Saturday, April 26th, 2008
Blogger Rebecca Woolf’s new memoir, ROCKABYE: From Wild to Child (Seal Press) (read an excerpt) is about finding herself unexpectedly pregnant at 23 and her journey to become a mother and wife without losing herself in the process. Rebecca and I G-chatted about sex, baby weight, and the blogosphere while I was in a Brooklyn café on a rare break from my own work and two children and she was in San Francisco (on a rare break from her one child and book tour). —Lori Leibovich
me: Rebecca? Lori here. For the SMITH interview.
me: Hi! So before we start, a confession: I scribbled all my questions in the back of your book and of course, as I scrambled out of the house to do this interview at the café down the street, I forgot it at home. and I can’t go back to get it because my kids are there and will never let me leave! So I’ll be winging it a bit.
rebeccawoolf: No worries!
me: Where are you right now?
rebeccawoolf: I’m in San Francisco, I’ve been here since Sunday.
me: You’ve never lived in SF, right?
rebeccawoolf: Nope. lots of friends here, though and family i would love to live here but im afraid we’re stuck n LA forever bc Hal works in TV.
me: How has the book tour been so far?
rebeccawoolf: It’s been awesome! Last night was in Oakland that went really well! Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County were all great too.
rebeccawoolf: About 25% of the book came Straight from the Bottle blog or was adapted straight from the GGC blog. The rest was filling in the holes. I wrote the book, pretty much in real time after Archer was 18 months. So the last bit I was writing pretty much as it happened…The book ended last July: my deadline.
me: How did you/do you carve out time and space to write?
rebeccawoolf: Time management is key when you’re a parent. I wrote when Archer was napping and when he was asleep at night. I was lucky he was such a champion napper. Now he’s in school five days a week so that help. I have five hours every day to myself to write and on the days when there aren’t naps or school, my husband helps out so that I can escape and go work. I also ride myself like a horse
me: Can you talk a little more about your past—what your life was like in the years right before you got pregnant? The “wild” years….
rebeccawoolf: Well, I was in my early-twenties. Single. Pretty irresponsible as many and most are at that time in their (our) lives. There were no plans for a future. It was day by day. Night by night. I went out pretty much every night. Partied. Slept all day when I wasn’t working one of my odd jobs…I was pretty typically 22 and in Los Angeles.
me: Did it ever cross your mind not to go through with the pregnancy?
rebeccawoolf: Yes. for about two weeks we discussed not having the baby.
me: And how did you weigh that decision?
rebeccawoolf: It was a very hard decision. ultimately, it was a decision I wanted us both to make and we were both very confused… Everything was new so we were in that fantastic honeymoon stage where we were mad about each other so in a way, it was kind of exciting, the thought about having a child.
rebeccawoolf: —and then terrifying. I told Hal I wouldn’t be able to be with him anymore if we terminated the pregnancy because I didn’t think I could handle the emotional weight of the situation… I wouldn’t be able to face what had happened. I’d want to start new and start over.
me: That makes sense.
rebeccawoolf: So that was a large part of the decision, whether or not we loved each other enough to stay together, to have the baby. in retrospect we were both totally naive and lost and in love. and that ultimately was how we made our decision. it was like a dream but it was absolutely the right decision for us, hard as it was to make.
me: You write about being worried about not being sexual or being seen as sexual after having a baby.
rebeccawoolf: That was my biggest fear about parenthood—that was more frightening than the birth itself. And it was a real fear, one I still grapple with for sure. I was afraid my lady bits would be wrecked after birth. I was afraid men would see me as a mother and therefore someone stripped of sexuality.
me: Well, there are so many ways the culture de-sexualizes women when they become mothers.
rebeccawoolf: YES. suddenly I was pregnant and my tits were “breasts” and my “pussy” was a vagina and everything was so clinical and I had a bit of an identity crisis because sex was always very important to me and my sexuality was something I wasn’t willing to sacrifice
me: So how did you/do you grapple with and reconcile your “old” self with the new mom you?
rebeccawoolf: I think it’s difficult at first. Because everything is very sore and uncomfortable and it’s difficult to transition back to seeing your body as sexual, especially after breastfeeding for long periods of time. for me personally, it was very important for me to reclaim my body after birth. I had to get it back in shape for my own sanity I needed my old clothes I went back to wearing heels and boots and makeup. I needed to feel sexy or at least, somewhat attractive.
me: But even if you’re wearing heels you’re still pushing a stroller—which isn’t all that sexy.
rebeccawoolf: HA! Well, heels weren’t an everyday thing. but I do try to put some effort into my daily appearance even if I’m not leaving the house just to feel good about myself
me: What about your relationship with Hal? How did that change once you had Archer?
rebeccawoolf: After childbirth intimacy just kind of changes. poop is suddenly dinner conversation. Sex is something that happens if and when the baby sleeps. It’s hard to make sex a high priority when you’re a new parent.
me: You were also very honest about your weight and how you were determined to get your body back…
rebeccawoolf: I gained almost 70 pounds with Archer so I was super self conscious about my body for a long time after birth. It was very hard to give birth and still look pregnant many months after. and it didn’t help that I live in Los Angeles. I was working out literally, side by side with Kate Bosworth and I was like “fucking kill me now.”
me: That is a nightmare.
rebeccawoolf: So I’m sweating and hiking and crying thinking I’ll never look like anyone else in this town… I’ll never look like myself again. I was able to get the weight off it took some time but it was like, the first time some creepy dude looked at me I was like YES! SUCCESS! which sounds really horrible and shallow but that was all I needed was some old haggard drunk to give me a whistle.
me: So you’re pregnant again! Congratulations.
rebeccawoolf: Yes. four months
me: Was this pregnancy planned?
rebeccawoolf: Yes! well…we were not NOT trying. So we decided to see what happened and I got pregnant, the week we started not NOT trying which was a shock and of course resulted in a fight and tears because Hal didn’t believe I was pregnant and I got really mad and then it was like me crying and him comforting me like the first time.
me: History repeating itself
rebeccawoolf: So yes it was planned, but it was still a huge emotional surprise.
me: As you know very well there are like 3,456 memoirs (or, UGh, “momoirs“) and books about motherhood‚ I am guilty of editing one of them. What made you decide that your experience would make a good book?
rebeccawoolf: My hope was that a book about unplanned pregnancy and the journey and joy (and mayhem) of it all would be comforting to those going through the same. So many pregnancies are unplanned.
me: 60% you say in the book. That’s a hell of a lot.
rebeccawoolf: And people were responding to my blog in a positive way so I thought perhaps a book would be somewhat comforting to some women. Yes! 60% so MOST pregnancies are unplanned and I had yet to read about one woman’s experience reconciling that. So many parents wait to have children these days but so many parents don’t! I knew no one that was why I blogged because I was basically just talking to myself and then people starting talking back and I was like “whoa! hi!” Suddenly I wasn’t alone! It meant everything to me.
me: Do you think the blogosphere has been good for mothers?
rebeccawoolf: YES. The blogosphere was my community! In fact, the mothers I am friends with in the flesh found my first through my blog! I would have no local friends otherwise most likely! That would be very sad indeed.
me: If you don’t have the proverbial village then the internet can be a great substitute.
rebeccawoolf: Absolutely! I also don’t believe in parenting manuals so everything I’ve learned from other mothers are things I’ve learned from reading about their experiences.
me: In the book you tossed out the pregnancy manuals early on. So you haven’t consulted any parenting books since then?
rebeccawoolf: Nope. There are no parenting books in my house.
me: One last question: how do you manage the two blogs and how do you decide which info goes where?
rebeccawoolf: GGC is where I get most personal. Straight From the Bottle I tend to blog more professionally. My SFTB posts have more of a format GGC is more of a free for all. Sometimes I look back on my GGC posts and think “was I drunk when I wrote that?” I think twice before clicking “publish” on my Babble blog. GGC not so much.
me: Thanks so much for talking. Very fun.
rebeccawoolf: Yeah, for sure! it was fun!
Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Cookie and editor of the anthology Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth about Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and how They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.