Female Competition, Motherhood, and the Art of Writing: an interview with Laure Baudot

Laure Baudot’s short story, “Luck,” was published recently on the Fertile Source. Here she talks about writing and juggling motherhood.

You’ve written a short story that combines the issues of miscarriage, the competitiveness among women related to our fertility (the ability to conceive successfully and then to have healthy, successful babies), adoption, and the fragility of marriage. What brought all of these things together for you? What was the impetus to write this story?

Baudot: I’ve always been interested in competitiveness between women. After I had my first child, I was fascinated by the fact that the kind of competitiveness seen in the workplace around work issues is also found in mothers’ groups in regard to parenting styles. For example, the idea that “breast is best” is now au courant. In “Luck,” Lisa feels alienated from the other mothers because she’s unable to nurse her son. Eventually, she leaves the group. In her book Bad Mother, Ayelet Waldman writes about mothers dealing with this pressure to breastfeed, and her own struggle with nursing one of her children. I loved Waldman’s book, and I’m grateful to her for bringing these kinds of maternal narratives into public discourse.

I also wanted to explore some philosophical issues, particularly the question of how much control we have in shaping the lives of our children. “Luck’s” women think that their babies’ developmental milestones reflect their capabilities as mothers, which is almost certainly untrue. On the other hand, we have a certain degree of responsibility toward our children. The character Alison, whose son is slow to walk, doesn’t bring her son to therapy, and Peter faults her for her lack of action. Obviously, on some level, “Luck” touches on the nature/nurture debate. But I hope that readers are not left with the impression that my story draws any conclusion regarding this discussion. On the contrary, “Luck” asks questions, which, I would argue, is one of the jobs of fiction.

“Luck” compares how we treat our children to how we interact with people in general. At the end of the story, the protagonist decides not to adopt the Ethiopian child she had been in the process of adopting before becoming pregnant. The story asks: what is the protagonist’s responsibility, if any, toward the child she was going to adopt? Do we, as parents, have an ethical obligation to nurture children who are not ours? Should we feel a kind of accountability vis-a-vis our fellow human beings? These are questions relating to social action, a theme present in many of my stories.

I’m curious—what is your own personal response to those questions? And speaking of the story’s stymied adoption, the protagonist and her husband have very different understandings of their responsibility to continue with an adoption they’d started once the protagonist finds out she’s pregnant. Their marriage, as a result, hangs in the balance. How do you feel about your protagonist, who experiences very little emotional growth and doesn’t quite seem to see what is obvious to her husband?

 Baudot: I write fiction partly in order to grapple with these questions, which I haven’t yet been able to answer. I think that it’s crucial to discuss these issues, and fiction and poetry are wonderful mediums in which to do so: these genres (rather than the essay form, for example) allow you to address complex questions in a nuanced way.

As to Liz and Peter, they definitely have different ways of looking at adoption. Once Liz becomes pregnant, she becomes more self-involved than she was before. Part of this is a side effect of pregnancy: when pregnant, you’re very attuned to your body’s inner workings, and this can blind you to other, exterior events. Whatever the reason, it causes friction between Liz and Peter. I’m fairly certain that their marriage will not recover from it.

 As a new mother myself, I find this competitiveness among mothers really off-putting. Why can’t we support each other as women? Why does the cattiness continue after high school?

 Baudot: That’s a good question. Many fiction writers have addressed women’s struggles with social expectations around mothering. (Tillie Olsen, for example, as well as the contemporary Israeli writer Savyon Liebrecht).

Women need to find new ways of relating to each other. I’ve been a member of a Toronto women writers’ salon for six of the ten years it has been operating. The writers who founded it saw it as a means of fostering positive and productive relationships among women. Similarly, your sister website, “She Writes”, is a place where members can share concerns that are particular to women writers. These – the salon and your website—are two excellent ways of encouraging women to change the way they interact with each other.

Can you talk about how you juggle writing with the duties of a mother? Do you find your identity as an artist melding with your identity as a mother or do you keep them fairly separate?

Baudot: Juggling parenting and writing is a constant challenge. Because my children are still very young, I prioritize family life and try to spend as much time with them as possible. At the same time, writing is crucial to my sense of well-being, and I make time for this as well.

The American writer Richard Bausch suggests that writers train themselves to write any time and anywhere, particularly in places where there are children. I have to admit that I find it difficult to follow his advice. Writing for me is an intensely private act, and I prefer to separate it from parenting. Each morning, I work for two to three hours while my children are in childcare. I want to stress that writing for this length of time would be impossible without childcare. Also crucial is my husband’s support: he and I split household and parenting duties equally.

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