Interview: Phoebe Potts, author of Good Eggs

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

By Rachel Lehmann-Haupt

“I don’t think of myself as an infertile person who wanted to share her story. I’m an artist who happened to be going through infertility. I love to draw and tell funny stories in which I am the star.”

Many of us who grew up in the middle class and attended liberal arts schools have a subtle, yet false, notion of personal entitlement that says, if we do the right thing–self-actualize, remain loyal to our partners, buy organic, and don’t steal magazines from our therapist’s office–that somehow life will deliver the things that we want. Yet as Phoebe Potts discovers–and then illustrates–in her touching new graphic novel, Good Eggs, these solid American values don’t always translate into getting what you want, especially when it comes to having a biological family.

Since 1980, the number of women having children between the ages of 35 and 44 has doubled. Part of the reason: somewhere along the way we “good eggs” put our economic power and self-actualization ahead of our procreative power. Due to declining fertility in our late 30s and early 40s, however, deciding to have a child later doesn’t always mean it will work; who gets pregnant and who doesn’t is more often than not a case of dumb luck. In this poignant tale of struggling with infertility, Potts learns that being a good egg doesn’t always mean having good eggs, but it does mean gaining a deeper understanding of what it takes to love your partner and make a family.

Did you think about the book’s illustrations first or the words?
I write lists of things that I want to see. The list helps me commit the story to memory, and then I’m free to draw what it should look like. With the images of the sperm and eggs dating in my cervix, it’s not like I ever sat at the dining table drawing and imagining my cervix. I was trying to imagine why the sperm and eggs weren’t getting along, especially when Jeff and I do on the outside.

What would you say the inspiration for the book was–the pain of not getting pregnant, your husband, or wanting to put the story out there for other women/couples going through infertility?
The inspiration for making comics has always been making comics. I don’t so much think of myself as an infertile person who wanted to share her story. I’m an artist who happened to be going through infertility. I love to draw and tell funny stories in which I am the star. I’m also really good at complaining, something I do often and loudly. There’s a lot to complain about in the fertility odyssey, and there’s a lot for an over-educated knee jerk liberal in her 20s and 30s to whine about as she tries to find her professional way. A cartoonist friend, the maestro Paul Karasik, told me to do five pages on fertility–it was great advice, as it hits all my strengths: drawing, complaining, humor, and storytelling.

I like that you consider complaining a skill–funny! Are there any writers/illustrators/artist who you think about when you’re sitting down to work?
I start work at 6 AM because that is when Howard Stern begins his radio show. I love his honesty and humor. I love the staff dynamics. Everyone who knows me is shocked when I tell them I’m a fan. He helps me strive to be honest about everything I write. I also love Garry Trudeau’s (Doonesbury) pacing, Alison Bechdel’s (Fun Home, Dykes to Watch Out For) story structure and naked bravery in her comics. Oh, and Roz Chast. She’s an ace. But it’s Howard that gets me through the day–he’s one of the only voices I let into the studio besides my own.

How do you feel about putting such a personal story out there? When I published In Her Own Sweet Time, my memoir that examined a lot of my own fertility and family questions, every radio host asked me that question because women are not supposed to talk about infertility and fertility, which are still kind of taboo subjects.
I feel proud of Good Eggs because I drew and told my story as honestly as I could. I think folks respond to a voice that is authentic, and not trying to sell them something. I’m on the other side of the fertility odyssey now. My husband and I have been pursuing adoption for the last two years, so it’s not raw for me anymore. When I talk about fertility now, it’s from a distant shore. I guess what I am saying is that I’m excited for people to read my book and gratified if it helps folks who are going through infertility to talk more openly about it. Having said that, I did feel like damaged goods when I couldn’t stay pregnant, and I only talked about it to a tight little universe of friends who had learned the correct responses.

So you feel like you’ve found peace with not being able to have a biological child?
There are a few times in the book, right in the preface even, where I talk/draw about my sense of entitlement to getting pregnant. I’ve worked hard for everything else, why can’t I get this simple thing–and my frustration with the universe for not holding up its end: I worked for this, you owe me! Of course, nature is not interested in my Smith diploma, my nice marriage, the fact that I painted the nursery already with low VOC paint.

After I published my book, I hoped God, or the universe, would deliver me the perfect relationship in which to start my family, which is kind of a sense of entitlement. I do think our generation has been a little self-entitled with the belief that everyone can get pregnant at 40. I’m beginning to tell younger women to better balance their desires.
I remember reading that some medical association started saying that women needed to make babies in their 20s and not wait. I got really upset about that. I thought it was anti-feminist and anti-career woman. It’s so hard, because statistically the doctors are right.

My wisdom, career accomplished, and life experience would definitely make me a better mother now than when I was in my fertility prime. I was such a mess at 27 that I would have been a horrible mother. So maybe adoption is fine for you because you have more wisdom, experience, confidence, and understanding now. What advice will you give your daughter/son on these issues?
Do what you love, the rest will follow.

And finally, Phoebe Potts, what’s your Six-Word Memoir?
Tried for baby, had book instead.

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt is the author of In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment, and Motherhood (Basic Books).


BUY Good Eggs.

VISIT Phoebe Pott’s website.

JOIN the Good Egg Facebook page.

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