You often hear writers referring to their books as “babies.” But what if you already have a living, breathing baby with an entire set of hungry, angry, vomit-spewing needs of its own? How do you reconcile the baby-book with the baby-human?
Personally, I like to think of my “babies” as twins (I am apologizing in advance to my friend, January, who actually has flesh and blood twins and is probably not the least bit amused with this long-winded metaphor). I started writing my book, You Know When the Men Are Gone, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Sure, I had the usual bouts of morning sickness and writer’s block, but all in all it was a lovely pregnancy. I felt so fecund and creative, so inspired and dreamy, such flowing plots and storylines, such adorable maternity dresses!
Ah, but then the birth. Then the drama. Then the adorable little babies who had gotten on so well in the womb were at each other’s throats. Baby-human did not want to nurse, have her diaper changed, or sleep. Baby-book did not want to be rewritten, edited, or the least bit revamped. Baby-human wanted ALL of Mommy’s attention, and of course Baby-book wanted ALL of Mommy’s attention too.
You assume that twins will at least distract each other, play together, cuddle on the sofa and share a sippy cup while Mommy is gulping down her first coffee of the day. They are supposed to best friends, right? Mine do not even remotely get along. I would say that they are even deviously at odds, deliberately sabotaging each others’ development. And there is no hope that they will ever get along since my affection and attention to one intrinsically dictates the neglect of the other. Baby-human used to start screaming at the top of her lungs as soon as I turned on my lap-top. Baby-book would send inspiration my way, the perfect sentence or crystal clear imagery, that would evaporate if I didn’t write it down immediately, usually as soon as Baby-human scraped an elbow or pooped herself.
I try to balance their needs, soothe their divergent demands, put one to sleep so I can focus completely on the wild-eyed other. But I can’t help thinking that I would be a much better mother without Baby-book filling my mind while Baby-human is begging me to play My Little Ponies. And I think the inverse, of course, fleeting moments when I imagine the writer I could have been if I had days and nights, hours upon lovely silent hours, to tend to every adorable word and phrase. But ultimately they are my babies, they are my life pared down into two very different beings. There may be a few mild regrets about Baby-human: childhood firsts lost to daycare, one too many hours of Dora the Explorer as I tried to meet a deadline, fun afternoons with Daddy that I had to miss. The same goes for Baby-book: paragraphs too hasty, endings not as perfect as I would have liked, character dialogue that makes me cringe. But I could never possibly regret their simultaneous existence, the push and pull and wondrousness of this motherhood. I’ve done the best I could do and, though there are so many ways I may have let them down, they are each small and lovely miracles to me.
Baby-human is almost three. I no longer worry about her bumping her head on sharp-cornered tables, falling off slides, swallowing bottle caps. She is articulate and to some degree reasonable, determined to wear pink tutus and cheap glittery shoes, all around delightful.
Baby-book is a few months away from publication. No more edits or rewrites or sudden despair that it is a horrible, unreadable failure. Baby-book is tended by a fantastic and slightly maternal editor and other capable people responsible for Baby-book needs. And my babies no longer despise each other thoroughly but play, a bit warily, side by side. They occupy my waking mind, they always will, but sometimes I look at them and think I didn’t do that bad a job after all.
Though nowadays my mind is a little wrapped up in Baby-book number two, a novel so recalcitrant and willful I can’t imagine ever getting it to sit still on the page. And now, of course, my husband keeps talking about making Baby-human number two…