers on NetGalley–people who have no vested interest in giving me good reviews.

It’s not because I haven’t defined my audience.

Is it because I’m still an unknown writer?

What’s the deal?

I’ve thought about this a lot–especially since my last event totally bombed, at least compared to my expectations of what would actually happen. I hesitated to plop down the pricey booth fee for this past week’s baby and kid expo. Their listed booth price was $495.

Say what?!?

On the other hand, I thought, maybe that meant there would be a lot of people there. In fact, in my communication with the organizers, I learned that about 400-500 people attended this event last time.

Hm, I thought. Nice, but I can’t afford that.

I told them that I might be interested after I’m better established.

Okay, $250 then!, the lead organizer replied.

Hold on, I thought. They think I’m trying to negotiate the price. I wasn’t trying to negotiate at all, so I wrote back to them, in no uncertain terms, that I couldn’t afford this price, but maybe next year.

Okay, $150! But I can’t go lower than that!, the lead organizer wrote.

Holy cow, I mused. I bargained her down to $150 without even intending to negotiate. (I’m sure there are all kinds of implications here for other women who are seeking out ways to negotiate more effectively.)

So I thought that this was a good deal. I would be selling at an event where a lot of mothers would be present, and because it was called an “expo,” people would be coming in with the intention of finding (and buying!) new products. And, hey, maybe the booth prices was so high because I could expect to make some money back to help offset the cost of the booth.

Right?

Bah-ha-ha.

***

I noticed something was wrong by around 3:45. I hadn’t sold one book. First, there weren’t a lot of people there. From 3:00 to 4:00, there was a slow trickle of people. Perhaps 50 people in a room with about 20 or 25 tables. Traffic peaked around 4:00 with about 70 people in the room.

I looked around the room to see what other people were selling. In fact, people didn’t really seem to be selling much at all.

There was another local photographer who was displaying her work and talking about her services. One woman was promoting her swimming classes. An insurance agent was giving out quotes and talking about different policies. Across from me was a chiropractor (who maybe was looking for new clients?). Next to me were three representatives for It Works!, a wellness company that offers vitamins, “superfoods” in the form of powdered drinks, and wraps that shrink and tighten fat cells. There was also an Usborne Books representative and someone selling a product that promised to be a “metabolic booster.” The only other person selling something they had created was a woman selling die-cut quilts and crocheted items.

As I looked around the room, I kept thinking about that listed booth price: $495. Really? No one was turning that much of a profit here. Had everyone bargained for a lower booth price? Most of the tables looked like informational booths, not vendor booths.

And you know what?

The attendees treated them as such.

I started realizing that everyone was queuing up in three places–at the photo-taking station (free pictures, courtesy of a local professional photographer) or at either of the two baby formula company tables (free formula). After getting their free picture, women would load up their strollers with freebies and high-tail it out of there. Several mothers glanced at my table for about half a second–just long enough to see my huge poster–before they barreled out of the conference center.

I can’t be angry at the attendees. They came to this event with the expectation that they would get free stuff. I came with the expectation that–I don’t know–people would be in the mood to buy. But hey, the free formula and baby pictures set the tone. And as one of the few vendors that was actually selling products, I was outnumbered.

So maybe that’s one reason that so many people lingered inquisitively at my stack of books. Maybe they were wondering if I was just going to hand them over for free.

Lesson # 1: Don’t sell at events where people are attending just to get free stuff. I’m not slick enough at sales to convert the “I’m here for the freebies” mentality to the “I’m here to buy” mentality.

***

But I realized something else at this expo.

My pitches were not working.

Was it the content of my pitches?

  • For pregnant women: “This is a better What to Expect because it talks about more than the physical changes. It talks about the emotional stuff that no one likes to talk about.”
  • For women with children in tow: “This is a new pregnancy memoir that explores the transformation that women make when they become mothers.”
  • Everyone else: “This is a new book that I wrote that takes the reader from pregnancy to the end of the first year postpartum.”

So, so many times, these women would smile meekly and nod and say:

  • “Oh, that sounds nice.”
  • “Hm, okay.”

Or they would explain why they didn’t need it:

  • “Oh, I already had my baby.”
  • “This is my second, so…”
  • “I’m done having children.”
  • “Would have been nice a few years ago!”

And then they would quickly move on.

***

There is the thin line between advocating for my book and being an annoying salesperson (which I am sooo not.) If someone doesn’t look interested in starting a conversation, I am not inclined to chase them down. And yet, I find myself caught in this constant mental battle about whether or not I should engage with someone who is walking by my table.

Voice # 1: Be confident! Fight your introverted nature! Beat it with a stick! Take a risk! Engage!

Voice # 2: She just wants to be left alone. That couple doesn’t look interested in buying anything. She’s just being polite. Give her an out so she can save face. 

(Not to mention Voice # 3: No one cares about your book. No one reads anymore. What a waste of money this was. You should really stop doing these events. They’re just driving you further into the red.) 

But then I also wonder if some of the people that I pitched to were even listening. First, they looked at my table. Then, my poster. Then, they would look back at the stack of books, as if trying to figure out what I was all about. I don’t think they could fully process what I was saying to them while they using visuals to make sense of the scene.

So as more and more people walked away, I decided to try something new–I would pitch my book as a gift.

“This is a great baby shower gift for first-time moms.”

“Oh?” an older woman said. Her eyebrows arched. She picked a copy up and started to flip through it. “What a neat idea… Wait, did you write this?”

“Yes.”

Eyebrows arched higher.

“Very neat.”

“Do you know anyone who’s a first-time mom?”

“Yeah, I do… This would be great for her.”

“I’ll even sign it for you for free.”

I closed that sale.

I tried this same gift pitch on others and I started to notice that more people were responding to it. Oh, a gift? What a great idea! 

And then it struck me: I hadn’t clearly defined my primary buyers.

For a number of reasons, mothers were not seeing this book as something they wanted to spend money on. Maybe it’s because mothers are more likely to buy for others and less likely to buy for themselves. It’s the I’ll-use-my-money-on-something-else syndrome.

Or maybe new mothers look at my book and think, “There’s nothing in that book that I don’t already know.”

Or maybe pregnant mothers are thinking, “Oh great. Someone else giving me advice.”

But perhaps the inner dialogue is different for someone who is buying the book for someone else.

Maybe they think, “I don’t want to be the one to tell her how hard it’s going to be, but maybe this book can.”

Maybe they think, “Oh, something for the mom!”

Maybe they think “She’ll like something to read while she’s stuck in the house.”

This is what I find fascinating–that my intended audience won’t reach out publicly to get this book. Maybe it’s easier for a new mother to receive this book as a gift from someone else, rather than as a purchase for herself. When it’s a gift, she doesn’t lose any face in admitting that–once again–this whole process of becoming a mother gives birth to so many unanswerable questions. Maybe the best way to get this book into the hands of new mothers is to do it indirectly–by having someone else give it to them.

Lesson # 2: Know your buyers. They are not always the same as your audience.

***

My last realization concerns packaging.

Yes, packaging.

While I was standing next to my table, waiting for people to approach, my mother (who was keeping me company at this event) flipped through the book and said, “You know, if you put a nice ribbon around this, maybe with a gift tag, I bet more people would buy it.”

I laughed, but she looked serious.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. People eat that stuff up.”

I immediately thought of a friend who said that I should package the book as a ready-to-give gift.

“Maybe drop a bag of tea in there. Some chocolate. Put it all in clear gift bag, tie it with a ribbon. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Just something that makes people think about giving it away.”

Oh my God, they’re right. I need to play the pretty package game.

This is my blind side.

You know how a lot of people assume that women know how to decorate and wrap gifts and create gift baskets? I am not one of those women. At all. If I could wrap everything in aluminum foil without appearing trashy, I would. (No scissors or tape needed!) In this regard, I am totally masculine. My husband wraps the Christmas gifts. He also hangs the pictures on the walls, picks out paint colors, and chooses furniture and fixtures. He insists that I am involved in the process, but I inevitably shrug every time and say, “Looks good to me.”

So maybe you can understand why I didn’t even consider the packaging. Wasn’t this book cover enough to catch their attention?

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For my primary audience, this cover might be enough. But my readers aren’t always my buyers.

And my buyers need to see this as a gift.

I brainstormed some ideas with some friends about what types of little add-ons would pair nicely with this book. So far, we’ve decided on a bag of tea, a piece of chocolate, a pouch of ready-to-mix cocoa, and a bag of microwaveable popcorn–all things that you need to “curl up with a good book.”

Lesson # 3: Package the book to appeal to the buyer.

So will this work?

My next event is the National Holiday Gift Show at Hara Arena on the weekend after Thanksgiving. Over a three-day period, do you know how many people went to this event last year?

13,000.

So, I guess we’ll find out.

Why I don’t want to be great: An artist’s reflection

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I’ve never thought that “greatness” was wealth.

I’ve always thought that “greatness” meant that you were one of the go-to people for a particular niche. That your name would be indelibly associated with a subject or concept or theory or whatever. And for some innate reason, I’ve always pictured that I would achieve that greatness through writing.

So for years and years, I wrote with the purpose of achieving my own personal greatness.

What amazing idea could I write about that could make me great?

Maybe that. Or that.

Yeah! What a great idea. No one else is doing that, so I could become great by doing that.

At this stage, a lot of my writing could be called the dreaded forced and one-dimensional. It was missing a certain je ne sais quoi. Only, I do know what to call it.

Voice.

It was missing voice.

My voice.

And although my goal had been to become a great writer, nothing that I had written had been that great.

And then came the concept of this book.

Suddenly, my reason for writing changed drastically.

I was no longer seeking out “greatness” or fame. I was writing it because I had to. There was such a drive in me to get this book out of my head and into the hands of someone else that I didn’t care anymore about how people were going to see me. God, if I cared about how people were going to see me, I would have picked another topic that wouldn’t have required me to write about my torn vagina or defective boobs.

If I didn’t have this need to write this book, it would have never gotten done.

Let’s put this into context.

Writing a book.

From concept to publication.

Independently.

In two years.

With a baby.

While working full-time 11 months of the year.

That’s drive.

In his new book, How Did I Get Here?: Making Peace with the Road not Taken, Jesse Browner writes about this same drive that artistic minds experience when engaging in the creative process:

“You do it because you need to do it, because you are commanded to do it, and you can only hope and pray that in return it will give you what you need, even if you have no idea what that might be, other than some nebulous principle of fulfillment.”

It could very well be that my book sells fewer than 500 copies and never quite breaks through. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. Because this book has already given back to me what I needed it to give me. It has given me feedback and reviews like this:

“… I’m confident that this book will really help other mothers and mothers-to-be to feel not so alone.”

“No one else I know has (or could?) put into words this crazy, life-altering process… She writes with a deep honesty and humility. It is at turns humorous and deeply emotional, and I found it hard to put down.”

“I laughed, I cried, I related, and I looked forward to each new step of this journey knowing that someone else could relate and had the eloquence to put such profound experiences into words. “

“Becoming Mother is a TRUE account of how many women feel once becoming mothers, but many are unwilling, or afraid, to share with the world.”

What I love most about these reviews are that they reveal that I have been relatable to my readers—and that gives me back all that I need from this creative process.

Being relatable keeps me among the masses, and in my heart, that’s where I’m most comfortable. I don’t want people to envy my life or what I have. It makes me feel spoiled to the point that I want to give away everything that I own.

I don’t want to be a hero. It makes me want to point out to everyone else why they are just as heroic as me. And I only really want to be a role model to my children. (Okay, and maybe my students.)

Maybe I don’t want to be “great” because I fear that it will create a large divide between me and my readers.

Maybe I don’t ever want to think of myself as someone who has completely “arrived” in life. I fear that it might numb me to all the possibilities that still await me.

Although pushing into new territory has never, ever been something that I look forward to, I know that stretching myself beyond my previous capabilities has always, always rewarded me with confidence in my own capability and resilience.

I always want to acknowledge that I have further to go.

I always want to believe that I am a better person when I acknowledge that I am, and always will be, incomplete.

I will always yearn for something more. Something else. Something just far enough out of view that I can’t see it yet.

It feels good to understand at this point in my life that this is not a reflection of how much I love my family or how satisfied I am with my life. This is just the drive of the artist. The drive that I can’t wish away.

For me, writing is my ministry to others. Because this is where I find the most fulfillment. The greatest satisfaction.

And so I must dare to believe that in exchange for giving parts of myself away, new and unexpected things come my way.

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Book Tour Stop # 1: Baby Fair!

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Today was the first live event for the book tour of “Becoming Mother: A Journey of Identity.” I had a booth at the Kettering Medical Center’s Baby Fair in Kettering, Ohio. It was a great venue to reach my potential readers–so many new first-time mothers!

Because this was an “educational event,” I wasn’t allowed to sell books, but I was able to distribute a lot of brochures and cards to interested readers. I got a lot of interested looks. A handful of women saying “That is soooooo what I need right now.” A few puzzled looks. One totally “meh” person. And one “You wrote this? You go girl!”

My own claim to fame is that my book was the first choice for the first raffle winner who had the opportunity to choose an item from the donated swag table. Take that diaper bags and soulless gift cards!!!

Check out the Events page for more updates on where I’ll be next. If you have any suggestions, in the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky area, please let me know!

“My Gift to You, First-Time Mothers”

Here we are, dear readers.

I’m allowing myself to be seen in all moments, not just ones in which I had overwhelming gratitude and joy for motherhood. Not just ones in which people would see me as “a good mother.” I showed myself being ungrateful and whiny and vain.

Because that is real motherhood, especially new motherhood.

You are constantly caught between who you once were and who you are not quite yet. And in that tension, we feel shame over and over again that we are not good mothers. That we fail. That we feel ungrateful and selfish.

And that is not okay. It is not okay to feel shame so often in those first months of motherhood. You have enough to deal with. You should never feel ashamed that you are not further down the road than where you are at that moment.

You are where you are. You are not where everyone else is. And you know what? Everyone else isn’t all gathered together in the same place either.

We are all scattered around different points on this rugged terrain. But when you’re on the top of the mountain, looking down, it’s easy to push a few stones off onto the climbers below you when you’re just flexing a bit of muscle and clout. It’s easy to forget how easily new mothers bruise from being hit by these stones. It’s easy to lose all perspective and empathy for new mothers after you’ve emerged from its grueling initiation.

But don’t.

Don’t lose your empathy for what they are going through.

Don’t lose your ability to cry with them when they desperately tell you that they haven’t slept well in eight months. (That desperation is so real!)

Don’t lose your ability to listen without offering advice. They don’t want your advice, damn it. Unless they pointedly ask you for advice, you know what they want?

A hug. A freaking hug. That’s what they want.

To be heard and to be loved.

The last thing they need is to be shamed (“Well, I never had that problem”) or to be belittled (“Oh, wait until they’re 2! They’re hellions!”) or to be ignored. What they need is for you to tell them 1) that they’re doing a good job, 2) that they are strong, and 3) that you’ll come over and give them a break so they can do something that they want for once.

I wrote this book because I want so much for new mothers to feel understood, loved, heard, and championed. I want them to know that what makes them good mothers is simply getting through that first year—no matter how they get through it. I want them to know that someone out there respects and appreciates how unbelievably hard that first year of motherhood is.

Our government and our jobs may not care. And our partners may not completely understand. But other women who have been down this road can completely empathize. They’ve felt the frustration of having no weekends or holidays “off” for months and months. They know what it’s like to have your existence reduced to nothing but caretaker.

They know. Oh, they know.

So, here is my gift to you first-time moms.

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Let me take you into moments that new mothers don’t like to talk about—but that we should. Not to scare you—but to help you feel less alone if you find yourself in similar situations.

We all crave connection, especially in times of uncertainty. So let’s go on a journey together. Let’s tell each other our stories.

I’ll go first.

“Why the cover?” a.k.a. “The Birth of This Book, Part 4”

So why is my face covered?

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Two reasons.

  • I want the reader to be able to see herself in that situation.

But perhaps more important…

  • This picture represents that loss of identity that new mothers experience.

When you are hanging in that transitional space between who you once were and who you are not quite yet, you experience a profound loss of self. All of the tasks of caring for a newborn remind you hourly of your shifting priorities—baby first, then tend to your aching body, then feed your hungry stomach, and if you have time, allow your tired self to sleep.

I am faceless because this is no longer about me. It is the final humbling that new motherhood imposes on a woman. After the birth, attention suddenly shifts away from you and to the baby.

Certainly, part of you is happy to see so many people coo over this tiny new life that came from you. This is the sacrificial part of motherhood that everyone reveres and respects.  It says, “Don’t worry about me… I just care that my baby is okay.”

But what about that other voice?

The voice of the tired woman in you whose body was just ravaged by a baby being pushed out or pulled from you. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that suddenly screams out, “Hey! HEY! I’ve just been put through the wringer here! How about a hug or some kind words? No? Then, get the hell out of my house so I can get some decent sleep! I’m exhausted! Do you know that I haven’t slept in 48 hours?”

That is the voice we don’t want to acknowledge. It exists, but we don’t like it to speak because it challenges that notion of what it means to be a good mother. We think it makes us bad mothers. So we shut it up. We tell it to be quiet. We tell it that it is not allowed to exist.

Or worse, we deny that it’s there.

Through this shift in attention and society’s expectations of new mothers, we are humbled.

This humbling serves a purpose. It crushes and grinds the borders of your identity into fertile soil so that a new identity can take root and grow. Pieces of you may remain the same, but they are now rearranged and reordered according to your new roles and responsibilities.

And why the title? Why “Becoming Mother?”

It’s a reference to the common experience that all new mothers go through. “Becoming a Mother” doesn’t connect with the reader and tell them that there is any reason to care about this book. If I were that reader, I would immediately think, “Who cares about you becoming a mother? Good for you. I’ve got my own story, thank you very much.”

But the title “Becoming Mother” refers to the common experience of identity shift that all mothers go through. The identity of mother transcends cultures, countries, and time itself. It is why I was able to so easily chat with a Qatari mother at a conference this past May. It is why I have something to say to the mother in the chairs across from me in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. It is why I now have different reasons for crying about anytime I yelled at my mother when I was a teenager—I can now empathize with how much those words probably hurt her.

Continue reading My Gift to You, First-Time Mothers

“Becoming Mother” is now available for purchase. Get your print copy ($12.99) here or a Kindle copy ($6.99) here.

“The picture that said more than I ever could” a.k.a “The Birth of This Book, Part 3”

Just an hour and a half after I gave birth, my husband took this picture.

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We didn’t plan it. I just asked him to take some pictures. He took three. This is the second one.

When we looked at this picture on his computer, somewhere between four and seven days postpartum, I couldn’t help but stare and stare and stare at this picture.

My God… I kept thinking. This moment is… is…

Something.

I didn’t know what to call it. I still don’t have a word for it. But let me try to explain what I see when I look at this picture.

I see my former self. She’s not a mom yet. She doesn’t really know what that means. She’s a career-driven, goal-oriented, academic, hard-working woman for whom grace was a nice idea, but not something on which she could hang her hopes. But now, this unexpected moment of grace has descended on her–and she’s choosing to accept it.

I see my daughter. She doesn’t understand anything around her–with the exception of me. She understands no other sounds, save the sound of my heartbeat. No other voices, save the sound of my voice and her father’s voice. No other smells, save the scent of my skin.

I see that we are tagged, claimed, and wrapped up by the hospital. The gown and diaper generalize us into “patient” and “baby.” What would be private in our own home is public in this room. I even wear some of my blood on the outside, peeking through the backed-up IV.

And yet…

I don’t feel owned or degraded in this moment. I remember feeling like nothing else existed in the world except me and her. When I see this picture now, I distinctly feel that this moment happened even though we were surrounded by policies and protocol. In fact, maybe it happened despite all of the policies and protocol.

In this picture, I see that we are still untouched by the world and all of its noise. We don’t have anyone telling us how to be yet—no advice, no comparisons. Nothing to tell us if we’re “doing it right.” We are not worried about where we’re going or how to get there. We are just two halves of a whole.

We just are. And that’s enough. Just being is enough.

I see the simple beauty of living in the present moment.

Labor forced me to live in the present moment, but here I see myself finally applying it of my own free will. Instead of plunging into the trap of worrying about how I’ll ever take care of a newborn, I’m choosing to be grateful in this moment. All I’m thinking about is this tiny person who needs me. And because I am grateful, I don’t feel overwhelmed by this.

This is the purest form of motherhood that I can imagine.

And I’m never going to get back to this moment.

This moment is beautiful because it was so temporary. But I don’t mourn the loss of it. I only feel tremendous gratitude that we were able to exist together in this space, however short it was.

I thought about this picture a lot as I worked through the concept of this book. When I finally decided to write this book as a memoir, I kept circling back to this picture. I see this picture as the turning point in this journey. Becoming a mother isn’t a switch that you turn on—it’s a direction. It’s a turn toward your child. Everything else settles around you in this new position.

I wanted readers to see this moment right away. It evokes so many questions, “When was it taken?” “Where was it taken?” “How were you feeling?”

Yes, these are superficial questions.

But as you travel with me in this book, you begin to realize the magnitude of this moment and your appreciation for it grows.

Continue reading “The Birth of This Book: Part 4”

Order a copy of “Becoming Mother” here

Book Update: Five days to go, CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!

Still on target for making “Becoming Mother” available for purchase on Saturday, August 1st! Right now, you can pre-order the Kindle version ($6.99), but the printed book will be available (hopefully!) by the end of the week.

Recently accomplished:

  • Became a Goodreads author and added my book to Goodreads. You can now follow me as an author and post a review of the book on Goodreads.
  • Wrote a four-part series on “The Birth of This Book,” in which I explore the complex question of “How did you write this book?” In Part 1, I tackled the questions of what and why. In Part 2, I addressed the who and how. Later this week, Part 3 will address how I created the title and cover, and Part 4 will address first-time mothers directly.
  • Followed up with book reviewers and queried new potential book reviewers. Which reminds me–If you read this book, I would greatly appreciate your Amazon review! Just navigate to the book’s page and type in your review.

What’s going on this week:

  • Sending press releases: I’m reaching out to local publications like Dayton Daily News, The City Paper, and Ohio Magazine, as well as university publications (Miami University, Wright State University, and University of Dayton). If you have a suggestion about where I should send a press release, please let me know!
  • Approving the proof for the printed book: I got the first printed proof of the book on Saturday. What a great moment! There were just a few adjustments in the placement of text on the cover that we needed to change, but the interior looks great. I’m expecting the final proof to be absolutely beautiful.
  • CEEEE-le-BRATE good times COME ON!: i.e., going to a fancy-pants dinner at Rue Dumaine to commemorate a job well done.

    Me, 6 days pregnant–totally unaware that I was pregnant or that I would someday write a book about it, November 2012.

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

I sat at my desk from July to August 2014 writing and writing and writing the narrative portions of Becoming Mother. With my daughter in all-day daycare, I wrote like a fiend. I ate at my desk. When my back and shoulders ached, I stopped to do some stretches, and then I plowed ahead.

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Felicity flips through a draft of the book (February 2015). She is unimpressed.

So did I just sit there trying to remember everything that happened during pregnancy and the first year?

Well, yes and no.

I started by jotting down key moments that had to be in the book—turning points and epiphanies. And then I pulled out a pregnancy journal I kept for the baby (yeah… I’m that kind of first-time mom) and a pregnancy food and exercise journal (here’s the one I used, if you’re interested) in which I kept track of my weight.

When I was thinking about how to give the book structure, it made sense to use weight gain and loss as a plot arc. In addition, tracking the week of the pregnancy seemed useful to reaching pregnant readers. In fact, the physical aspects of pregnancy and childbirth could carry me lock-step for quite a while. We have ritualized pregnancy and childbirth so much that it’s not hard to imagine how to structure a book about it…

Until you get to the postpartum period.

And then, holy shit, what do you do?

How do you connect with readers when the postpartum period is so messy and so uniquely individualized? Any time I talked to other new mothers, I found that we were all having incredibly different experiences. Okay, sure we probably also had different experiences in pregnancy, but the prenatal appointments and baby showers and gift registries helped to unite us under the umbrella of “the pregnancy experience”—even if that common experience were just an illusion.

I had to make a decision about how to connect with my readers in the postpartum section in a way that wouldn’t make them feel ashamed if their experiences were different than mine.

So I decided to tell the truth—that I was confused and frustrated, humbled and broken. But also that I was so happy that I was sad, and so in love that I was terrified. I decided that the confusing and conflicting emotions that drive every new mother’s experience would build those connections. I knew that I could count on readers to identify with those emotions, regardless of the other ways that their postpartum lives take shape.

However, I still needed plot arcs for the postpartum experience.

As I reflected on that year, I saw that the plot arcs divided into two categories: physical changes in the baby (related to sleeping, feeding, and growth) and mental and physical changes in me (related to identity and body changes). Then, I could see that these plot arcs worked together to contribute to an overarching theme of “separation.”

I visualized this process as cells dividing from each other. Before one cell breaks off into two cells, there are two nucleuses within one membrane. And only through much stretching and straining do the cells finally divide into two. I think our society traditionally believes that this division happens at birth, but I wholeheartedly disagree with this assumption after having experienced those first weeks of motherhood. I wanted to show that this division into two entities is much more gradual and requires both mother and baby to start to move away from each other.

And that is how I came to the decision that this book would also need to have reflective sections in which I analyze and interpret the experience of identity shift from woman to mother. If I only included narrative sections in this book, I wouldn’t be able to dig deeply into the whole experience—which is what I think new mothers desperately want to hear in those first weeks and months. I think they are hungry for someone to acknowledge that what they’re going through is such a deep and hard-to-articulate metamorphosis.

I also drew on some outside research to inform these reflective sections, particularly from books and journal articles that helped me make sense of my experience. Because my goal was no longer to write an academic book, I felt free from having to include all of the research that I read. Instead, I only included the most influential pieces that helped me make sense of this identity shift.

Continue reading “The Birth of This Book: Part 3”

Order your copy of “Becoming Mother” here.

“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.

Truth.

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!

Walk the Line: Writing for an Unseen Audience

Your book is available for pre-order in the Kindle Store!

I’ve been waiting to see those words for a year and a half. So I’m feeling…happy? Sure. Excited? Yes.

But also…

…extremely vulnerable.

Just a few of the many, many printed drafts that I gave readers. I can't even tell you how many electronic drafts I have.

Just a few of the many, many printed drafts that I gave readers. I can’t even tell you how many electronic drafts I have.

Oh, I’m out there now. If I wasn’t before, I am now. I’m propped up on the shelf of the Amazon marketplace, ripe for the picking. Anyone can download a sample of my book and dismiss me as “not engaging enough” or “self-righteous.” Anyone can buy my book and then bash it anonymously if they so choose. Anyone can mention my book anywhere on the Internet and say all kinds of unkind things about me.

What a whiner. Her baby was so easy compared to mine. Or how about, Here we go! Another natural birther. Out to fulfill her unmet needs by turning birth into a competition. Kudos to you, Ms. Crazy! Pass me the epidural, please.

Yeah, I have an active imagination.

And I really have to keep it in check.

Thanks to the recommendation from a friend (Thanks, Chanel!), I’ve been reading a book by Brené Brown, called “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” The timing for reading this book couldn’t have been more perfect.

In one particular section, Brown states that, “Sharing something you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of engaged and Wholehearted living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly” (p. 63).

All right! I’m wholehearted! Woo-hoo!

Then, she goes on to say, “But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless” (emphasis added, p. 63).

…How did she know?

I truly struggle with this—not letting my self-worth get tied up in how my writing is received by others. It is so easy for me to fall into the toxic loop of, Oh God, this book is only going to be read by my friends and family. It will never take off because it’s not good enough. I should have listened to all of those rejection letters from agents. They were right.

So I’m trying to look at this experience in publishing as an opportunity for growth rather than an exercise in defining my self-worth. I’m going to have haters and lukewarm readers. But I’m also going to have readers who fall in love with the book. I’m going to have people who buy it…and then never get around to reading it. And let’s not forget all the people who will click on it and not buy it. Or those that think (like I do!), pshhh… $6.99? I’ll wait until it’s $2.99.

And all of that has to be okay with me.

But it’s going to be tough.

I have to silence that inner voice that screams, “I worked so hard! I sacrificed beautiful summer days and naptimes and evenings and weekends! I had to divulge parts of my life that I wouldn’t normally talk about, but that I thought were essential for reaching new mothers!”

I have to ignore all of that. And I have to start this new inner script:

“I have done what I wanted to do and I have done it to the best of my ability. And that is enough. No matter how many books I sell. No matter how many reviews (or lack of reviews!) I get. I needed to do this and it is done.”

But it’s going to be tough.

I’m navigating a very new space–communicating with an audience that I don’t know, that I can’t see, but that will see me–ALL of me.

God, it makes me nauseous just thinking about it.

All my life, my best communication (written or oral) has always been done for an audience with which I could be somewhat familiar: my students, my colleagues, other professionals in my field. My friends. My husband. My family. I could tailor my message just right. I could personalize. I could connect.

But this feels like shouting out my inner thoughts in the middle of a crowded room and hoping that someone will notice and care enough to pay attention. And then not getting too upset if what I have to say isn’t important enough for others to lean in to hear.

Brené Brown beautifully describes the delicate balance of considering audience and how it leads artists into a space full of uncertainty.

When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.

It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism” (emphasis added, p. 169).

Time to walk the line.

 

Want a copy of this thing that makes me nauseous? See it here on Amazon or Goodreads.

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