Transcript: Ambivalence Over Motherhood | Aug 17, 2018

Nam sits in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a gray blazer over a floral print shirt.

A caption on screen reads "Ambivalence over motherhood."

Nam says TO BE OR NOT TO BE A MOTHER?
THAT IS THE QUESTION THAT SHEILA
HETI TRIES TO ANSWER IN HER
NEW NOVEL...

A picture of a book appears briefly on screen. The cover is white, with a gray circle and the title "Motherhood."

Nam continues SHE'S AUTHORED WORKS OF FICTION,
PHILOSOPHY, AND THEATRE.
AND HER 2012 NOVEL HOW SHOULD A
PERSON BE? WAS CHOSEN AS A
NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK.
WE'RE PLEASED TO WELCOME SHEILA
HETI HERE TONIGHT.

Sheila is in her fifties, with chin-length straight brown hair. She's wearing a gray blazer over a spotted caramel blouse.

Nam says HI SHEILA.

Sheila says HI.

Nam says I AM SO INTERESTED TO KNOW WHAT
THE REACTION HAS BEEN TO THE
BOOK SO FAR.
IT'S MOSTLY BEEN PRETTY
POSITIVE.

Sheila says THERE HAVE BEEN SOME PEOPLE WHO
SEEMED A BIT RANKLED,
SOME REVIEWERS, BUT YEAH,
SOME... MOSTLY IT'S BEEN GOOD.

[CHUCKLES]

NAM SAYS WELL, WE'LL GET INTO SOME
OF THE REASONS WHY SOME PEOPLE
HAVE BEEN A LITTLE UPSET OR CRANKY.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says BUT READING THIS BOOK, THE
NARRATOR IS A SUCCESSFUL WRITER,
DIVORCED, CHILD OF IMMIGRANTS
LIVING IN TORONTO.
KIND OF LIKE YOU.

Sheila says YEAH.

NAM SAYS HOW MUCH OF THIS BOOK IS YOU?

The caption changes to "Sheila Heti. Author, 'Motherhood.'"
Then, it changes again to "Should I have a baby?"

Sheila says WELL, A LOT OF THE THOUGHTS AND
FEELINGS AND STRUGGLES
ARE MINE... BUT THE SCENES ARE OFTEN MADE
UP, THE PEOPLE AROUND HER,
THE OTHER MOTHERS, THE OTHER
WOMEN.
SO, THAT'S WHERE THE FICTIONAL
ELEMENT MOSTLY COMES IN.

Nam says WHY NOT WRITE A MEMOIR INSTEAD
OF A NOVEL?

Sheila says I'M A NOVELIST.
I CAN'T REMEMBER MY LIFE.
I'M NOT INTERESTED IN TELLING
PEOPLE ABOUT MY LIFE.
I'M INTERESTED IN CREATING A
WORLD THAT FEELS EMOTIONALLY
RELEVANT.
AND IF I JUST TALK ABOUT MY
LIFE, I THINK THAT'S A LITTLE
MORE ALIENATING FOR A READER.

Nam says AND DO YOU THINK TOO BY... 'CAUSE
I GUESS THIS FORM OF WRITING IS
CALLED AUTOFICTION...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says WHERE IT KIND OF BLURS THE
REAL WITH THE IMAGINED.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says DO YOU THINK ALSO THAT BY
WRITING THIS KIND OF STYLE,
YOU KIND OF GET TO PROTECT
A LITTLE BIT OF YOURSELF?
OR AM I PROJECTING?

Sheila says I MEAN, THAT'S A SIDE EFFECT OF
IT.
IT'S NOT THE REASON THAT I DO
IT.
I THINK IT'S JUST MORE LIKE
THAT'S HOW MY MIND WORKS.
IT ALWAYS IS MIXING UP
IMAGINATION AND REALITY
TOGETHER.
I THINK MOST OF OUR MINDS WORK
THAT WAY, SO.

Nam says WELL, I WOULD REALLY LOVE FOR
YOU TO READ THIS PART OF
THE NOVEL...

SHEILA SAYS SURE...

Nam says BEFORE WE GET DEEPER INTO THE
CONVERSATION.

Sheila says OK.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

She hands Sheila an open copy of the book and Sheila reads
"DO I WANT CHILDREN BECAUSE I
WANT TO BE ADMIRED AS THE
ADMIRABLE SORT OF WOMAN WHO HAS
CHILDREN?
BECAUSE I WANT TO BE SEEN AS A
NORMAL SORT OF WOMEN, OR BECAUSE
I WANT TO BE THE BEST KIND OF
WOMAN, A WOMAN WITH NOT ONLY
WORK, BUT THE DESIRE AND ABILITY
TO NURTURE, A BODY THAT CAN MAKE
BABIES, AND SOMEONE WHO ANOTHER
PERSON WANTS TO MAKE
BABIES WITH?
DO I WANT A CHILD TO SHOW MYSELF
TO BE THE NORMAL SORT OF WOMAN
WHO WANTS AND ULTIMATELY HAS A CHILD?
THE FEELING OF NOT WANTING
CHILDREN IS THE FEELING OF NOT
WANTING TO BE SOMEONE'S IDEA OF ME.
PARENTS HAVE SOMETHING GREATER
THAN I'LL EVER HAVE, BUT I DON'T
WANT IT.
EVEN IF IT'S SO GREAT, EVEN IF
IN A SENSE THEY'VE WON THE PRIZE
OR GRABBED THE GOLDEN
RING... WHICH IS GENETIC
RELIEF... RELIEF AT HAVING
PROCREATED.
SUCCESS IN THE BIOLOGICAL SENSE,
WHICH ON SOME DAYS SEEMS LIKE
THE ONLY SENSE THAT MATTERS.
AND THEY HAVE SOCIAL SUCCESS
TOO.
THERE IS A KIND OF SADNESS IN
NOT WANTING THE THINGS THAT GIVE
SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE THEIR
LIFE'S MEANING."

Nam says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
THAT LAST SENTENCE THAT YOU
READ, "A SADNESS IS NOW... IS NOT
WANTING THE THINGS THAT GIVE SO
MANY OTHER PEOPLE THEIR LIFE'S
MEANING," WHAT DOES THE WRITTEN
NARRATOR MEAN BY THAT?

Sheila says WELL, SOME PEOPLE TALK ABOUT
THOSE WHO DON'T HAVE CHILDREN AS
BEING SAD BECAUSE THEY DON'T
HAVE CHILDREN, AND IN CERTAIN
CASES THAT'S TRUE... BUT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT IS
NOT WANTING CHILDREN, AND THE
SADNESS COMES FROM NOT LIVING
THE SAME KIND OF LIFE THAT OTHER
PEOPLE LIVE, AND NOT HAVING THE
SAME NARRATIVE ARC THAT OTHER
PEOPLE HAVE.
SO, THERE'S A KIND OF FEELING
OF...

NAM SAYS LIKE NOT FITTING IN?

Sheila says ALONENESS.

NAM SAYS OH.

Sheila says YEAH, IN NOT SHARING SOME OF
THOSE EXPERIENCES THAT ARE SO
PROFOUND FOR OTHER PEOPLE.

Nam says I MEAN, WE'RE LIVING IN 2018,
AND IT FEELS LIKE PEOPLE ARE
REALLY OPEN-MINDED WHEN IT COMES
TO A LOT OF TOPICS THAT MIGHT
HAVE BEEN ONCE TABOO.
IS IT STILL TABOO, OR IS THERE
STILL A STIGMA FOR A WOMAN NOT
TO HAVE A BABY?

Sheila says I THINK THERE IS A BIT OF A
STIGMA FOR A WOMAN TO SAY SHE
DOESN'T WANT A BABY.
I MEAN, ONE OF THE SADDEST
THINGS ON MY BOOK TOUR WAS
ACTUALLY A WOMAN WHO CAME UP TO
ME, AND SHE'S TOLD ME, "WELL, MY
HUSBAND DIED, AND NOW I CAN
EXPLAIN WHY I DON'T HAVE
CHILDREN," AS THOUGH IT WAS SO
HARD FOR HER TO SAY SHE DOESN'T
WANT CHILDREN.
SHE HAD TO HAVE THIS HORRIBLE
LIFE THING HAPPEN TO HER IN
ORDER FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO LET
HER OFF THE HOOK FOR NOT HAVING
A CHILD.
SO THAT JUST SHOWS ME HOW... HOW
HARD IT IS STILL TO JUST SAY,
"I DON'T WANT CHILDREN," AND FOR
OTHER PEOPLE TO TAKE IT.

Nam says AND YOU SPENT A COUPLE YEARS
WRITING THIS BOOK...
AND FROM ALL THE PEOPLE THAT
YOU SPOKE TO, AND THE PEOPLE
THAT YOU MET, AND THE RESEARCH
THAT YOU DID...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says DO MEN HAVE THAT
SAME KIND OF ANXIETY?

Sheila says THEY DO, BUT IT'S DIFFERENT.

NAM SAYS IN WHAT WAYS?

Sheila says IT'S DIFFERENT BECAUSE YOU'RE
NOT LESS OF A MAN IF YOU DON'T
HAVE A CHILD.
IN SOME WAYS, YOU KNOW,
THE... THERE'S A PART IN THE BOOK
WHERE A MAN SAYS, "IF YOU DON'T
HAVE A CHILD AS A MAN, MEN LOOK
AT YOU AS HAVING GOTTEN AWAY
WITH SOMETHING.
BUT IF YOU DON'T HAVE A CHILD AS
A WOMAN, PEOPLE LOOK AT YOU AS
THOUGH YOU DON'T HAVE A JOB, AS
THOUGH YOU DON'T HAVE SOMETHING
TO DO IN THE WORLD."
AND I THINK THERE IS THAT
FEELING, THAT YOU'RE NOT FULLY
A WOMAN.

Nam says AND THE BOOK ASKS A LOT OF
QUESTIONS.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT
YOURSELF WHILE RESEARCHING THIS
BOOK AND WRITING THIS BOOK?
BECAUSE YOUR LIFE WAS PRETTY
IMMERSED IN IT FOR A LONG TIME.

Sheila says YEAH, I WORKED ON THE BOOK ON
AND OFF FOR SEVEN YEARS.
SO, WHAT DID I LEARN ABOUT MYSELF?
I GUESS ONE THING I LEARNED
WAS... 'CAUSE WHEN I STARTED
WRITING THE BOOK, I THOUGHT IT
WAS GOING TO BE A BOOK OF
NONFICTION AND INTERVIEWS, AND I
WANTED TO TALK TO OTHER WOMEN
ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES OF BEING
MOTHERS OR NOT BEING MOTHERS,
AND TO SORT OF USE THEIR
EXPERIENCES TO TELL ME WHAT I
SHOULD DO.
AND I KIND OF REALIZED THAT IT
DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY.
I MEAN, YOU CAN'T REALLY GET
ADVICE.
EVERYONE'S SO DIFFERENT;
EVERYONE'S LIFE IS SO DIFFERENT.
IT'S NOT THE KIND OF THING WHERE
YOU CAN POLL OTHER PEOPLE AND
THEN FIND WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO
DO AS A RESULT.

Nam says EXACTLY, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO
LIVE WITH THE... I GUESS THE
REPERCUSSIONS, OR THE CHOICE
THAT YOU MAKE.

Sheila says YEAH, AND YOU JUST HAVE TO LIVE
WITH YOURSELF... AND THAT'S DIFFERENT FROM
OTHER PEOPLE.

NAM SAYS AND SO THE NARRATOR IN
TO GET TO AN ANSWER FOR HERSELF
WHETHER OR NOT SHE WANTS TO HAVE
A BABY WITH HER BOYFRIEND,
MYLES.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says AND ONE OF THE WAYS THAT SHE
DOES THIS, TO DETERMINE HER
FATE, WHICH I THOUGHT WAS REALLY
INTERESTING, IS BY USING COINS.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE
COINS?

Sheila says YEAH, SO SHE THROWS THREE COINS,
AND IT'S EITHER LIKE TWO OR
THREE HEADS IS A YES AND TWO OR
THREE TAILS IS A NO.
AND SHE ASKS THE COINS
QUESTIONS.
AND IT'S ALMOST LIKE WITH A
QUESTION SO BIG AS "SHOULD I
BECOME A MOTHER?" IF YOU DON'T
KNOW THE ANSWER, YOU SORT OF
TURN WHEREVER YOU CAN.
YOU TURN TO PSYCHICS; YOU TURN
TO GOD, IF YOU'RE RELIGIOUS;
YOU TURN TO... AND IN THIS CASE,
THE COINS IS LIKE TURNING
TO RANDOMNESS.
AND IT'S SORT OF LIKE THE
ATHEISTIC GOD IS RANDOMNESS.
LIKE, IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE THE
COINS END UP HAVING A VOICE.
THEY'RE LIKE AN OTHER.
THEY SPEAK AND TELL HER THINGS.
AND THEY SAY YES OR NO.
AND THE ANSWERS YES OR NO ARE
ALWAYS KIND OF UNPREDICTABLE AND
FORCES HER TO ASK DEEPER
QUESTIONS OR MORE INTERESTING
QUESTIONS, SO.

Nam says AND SHE KIND OF... WELL, HER
FRIEND... SHE'S SURROUNDED BY
PEOPLE WHO ARE HAVING BABIES.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says AND WHAT DOES SHE FIND OUT ABOUT
THOSE EXPERIENCES FROM... BECAUSE
IT VARIES, BUT THEY ALL WANT ONE
THING FROM HER WHICH IS... YOU
KNOW, THEY SAY, "OH, YOU WOULD
MAKE A GREAT MOTHER."

Sheila says YEAH, THEY WANT HER TO HAVE A
CHILD TOO.

NAM SAYS WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

Sheila says I MEAN, I THINK THERE'S
SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL ABOUT IT.
I THINK PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE
MOTHERHOOD, A LOT OF THEM WANT
THEIR FRIENDS TO EXPERIENCE IT,
BECAUSE IT IS A WONDERFUL
EXPERIENCE.
I THINK PEOPLE WANT TO BE LIKE
THEIR FRIENDS.
THEY DON'T WANT TO GO THROUGH
SOMETHING ALONE.
WE ALL WANT OUR CHOICES ALSO
KIND OF REINFORCED BY THE PEOPLE
AROUND US.
IT'S HARD TO BE THE ONLY ONE
AMONG YOUR FRIEND GROUP
DOING SOMETHING.

Nam says BUT I ALSO... THERE'S ONE FRIEND
WHO KIND OF SEEMS AS IF THEY'RE
STRUGGLING, BECAUSE THEY CAN'T
GET BACK INTO WORK FAST ENOUGH.

SHEILA SAYS RIGHT.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT THERE'S A
LITTLE BIT OF... I'M TRYING TO
FIND THE RIGHT WORD.
I DON'T WANT TO BE USE "TRIBAL,"
BUT DO YOU THINK THERE'S A BIT
OF LIKE... BECAUSE YOU ARE A
WOMAN...

Sheila says YEAH.

NAM SAYS YOU SHOULD HAVE A BABY
LIKE WE, BUT THE HARD TRUTHS
ABOUT MOTHERHOOD ARE NOT
EXPRESSED.

Sheila says YEAH, I MEAN, I THINK WOMEN ARE
TALKING MORE AND MORE ABOUT THE
DIFFICULTIES OF MOTHERHOOD AND
ABOUT HOW IT'S NOT JUST THIS
IDEAL SITUATION ALWAYS, YOU
KNOW?
I THINK PEOPLE TALK... ARE BEING
MORE HONEST ABOUT THE
DIFFICULTIES OF IT.
BUT, YEAH, I THINK THERE IS
STILL THE SENSE LIKE... BECAUSE
YOU'RE A WOMAN, YOU'RE CAPABLE
OF DOING IT... IF YOUR BODY'S
CAPABLE OF DOING IT, YOU'RE
CAPABLE OF DOING IT.
AND BECAUSE YOU'RE A WOMAN, YOU
WILL ENJOY IT.
AND THAT'S STRANGE TO ME.

Nam says AND MYLES... THE NARRATOR'S
BOYFRIEND...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says WHAT DOES HE THINK ABOUT THIS
PURSUIT TO HAVE A BABY?
WHERE DOES HE STAND?

Sheila says WELL, AT THE BEGINNING OF THE... I
MEAN, HE'S GOT A CHILD BY
ANOTHER WOMAN, AND AT THE
BEGINNING OF THE BOOK, HE SORT
OF SAYS TO THE NARRATOR, LIKE,
"I DON'T REALLY WANT ANOTHER
KID, BUT IF YOU WANT ONE, WE CAN
HAVE ONE, AND YOU HAVE TO
BE SURE."
SO, HE KIND OF PUTS THE DECISION
ENTIRELY IN HER HANDS.
AND THAT'S WHY THE STRUGGLE IS
SO INTENSE.
'CAUSE SHE'S NOT MAKING IT WITH
HIM, WHICH A LOT OF COUPLES DO.

NAM SAYS DO YOU THINK IT WOULD HAVE
BEEN HARDER FOR HER IF... OR MAYBE
THE CHOICE WOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN
AWAY IF HE WANTED TO HAVE A BABY?

Sheila says UM, I DON'T KNOW.
I DIDN'T THINK OF WRITING IT
FROM THAT POINT OF VIEW.
BUT I THINK IN REAL LIFE, IT'S
THE PERSON WHO... I THINK THE
STRONGEST DESIRE USUALLY WINS IN
A COUPLE, YOU KNOW?
IF SOMEONE HAS A REALLY STRONG
DESIRE NOT TO OR A REALLY STRONG
DESIRE TO, I THINK THE STRONGER
DESIRE USUALLY WINS.

Nam says AND AFTER TALKING TO SO MANY
WOMEN ABOUT MOTHERHOOD...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says WHAT ARE THE PROS THAT YOU FOUND?

Sheila says I THINK IT'S A BEAUTIFUL
RELATIONSHIP.
I MEAN, BUT, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE
DON'T TALK TO ME ABOUT THE PROS,
I MEAN, 'CAUSE...

NAM SAYS WHAT ARE THE CONS?
WHAT DO THEY TALK TO YOU ABOUT?

The caption changes to "Sheila Heti, @sheilaheti."

Sheila says IT'S NOT EVEN THE CONS.
IT'S JUST THAT IT... THE QUESTION
NEVER ENDS.
LIKE, I KIND OF HAD THIS IDEA
WRITING THE BOOK THAT... WELL, IF
YOU HAVE A CHILD, THE QUESTION
OF "SHOULD I HAVE HAD THIS
CHILD... SHOULD I HAVE A CHILD?"
ENDS, BUT IT DOESN'T,
BECAUSE THERE'S ALWAYS "SHOULD
I HAVE A SECOND CHILD?" OR,
"SHOULD I HAVE HAD THAT CHILD?"
AND I HAD A WOMAN IN VANCOUVER
SAY TO ME THAT, YOU KNOW,
SHE HAS A 35-YEAR-OLD SON, AND
STILL, SHE REGULARLY THINKS
ABOUT WHAT HER LIFE WOULD BE
LIKE IF SHE HADN'T HAD HER SON.
SO IN SOME WAYS, THE QUESTIONING
DOESN'T JUST END.

Nam says AND WHAT IS, YOU KNOW, THE
STRUGGLE FOR THE NARRATOR?
SHE'S A WRITER LIKE YOURSELF...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

The caption changes to "Connect with us: Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, agendaconnect@tvo.org, Instagram."

Nam says AND HER... PART OF HER
AMBIVALENCE TOWARDS HAVING A
CHILD IS THAT IT WOULD TAKE AWAY
TIME FROM HER ART...
WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT SHE
REALLY WANTS TO DO.
IS THAT... DID YOU FIND THAT
COMMON WITH WOMEN THAT YOU
SPOKE TO?

The caption changes to "A biological imperative?"

Sheila says YEAH.
I MEAN, I THINK MOST PEOPLE HAVE
TO MAKE SACRIFICES, UNLESS YOU
ARE RICH AND HAVE, YOU KNOW,
TONS OF HELP.
THERE'S A... THERE ARE SACRIFICES
YOU HAVE TO MAKE.
AND IT'S NOT FOREVER, BUT IT'S
FOR A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME.
AND, YEAH, I THINK IT'S NOT ONLY
THAT THE NARRATOR DOESN'T WANT
TO TAKE TIME AWAY FROM HER
WRITING.
IT'S THAT SHE'S BUILT A LIFE OF
MEANING FOR HERSELF.
HER LIFE IS MEANINGFUL ALREADY.
AND A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY, LIKE,
"HAVING CHILDREN IS THE MOST
MEANINGFUL THING IN MY LIFE,"
AND SHE'S LIKE, "WHY DO I NEED
ANYTHING MORE MEANINGFUL THAN
THIS?
MY LIFE HAS A CENTRE."
AND SO IT'S THIS COMPLICATION OF
LIKE CAN YOUR LIFE HAVE TWO
CENTRES, YOU KNOW?
DOES HAVING ONE CENTRE TAKE AWAY
FROM THE OTHER CENTRE?
SO, IT'S A REAL DILEMMA.

Nam says AND THE NARRATOR SPEAKS ABOUT
HER MOTHER WHO ALSO HAD FOUND
HERSELF IN THAT POSITION OF, YOU
KNOW, DO I FOCUS ON PARENTING OR
DO I FOCUS ON MY CAREER?

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says AND I JUST WANTED TO READ YOU A
PART THAT YOU WROTE.

SHEILA SAYS SURE.

Nam says IT'S ALWAYS WEIRD DOING THIS
WHEN THE AUTHOR IS SITTING RIGHT
BESIDE ME.

[BOTH CHUCKLE]

Nam says YOU WRITE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Memories of my mother." The quote reads "I wish my mother had helped me with my problems, and expressed them to me in a constructive way, helping me sort myself out. I never understood what she thought was so wrong about me, so I concluded that my whole entire being was wrong. That is the way I have always felt: helplessly wrong, and so desperate to live as a person beyond criticism, whatever that might mean; to prove that I was better than any of the ways she saw me, to do one thing she might admire."
Quoted from Sheila Heti, "Motherhood." 2018.

Nam says DO YOU THINK IF THE NARRATOR'S
MOM WAS MORE NURTURING, SHE
WOULD HAVE HAD A DIFFERENT VIEW
OF MOTHERHOOD?

Sheila says YEAH, PROBABLY.
I MEAN, I THINK WE UNDERSTAND
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO BE A
MOTHER FROM WATCHING OUR OWN
MOTHER AND HOW SHE FELT.
AND, YEAH, I MEAN THAT'S HOW WE
LEARN WHETHER IT'S A BEAUTIFUL
THING OR A DIFFICULT THING OR A
SORROWFUL THING.

Nam says AND ALONG THE WAY, THE NARRATOR
VISITS A FERTILITY CLINIC TO SEE
ABOUT FREEZING HER EGGS.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says WHAT DOES SHE LEARN?

Sheila says THE CLINIC TELLS HER, LIKE, "YOU
DON'T NEED TO FREEZE YOUR EGGS.
YOU GOT... YOU'RE HEALTHY; YOU CAN
STILL HAVE CHILDREN,"
AND, OF COURSE, THINKS THAT THIS
IS GOING TO BE GREAT NEWS FOR
THE NARRATOR, AND THE NARRATOR
BURSTS INTO TEARS BECAUSE SHE
WANTS THE DECISION MADE FOR HER.

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Sheila says AND IT'S ALMOST LIKE HER BODY
DOESN'T UNDERSTAND WHAT
SHE WANTS.
LIKE, HER BODY WANTS SOMETHING
DIFFERENT FROM WHAT SHE WANTS.
AND THE STRUGGLE IN THIS BOOK IS
ALSO THE STRUGGLE WITH THE BODY,
YOU KNOW?

NAM SAYS IN WHAT WAYS?
WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Sheila says WELL, THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE IS A
BIG PART OF THE BOOK,
SO SHE'S... EVERY MONTH AS A
WOMAN, YOU'RE REMINDED THAT YOUR
BODY HAS THE CAPACITY TO DO
THIS, IF YOUR BODY DOES,
AND THAT YOU DIDN'T GET PREGNANT
AGAIN.
I MEAN... AND SO, THERE'S A SENSE
IN WHICH THE BODY HAS ITS OWN
AGENDA FOR YOU, AND NATURE HAS
ITS OWN AGENDA FOR YOU, AND YOU
HAVE TO, IN SOME WAYS, BATTLE
THAT, IF YOU... IF YOU WANT TO
LIVE IN A WAY THAT DOESN'T ONLY
TAKE WHAT YOUR BODY WANTS INTO
CONSIDERATION.

Nam says THE BOOK STARTS WITH THE
NARRATOR BEING 37...
AND WITH THE CLOCK TICKING, IN
A WAY...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says UNTIL FINALLY SHE REACHES 40,
AND SOMEHOW THAT ANSWERS THE
QUESTIONS FOR HER.
WAS THERE A CONSCIOUS ATTEMPT
FOR YOU TO RUN OUT THE CLOCK
FOR HER?

Sheila says I MEAN...

NAM SAYS SO SHE DIDN'T HAVE TO MAKE
A DECISION?

Sheila says YEAH, I MEAN, THERE'S STILL A
SENSE THAT... IT'S NOT THAT AT 40
YOU CAN'T HAVE CHILDREN ANYMORE,
OBVIOUSLY... AND SHE SORT OF SAYS, "I WISH
40 WAS THE FINISH LINE.
I JUST WISH THERE WAS AN END TO
THIS QUESTIONING."
AND FOR ME IN WRITING THE BOOK,
THERE WAS A SENSE OF... WHEN I
WRITE BOOKS, I LIKE USING THEM
IN MY LIFE IN SOMEWAY, SO THERE
WAS SOMETHING FUNNY AND
INTERESTING TO ME ABOUT WRITING
A BOOK OVER SEVEN YEARS THAT
WOULD GO TO THE END OF... IN MY
CASE, THE END OF MY 30S,
MORE... NOT THE END OF MY
FERTILITY, BUT TOWARDS THE END.
AND, YOU KNOW, I SAY IN THE BOOK
THAT THE BOOK IS A PROPHYLACTIC,
SO IT'S JUST THAT IDEA OF
OCCUPYING YOURSELF WITH
SOMETHING SO AS NOT TO OCCUPY
YOURSELF WITH SOMETHING ELSE.

Nam says SO HOW MUCH OF THIS BOOK IS YOU
AND HOW MUCH IS IT OF
THE NARRATOR?

Sheila says IT'S... I CAN'T REALLY CALCULATE
IT THAT WAY.
IT'S LIKE WHEN YOU DREAM AT
NIGHT...

NAM SAYS UH HUH...

Sheila says LIKE, HOW MUCH OF THE DREAM
COMES FROM THE MATERIAL OF YOUR
DAILY LIFE AND HOW MUCH OF IT
COMES FROM SOMEWHERE THAT YOU
DON'T KNOW?
YOU CAN'T REALLY GIVE A NUMBER
TO THAT.
BUT WHEN YOU LOOK... IF YOU
REMEMBER YOUR DREAMS IN THE
MORNING, YOU'RE LIKE, "OH RIGHT,
I DID GO TO THE MALL OR
WHATEVER, AND THAT WAS IN MY
DREAM.
BUT THEN, LIKE, THAT TIGER; I
NEVER SAW A TIGER."
YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN?

NAM SAYS YEAH.

Sheila says SO THERE'S JUST ALWAYS THIS
INTERPLAY BETWEEN...

Nam says AND EARLIER IN THE CONVERSATION,
YOU SAID THAT YOU LIKE THIS
STYLE OF WRITING, LIKE BLENDING
THE TWO.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says WHAT APPEALS TO YOU ABOUT THAT
STYLE OF WRITING?

Sheila says IT'S NOT EVEN WHAT APPEALS TO ME
ABOUT THAT STYLE; IT'S WHAT
DOESN'T APPEAL TO ME ABOUT THE
OTHER STYLES.

NAM SAYS AH.

Sheila says LIKE, IF I JUST HAD TO WRITE
MEMOIR OR NONFICTION, I WOULD
FEEL LIKE THIS HUGE PART OF MY
BRAIN, I COULDN'T USE IT,
YOU KNOW, WHICH IS THE PART THAT
SPONTANEOUSLY GENERATES IMAGES.
AND THEN IF I DIDN'T USE MY
LIFE, I FEEL LIKE MY WRITING
WOULD BE TOO FAR AWAY FROM MY
ACTUAL CONCERNS.

Nam says OK, BUT DO YOU THINK A PART OF
IT TOO IS THAT YOU'RE SHIELDING
YOU, YOURSELF?

Sheila says NO, BECAUSE I DON'T...

NAM SAYS 'CAUSE NO ONE CAN REALLY
EVER KNOW WHAT'S REAL AND WHAT'S
NOT IN YOUR BOOK.

Sheila says YEAH, BUT I'M... I DON'T KNOW, I
DON'T REALLY... I'M NOT REALLY
WORRIED ABOUT THAT.

[BOTH CHUCKLE]

Nam says I GUESS AS A READER, I'M JUST
CURIOUS, RIGHT?

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says YEAH.

Sheila says I KNOW PEOPLE ARE, AND THAT
MAKES SENSE, AND...

NAM SAYS AND THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF
PEOPLE WHO HAVE TRIED TO
ATTRIBUTE THE NARRATOR AS BEING
YOU.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH, THEY CALL THE
NARRATOR "SHEILA,"
AND THE NARRATOR'S NOT NAMED.

NAM SAYS YEAH.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

Sheila says I JUST THINK THOSE PEOPLE AREN'T
READING THAT CAREFULLY,
BECAUSE... AND ALSO, MAYBE THERE'S
SOMETHING WHERE IN OUR CULTURE
WE ARE BORED BY THE IDEA OF
FICTION.
WE WANT EVERYTHING TO BE A TRUE
STORY, YOU KNOW?
AND SO WE WANT TO ATTRIBUTE
EVERYTHING TO THE AUTHOR.
I DON'T KNOW WHY.
WE'VE LIKE LOST... WE'VE LOST
PLEASURE IN THE IMAGINATION.

Nam says GOING BACK INTO MOTHERHOOD,
AYELET WALDMAN ONCE SAID SHE
LOVED HER HUSBAND MORE THAN HER
CHILDREN, AND THERE WAS
AN UPROAR.

Sheila says YEAH.

Nam says BUT MORE AND MORE MOTHERS ARE
COMING CLEAN.
AND LIKE WE WERE SAYING BEFORE,
THEY ARE BEING HONEST ABOUT WHAT
IT'S LIKE TO BE A PARENT.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

NAM SAYS WHY CAN'T WE BE MORE HONEST
ABOUT THESE FEELINGS?

The caption changes to "Do women really have a choice?"

Sheila says I THINK WE DON'T WANT TO BE
JUDGED.
WE DON'T WANT TO BE JUDGED BY
OUR CHILDREN.
WE DON'T WANT TO BE JUDGED BY
OTHER WOMEN.
WE DON'T WANT TO BE JUDGED BY
THE PEOPLE THAT WORK WITH US.
YOU JUST WANT TO SEEM LIKE
EVERYBODY ELSE.
AND IF EVERYBODY ELSE IS SAYING
ONE THING, YOU DON'T WANT TO BE
THE ONE PERSON TO SAY,
"ACTUALLY, THIS IS REALLY HARD
IN THESE WAYS."
BUT I THINK THAT IS CHANGING.
THERE'S MORE HONESTY.

Nam says AND IN THE BOOK, TOO, YOU WROTE
ABOUT HOW THERE'S STILL THIS
THING WHERE WE ELEVATE WOMEN WHO
ARE MOTHERS...

Sheila says YEAH.

NAM SAYS AS IF THEY'VE DONE
SOMETHING GREAT IN THEIR LIVES.
AND WOMEN WHO DON'T HAVE
CHILDREN, WE KIND OF LOOK AT
THEM AS IF THEY'VE NOT COMMITTED
THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES...

Sheila says YEAH.

NAM SAYS OR THEY HAVEN'T FULFILLED
THEIR DUTIES.
BUT DO YOU EVER THINK THAT WOMEN
WHO ARE MOTHERS LOOK AT WOMEN
LIKE YOU AND KIND OF ENVY YOUR LIFE?

Sheila says YEAH, WE ALL ENVY EACH OTHER.
[CHUCKLING]
I MEAN, IT'S AWFUL.
THAT'S SOMETHING THAT... THAT'S
TOTALLY UNNECESSARY, BUT I THINK
EVERYBODY ELSE THINKS
THAT... EVERYBODY THINKS THAT
EVERYBODY ELSE IS LIVING A MORE
FULFILLED AND HAPPY LIFE THAN
THEY ARE, BECAUSE YOU CAN FEEL
THE GAPS IN YOUR OWN LIFE,
BUT YOU CAN'T SEE THEM
IN SOMEBODY ELSE'S.
AND WE ALL HAVE LIKE A REASON TO
PRESENT OURSELVES AS FULL AND
HAPPY AND TOTALLY CONTENT WITH
OUR CHOICES.

Nam says AND BEYOND LIKE... EVEN JUST
MAKING IT LIKE A PERSONAL
CHOICE, FOR THE NARRATOR, SHE'S
THE DAUGHTER OF IMMIGRANTS.
HER MOTHER SURVIVED THE
HOLOCAUST.

Sheila says HER GRANDMOTHER, YEAH.

NAM SAYS HER GRANDMOTHER, SORRY.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says AND SO SHE WAS SAYING THAT, YOU
KNOW, "I DON'T HAVE VERY
MUCH FAMILY."

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says AND ONE OF THE THINGS THAT SHE
STRUGGLED WITH, BY NOT HAVING A
CHILD, IT'S LIKE NOT CONTINUING
HER LIFE OR HER FAMILY.

Sheila says YEAH.

Nam says DO A LOT OF PEOPLE, LIKE SOME
PEOPLE THAT YOU'VE SPOKEN TO,
HAVE THAT STRUGGLE?

Sheila says I DON'T KNOW.
I THINK THAT IN THE CASE OF THIS
NARRATOR, IT'S JUST LIKE,
"WHO ARE YOU TO END THE FAMILY LINE?
IF YOUR GRANDMOTHER SURVIVED THE
HOLOCAUST, YOU KNOW, WHO ARE YOU
TO END IT?"
IT'S A MUCH MORE... "AND IT'S SUCH
A SMALL FAMILY, AND SO MUCH OF
THE FAMILY WAS KILLED DURING THE
HOLOCAUST AND WORLD WAR II,
AND SO YOU SHOULD CARRY IT ON.
YOU'VE GOT AN OBLIGATION, ALMOST
TO HISTORY, AND TO THE JEWISH
PEOPLE, AND TO YOUR OWN FAMILY
TO CARRY IT ON."
SO THAT MAKES THE STRUGGLE EVEN
MORE DIFFICULT.

Nam says WHAT WOULD YOU THINK... I KNOW
IT'S BEEN A WHILE, BUT LOOKING
BACK, WHAT WOULD YOU THINK IS
THE MOST SURPRISING THING THAT
YOU LEARNED BY TALKING TO PEOPLE
ABOUT THIS TOPIC?

Sheila says YOU KNOW, IT KIND OF STARTED
WHEN I WAS IN ITALY
TEN YEARS AGO.
I WAS SPEAKING TO THESE ITALIAN
WOMEN OVER DINNER ONCE, AND THEY
WERE SO HONEST IN A WAY THAT
NORTH AMERICAN WOMEN DIDN'T SEEM
TO ME ABOUT THEIR OWN
AMBIVALENCE TOWARDS BEING
MOTHERS AND TOWARDS HAVING
CHILDREN.
THIS... I REMEMBER THIS ONE WOMAN
SAID TO ME... 'CAUSE I WASN'T SURE
WHETHER I WANTED CHILDREN... AND
SHE SAID, "IF YOU... IF YOU DON'T
HAVE A BIOLOGICAL DESIRE OR AN
INNATE DESIRE FOR CHILDREN,
CONSIDER YOURSELF LUCKY."
AND I'D NEVER HEARD THAT BEFORE.
AND THEN THIS OTHER
WOMAN WHO HAD THIS BEAUTIFUL
16-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER, WHO IS A
DANCER, SAID TO ME THAT... SHE
SAID, "OH, I HAD A HUSBAND, AND
HE REALLY WANTED A CHILD, AND I
DIDN'T WANT ONE."
AND NOW... THEY DIVORCED.
SHE'S LIKE, "I DON'T HAVE MY
HUSBAND, BUT NOW I HAVE
THIS CHILD."
AS THOUGH IT WAS SOME TRAGEDY.
AND I JUST NEVER HEARD ANYONE
SPEAK IN THIS WAY BEFORE,
SO IT... I THINK THE SURPRISE
SORT OF STARTED THERE.

Nam says AND EVEN FROM THE WOMEN THAT YOU
SPOKE TO IN... THE NARRATOR THAT
SHE SPOKE TO IN THE BOOK, REGRET
IS SOMETHING THAT CAME UP A LOT.
HOW MUCH IS REGRET A DECIDING
FACTOR FOR WOMEN
HAVING CHILDREN?

Sheila says I MEAN, I THINK A LOT OF WOMEN
WHO ARE AMBIVALENT JUST SAY,
"WELL, I'M HAVING CHILDREN
BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO REGRET
IT LATER."
AND I THINK THAT THAT'S ACTUALLY
A FEAR THAT'S PUT INTO US, THAT
"YOU'RE GOING TO REGRET."
I MEAN, WE DON'T SAY THAT ABOUT
ANYTHING ELSE.
YOU KNOW, "WELL, MAYBE I DON'T
WANT TO BE A DOCTOR."
"BUT IF YOU'RE NOT A DOCTOR,
YOU'RE GOING TO REGRET
IT LATER."

[NAM LAUGHS]

Sheila says YOU KNOW, WE LET WOMEN
LIKE... IT'S JUST I THINK... AND
WHEN YOU TALK TO A LOT OF OLDER
WOMEN WHO CHOSE NOT TO HAVE
CHILDREN, THEY'RE NOT SITTING
AROUND FILLED WITH REGRET.
THEY LIKE THEIR LIVES.

Nam says DO YOU THINK THAT WOMEN KNOW
THAT THEY HAVE A CHOICE?

Sheila says I DON'T THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE
CONSCIOUSLY THINK IT THROUGH.
I THINK IT'S JUST AN
EXPECTATION.
YOU'VE HAD IT YOUR WHOLE LIFE.
EVERYONE AROUND YOU IS DOING IT,
YOU KNOW, AND YOU DO IT.
SO, PART OF WHAT I WANTED THE
BOOK TO DO WAS TO LIKE CREATE A
SPACE FOR THERE TO BE CONSCIOUS
DELIBERATION AROUND IT.
BECAUSE THERE IS A CHOICE.
AND I THINK IT'S RESPONSIBLE AND
INTERESTING TO MAKE IT.

Nam says AND ONE OF THE CRITICISMS THAT I KEPT SEEING ABOUT THE BOOK... THE
PEOPLE WHO HAVE REVIEWED IT...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says WAS THAT YOU CAN'T REALLY
WRITE ABOUT MOTHERHOOD FROM AN
INFORMED POINT OF VIEW BECAUSE
YOU'RE NOT A MOTHER.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THAT?

Sheila says WELL, I'VE ALSO HAD MOTHERS AND
REVIEWS THAT SAY THAT I CAN
WRITE ABOUT IT BECAUSE I'M NOT A
MOTHER, SO I DON'T HAVE TO
PROTECT MY CHILDREN.
I CAN BE MORE HONEST.
BUT ALSO, THE BOOK IS NOT REALLY
ABOUT BEING A MOTHER.
IT'S ABOUT DECIDING WHETHER TO
BE A MOTHER, AND IT'S ALSO ABOUT
NOT WANTING TO BE A MOTHER, AND
ALSO ABOUT BEING A DAUGHTER.
SO, I THINK THAT I CAN WRITE
ABOUT IT.

[CHUCKLES]

Nam says AND WRITING FOR THE NARRATOR WAS
A VERY IMPORTANT THING FOR HER.

Sheila says YEAH.

NAM SAYS YOURSELF, WE ALREADY SAID
THAT YOU DON'T HAVE
ANY CHILDREN...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH...

Nam says WRITING SOMETHING LIKE THAT,
IS THAT SOMETHING FOR YOU THAT
YOU CAN LIVE THROUGH FOR
GENERATIONS?
BECAUSE THAT WAS SOMETHING THAT
SEEMED TO BE VERY IMPORTANT FOR
THE NARRATOR?

Sheila says RIGHT.
I MEAN, WRITING IS A WAY OF
PUTTING SOMETHING INTO
THE WORLD.
OBVIOUSLY NOT... IT'S NOT THE SAME
THING AS PUTTING A PERSON INTO
THE WORLD...
BUT IT'S FOR PEOPLE.
I THINK OF WRITING AS A WAY OF
LOVING PEOPLE, PEOPLE I'VE
NEVER MET.
I SEE IT AS A FORM OF LIKE BEING
GENEROUS AND... YEAH, I ENJOY IT
A LOT.

Nam says AND MYLES SAID SOMETHING THAT'S
VERY INTERESTING... MYLES, THE
BOYFRIEND IN THE BOOK...
HE SAID THAT PARENTING IS LIKE
THE BIGGEST SCAM...

SHEILA SAYS OF ALL TIME.

Nam says OF ALL TIME.

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

Nam says WHAT WERE YOU TRYING TO SAY THERE?

Sheila says THAT...

NAM SAYS IT IS...

Sheila says HE THINKS IT'S THE BIGGEST
SCAM OF ALL TIME, YEAH.

[BOTH LAUGH]

NAM SAYS HOW DO YOU GET SOCIETY TO
STOP LOOKING AT MOTHERHOOD AS
SOMETHING SACRED?

Sheila says I MEAN, I THINK THAT'S WHAT THE
MOTHERS THAT I KNOW WHO ARE
WRITING BOOKS ARE DOING IN THEIR
BOOKS.
THEY WANT... THE PROBLEM WITH IT
BEING SEEN AS A SACRED THING IS
THAT THEN MOTHERS AREN'T HELPED
BY THE STATE, YOU KNOW?
IT'S LIKE IF IT'S SUCH A SACRED
DUTY, THEN YOU DON'T NEED
ANY HELP.
AND I THINK THAT'S REALLY THE
PROBLEM WITH IT, WITH THAT POINT
OF VIEW.

Nam says I THINK WHAT YOU'VE DONE WITH
THIS BOOK IS YOU'VE GIVEN
PERMISSION TO A LOT OF WOMEN TO
TALK ABOUT SOMETHING THAT THEY
MIGHT TALK ABOUT WITH THEIR
FRIENDS... OR MAYBE NOT EVEN TO
THEIR FRIENDS...

SHEILA SAYS YEAH.

NAM SAYS BUT YOU'VE GIVEN
PERMISSION FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE
TO JUST STOP AND PAUSE AND SAY,
"MAYBE I DO HAVE CHOICE."
SO THANK YOU.

SHEILA SAYS THANKS, LOVED TALKING TO
YOU.

The caption changes to "Producer: Sandra Gionas, @sandragionas."

NAM SAYS THANKS, SHEILA, FOR BEING
HERE.
IT WAS NICE TALKING TO YOU.

Sheila says YEAH.

Watch: Ambivalence Over Motherhood