As any reading parent knows, a common claim made by writers—female and male—is that ‘writing is like giving birth.’
As a woman in my 40s who couldn’t sustain a pregnancy but who finally scored a memoir deal, few comparisons rankled me more. Now, as a 47-year-old new parent with a spanking new book to boot, I’m still frankly baffled by the equation.
When, after nearly five years trying and failing to have a baby, well-meaning friends tried to cheer me with, “Well, at least you’ll be giving birth to your book soon,” I wanted to respond, Really? But I bit my tongue. I was thrilled to have a book deal. Who I was to complain? (Out loud, at least.)
But truthfully, the book deal didn’t come close to compensating for, or even seem relevant to, the experience of turning 45 and hearing doctors tell me I had statistically a zero-percent chance of ever getting to meet my baby.
Then I became pregnant naturally at 45 and half. I live in Japan, where my husband is from, and at four months past my 46th birthday, I gave birth in Osaka to a healthy baby girl. So I suppose I had one more chance to compare the experiences—the incredible good luck!—of creating a book and a baby that would both live to see the light of day.
Well, dear reader, I can tell you now with certainty: writing and giving birth have just about zero in common. I’ll admit I delivered my baby in a country where pain medication is almost never used for laboring women unless surgery is involved (and thus, my plan for an epidural starting at about the sixth month of gestation was roundly rejected). But really, my involuntary exposure to childbirth the way almost all women in history have had to experience it, makes me only more committed to debunking the mythical comparison between books and babies. Let’s call it reporting from the trenches, and let me just touch on just a few ways the two bear no resemblance:
1) As far as I know, no one has ever died from writing. Or even writers’ block.
2) We have control over almost every aspect of what and how we write, even if the outcome isn’t always what we hoped. We may not be able to dictate the ebb and flow of the creative process on a daily basis, but we can decide when, where, and even whether to put pen to paper. Leaving aside for the moment how many women today still don’t have sovereignty over their reproductive choices, pregnancy and childbirth are processes almost completely out of our control, even in the privileged, high-tech world—despite what some IVF doctors might tell us. Reproductive technology can help increase the odds for some, but no one can promise that a certain egg and a certain sperm, put together inside or even outside a woman’s body, will become a healthy baby. Or any kind of baby. No matter how much or how many times we try, or how many years we work on making it so.
3) The pain of writers’ block has nothing—let me repeat: nothing—on the pain of childbirth. After 48 hours of contractions and then 8 hours of being chemically induced (again, with nary an epidural in sight), my baby still lodged inside me, my cervix stuck at 8 centimeters, I felt like I was being simultaneously drowned and lit afire from inside. The pain, quite simply, was inhuman. People say you forget the pain of childbirth, and I may not be able to conjure perfectly the intensity of the physical torment now, but I am still mystified, still scrambled from the inside, when I recall lying prone, legs hoisted, thrashing wildly, while my husband and a roomful of people in starched uniforms watched me lose touch with my sense of myself as human. And I was one of the lucky ones: if you look at childbirth throughout history and in most places today (or even just take into account my own age and medical history) I’m way more fortunate than most. After all, both my baby and I ended up totally healthy and fine.
So I know writers block is bad and the writing process can be hard. But neither is exactly that hard.
My intention is not to detract from the incredible pride writers feel when they finish what they create, nor to claim there is something more worthy about parenting a child versus penning a book. I knew I wanted to write a book before I ever knew I wanted to have a baby, so I myself once held the former in higher esteem than the latter. Both hold wonder and meaning in their own ways.
But let’s honor the unique gifts language gives us, the special promise it carries of clarity, containment, and control (all of which, I can now attest, seem in particularly short supply when parenting a toddler). Let’s not allow ourselves to be fuzzy with our metaphors. Let’s not belittle either the creative or the birth processes by conflating two experiences that are really so unique.
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