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Challenge: Life Changes

Having a baby disrupted my writing career. Here’s why I wouldn’t do anything differently

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I never imagined becoming a mother before I turned 30. But my husband and I, spurred on by a couple of life is short health scares, and a huge question mark about fertility — he had undergone several rounds of chemotherapy for a testicular cancer diagnosis in his 20s, and I was on a powerful intravenous drug for my own chronic illness — decided to start trying in early 2018. This will probably take a few tries, we said. We were wrong.

I was both terrified at and enthralled with at the idea of being a mother. My early sonogram photos — our seahorse, my husband dubbed the fetus — still hang on a bulletin board above my desk. And, yet, I was hesitant to tell people. I was seven months away from releasing what would become my most popular young adult novel to date, "The Cheerleaders," and I owed my publisher another book. I’d just been invited on a book tour with my good friend, the author of a blockbuster YA series. Negotiations were already underway for a TV adaptation of "The Cheerleaders," with multiple studios pursuing the rights. In June, I was invited to BookCon for the first time, for which I carefully hid my 20-week bump with a stylish black maternity jumpsuit. I already loved my son with an I would kill for you fierceness, but I refused to let my pregnancy be the most interesting thing about me when my career had begun to accelerate.

When I finally told people outside of my immediate family, their excitement was often amended with: But how are you going to finish your next book? Concern trolling, I thought. Obviously, I’d heard how near-impossible it was to balance a creative career and parenthood, anecdotes about waking up at 4 a.m. to write, meeting daily word counts in the car on the elementary school drop-off line. But I would be different; I had been publishing a novel a year since I was 23. I had a supportive partner who worked from home and could do his share of child care. I would crack the elusive concept of balance. I would finish my book.

I turned in a draft of what would become "That Weekend" three months before giving birth. I knew that the story was not quite baked yet, that a page one re-write was necessary. But I wasn’t precious about my process, and I had scrapped several drafts of books before. Eight weeks later, my editor called to discuss the draft. I barely remember what she said to me, only that I lay in bed for the entire call, curled around a pillow, praying the 8-pound parasite inside me would stop drop-kicking my ribs.


In October of 2018, my son was born five days early, swiftly and chaotically, in a manner that set the tone for his first few months of life. When the visitors had trickled to a stop and we began accepting our new normal, I remembered that I was supposed to be working on a book. The baby napped on my chest at the computer, his little puppy-snores filling the silence while I wrote about a character who, in the search for her missing friends, uncovers years of devastating family secrets, including physical and emotional abuse. Intergenerational trauma had always been a theme in my books, but for the first time, I was approaching these ideas as a parent. I had no idea how difficult this would be.

Two drafts and several months later, the book showed no signs of coming together. I blamed myself. Did I actually have “Mom brain,” a concept I’d always thought was a sexist way to deflect from the emotional toll of giving birth? Or worse — did becoming a parent make me lose the edge that had always compelled me to plumb the darkness through my writing? For the first time in my life, I felt truly complete, safe in my domestic cocoon. I brainstormed the terrible things I could put my characters through while I pureed sweet potatoes in the Vitamix, and I wrote another draft.

We were more than a year into the revision process when my editor and I spent over an hour on the phone, trying to autopsy my latest draft. The story, we decided, needed to be told a different way, which meant cutting the perspective of a key character. Which meant another significant overhaul — one that was bound to set the book back yet another year. I dove back in, and all the while, my anxiety simmered. Could my career survive motherhood? Would readers even care about me in two years?

“You just have to be online in the meantime,” a seasoned author friend advised me. “Show them that you have a life outside writing.”

But in an age of the author-as-influencer where an aspirational Instagram is a must, I recoiled at the idea of sharing details about my daily routine. Who would want to see a photo of me at the computer, pumping breast milk and sobbing that Microsoft Word had crashed on me after I’d only slept a total of 45 minutes the night before? How was I supposed to tell readers the book they were eagerly awaiting had been delayed again?

Meanwhile, my son was auditioning for the role of the Worst Sleeper Ever. My Crohn’s disease flared up again amid the stress of trying to meet my deadline, and my doctor gently suggested I go back on the intravenous medication that took four hours to administer in a hospital. On the day of my first treatment, I snapped a photo of myself curled in the recliner, cocooned in a blanket and hooked up to IV tubing. I began writing an Instagram post about how I’d wound up there because I hadn’t been taking care of myself, and the sad thing was that I was excited to be in that chair because at least I could get a few straight hours of sleep. I imagined the post being buried in someone’s feed, below photos of authors on writing retreats, hanging out at festivals I couldn’t attend. I scrapped the post and instead re-shared an aesthetic photo of "The Cheerleaders" from an influencer. A family friend commented right away: More baby pics!

I felt like I was disappearing. Who was I, even, if I wasn’t publishing books anymore? Becoming a parent is the most meaningful thing that’s ever happened to me, but I was suddenly much less interesting to many of my friends and colleagues because of it. Even worse was the feeling that parenthood had fundamentally changed me as a writer. I certainly wasn’t a fast writer anymore, but how could I be a thoughtful writer when my brain was short-circuiting with the anxiety of keeping a tiny human alive?

The only solution seemed to be to finish "That Weekend," no matter the cost. I celebrated the book being accepted and going to copy edits while baking my son’s second birthday cake. I had completed something both my editor and I were proud of, but I still felt as if I had failed. I realized how similar parenting and publishing can be. Both change by the day, the goal posts shift, everyone's watching, and it's hard not to feel like you haven't come up short in any aspect. I hadn't figured out how to balance my needs and the demands of the world around me. When I held the first physical copy of the book in my hands, I froze from the inside. It took me several days to post a photo to my Instagram feed with a perfunctory caption about how excited I was for everyone to read it.


"That Weekend"comes out in paperback on June 14, 2022. I no longer view time through the lens of how many years it takes me to write my next book. When I feel burnout creeping in, when the weight of my responsibilities makes writing feel near-impossible, I try to view the world through my son’s eyes. Everything is new, waiting to be discovered.

The day after "That Weekend" was released last year, my cousin sent me a picture of the dedication page. The book was, of course, dedicated to my son.

My heart is melting, my cousin wrote. I felt myself begin to thaw, and I got back to work on my next book. Because I am still me, and there is no shortage of darkness in the world to explore.

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