Author Interview: Helen MacKinven author of Buy Buy Baby

It’s my turn to bring a very special book tour to an end: Buy Buy Baby by Helen MacKinven in a novel about motherhood, domestic abuse, relationships and what society tells women to measure. In Western, affluent countries motherhood is constructed as a women’s ultimate goal in life, and the only one that will make her happy. Not only that, but the media are also on the hunt of ‘baby bumps’ scrutinising female celebrities’ bodies in every week. Jennifer Aniston wrote a very good article for the Huffington Post on the millions of times she has supposedly been pregnant stating that:

This past month in particular has illuminated for me how much we define a woman’s value based on her marital and maternal status. The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant (for the bajillionth time… but who’s counting) points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.

You can read her post here.

Meanwhile, Helen MacKiven has written Buy Buy Baby, a novel about motherhood and how society creates the desire to be a mother at any price in many women. From Goodreads:

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Set in and around Glasgow, Buy Buy Baby is a moving and funny story of life, loss and longing.

Packed full of bitchy banter, it follows the bittersweet quest of two very different women united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby.

Carol talks to her dog, has an expensive Ebay habit and relies on wine to forget she’s no longer a mum following the death of her young son.

Cheeky besom Julia is career-driven and appears to have it all. But after disastrous attempts at internet dating, she feels there is a baby-shaped hole in her life.

In steps Dan, a total charmer with a solution to their problems.

But only if they are willing to pay the price, on every level…

I am very happy to have Helen MacKinven over to answer some questions about motherhood, her creative process and how important it is for women all ages – but especially young women like me – to navigate motherhood discourses critically. Welcome, Helen, and thank you very much for your time!

HMK's pic

  1. Why did you choose to write a book about motherhood?

I wanted to explore the yearning that some women feel in their quest to be a mother. I was very lucky to have no problem getting pregnant and neither of the births when I had my two sons was particularly problematic. However, I spent 15 years working as a Road Safety Officer and was involved in many publicity campaigns highlighting the aftermath of a child dying in a road incident. This made me reflect on how I might feel if I was unfortunate enough to experience the same trauma. Would I want to replace the child, like Carol, in Buy Buy Baby? And what if I hadn’t been able to have children naturally? Or struggled to find a suitable partner, like Julia, in my novel? These issues made me wonder how far a woman in those types of situations would go to be a mum. What price would they pay on every level? This triggered the idea of exploring the emotional, psychological, physical, financial and moral implications of the journey Carol and Julia find themselves on because of their desperation to achieve motherhood.

  1. You are a mother – please visit Helen’s guest post at Noami’s here – but have strong views against traditional and essentialist motherhood. How did you arrive to these conclusions (after pregnancy, during motherhood, you knew it all along. As a young woman myself struggling with the representations of motherhood, I would like this question to be as open as you would like).

I’d describe myself as a person first, and it just so happens that I’m also a woman. Whether I’m a mother as well is neither here nor there as regards my sense of self. I wouldn’t say I’m against traditional motherhood, whatever that might mean, what I believe in is doing what is right for you as an individual. I had a wee rant when I woke up to the headlines on Saturday that Andrea Leadsom allegedly claimed that because she is a mother, she was the best candidate for PM as she had a greater stake in the country’s future. This narrow-minded attitude rips my knitting! Of course being a mother has fostered certain skills and attributes in me but that status does not make me superior in any way compared to women who do not have children. I’ve always felt this way and hate the way some women wear the ‘Mummy’ badge with an arrogance that I find distasteful. Being a mum is very important to be me but I’m ‘Helen’, first and foremost. A firm sense of identity should be enough for any woman to be comfortable in their own skin, and for them not to feel under pressure to add an extra label in the misguided belief that it will somehow give them the edge over other women.

HMK with sons
Author Helen MacKinven with her sons, now aged 20 and 23 – (C) Helen MacKiven
  1. The discourses around motherhood have changed a lot in the last two decades. Being a writer and a reader, have you seen this reflected in literature? Could you give us some examples of other novels that question motherhood as some women’s main goal in life?

I’ve always been attracted to ‘interesting’ characters in fiction that aren’t afraid to stick two fingers up at the societal norm. One of my favourite mothers in fiction is Eva Khatchadourian from We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver in which the nature versus nurture debate is examined when a woman finds herself to be the mother of a killer. I can’t think of a better example of a woman discovering that motherhood doesn’t always live up to preconceived ideas. Last year, I went to the Edinburgh Book Festival to hear Meera Syal discuss her novel, The House of Hidden Mothers which was a fascinating insight into the dealings of the corrupt surrogacy market in India. The main character has to confront her desire to be a mother and question the morality of her actions. I also recently read, Dead Babies and Seaside Town by Alice Jolly which is a moving memoir of loss and infertility as Alice battles the system to become a mum again.

  1. Buy Buy Baby is a research project on contemporary motherhood. The title itself is evocative of new and controversial practices such as surrogacy, or even human trafficking. Could you tell us a bit about your research? (Whether this is covered in the media, whether it was difficult to find cases in the UK, if you actually met someone who had experienced any of these practices, etc.)

The first draft of Buy Buy Baby was written six years ago and there have been many developments since the time of the book’s setting. I spent a lot of time researching the various options open to women who are struggling to conceive and there was a wealth of information on the internet. Although I personally haven’t experienced fertility tourism, considered adoption or surrogacy, I know women in my own circle of family and friends who have had to cope with these scenarios. During the first draft, a friend of a friend very kindly offered to share her experience of using a sperm donor so I was fortunate to have access to a real account. My last novel, Talk of the Toun, was very much a case of following the advice to “write what you know” but Buy Buy Baby is an attempt by me to write what I want to know.

  1. Finally, I think it is very important to provide young women (like me!) with challenged views on maternity. Will your next book follow this subversive line?

It’s in my nature to be confrontational (in my writing!) so I’m sure that whatever I write in future will feature dark themes and tackle controversial issues. I’ve got notes and ideas for a new novel set in Scotland after the independence referendum result but with a local historical event related to the Leningrad Siege weaved into the narrative. The novel would be used to feature the solidarity of the Scottish women with those in Russia in the 1940s but with a contemporary context. It would have a feminist and political agenda but I’d hope there would be plenty of opportunity for humour too.

If you wan to check Helen MacKinven’s past blog tour dates and posts for Buy Buy Baby:

blog tour

 

11 thoughts on “Author Interview: Helen MacKinven author of Buy Buy Baby

  1. Excellent interview, thank you, both! I remember the shock when I was introduced somewhere as ‘X’s Mum’. I’ve become used to it now, but I can’t say I like it – as Helen says, I feel my identity is independent of my motherhood status, or that motherhood is just one strand making up my identity.

    1. Thank you, Marina. I would be so, SO uncomfortable if anyone introduced me like that. I still cringe when I meet my boyfriend’s friends and I’m introduced – obviously – as his girlfriend. I feel like shouting: ‘I am a person on my own!’ And of course I am, and they now, but since I am there with him it may make sense to be introduced in relation to him…. I guess.

      1. Did I ever tell you about the friends who sent a Christmas card addressed to Dr. and Mrs. P (my husband’s surname), when: a) I kept my maiden name and b) I’m a Dr. too?

  2. I love the debate about this. I’ve been so blessed to have so many experiences in life, to travel around the U.S. including to Hawaii and Alaska and also to Canada, Mexico and Europe and I have been able to work in various capacities, as well. I also gave birth to two children by c-section and raised them for over a decade as a SAHM. I’m presently writing a book and I bridge the topic of motherhood in my writing. I think it will be a very exciting day if and when I do publish my book! Yet, I do think it would be a disservice by women who have had a rewarding experience not to also come forth in defense of traditional motherhood. For myself, being a mom and breastfeeding a baby were still the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of my entire life, above anything else. I have truly felt fulfilled as a woman in a way that nothing else ever has made me feel as complete and empowered, by becoming a mother and raising kids. I have experienced so much and yet I still feel this way, that for me, nothing may ever compare, as shocking or “retro” as that may seem to modern women to hear someone say these things. I hope and pray that every woman who wishes to be a mother and to have that experience will one day be able to have that dream fulfilled and I sometimes think that if more women like myself–women who have truly loved the experience, in spite of its trials–would come forward, there might be fewer abortions throughout the world. I don’t think we should hide these truths about the joys of motherhood from women–especially women who are considering abortion. To me, that is a misrepresentation not to share stories of women who find motherhood and being a SAHM rewarding, just as not sharing stories about any women who have had abortions and were then haunted by their choice their entire lives would be an omission, as well. I visited a NICU as a campus reporter and I saw babies born prematurely, weighing just over a pound! These tiny humans were waging such valiant battles to stay alive, along with their families and care providers who were fighting alongside them. Seeing these babies made such an enormous impact on me–a really revolutionary impact. I think anyone considering abortion should see babies in that type of a setting. I’m glad you are researching some of the experiences of women pursuing motherhood and all that they have to go through to become mothers. I know it is quite a harrowing journey for some and there are definitely many sides to the issue; all of these types of experiences need to be discussed openly. Meanwhile, a celebrity’s views are one person’s views and shouldn’t weigh in any more than any other woman’s experiences with motherhood and the journey to become a parent. Jennifer Aniston has had a unique experience and I’m truly sorry that she had to go through all of that speculating and drama. People treat celebrities quite unfairly out of jealousy and their misperception that celebrities are not people like anyone else. I wish her well in all of her future endeavors.

    1. I don’t think we should make women see anything they don’t want to see, whether they want to have an abortion or not. We are intelligent human beings who know what we are doing when we make a decision, and there is time we end patronising discourses trying to make us feel as objects, rather than subjects. We have agency and intelligence to make decisions that affect our bodies and our lives. We have all seen babies, we know what they look like, and we know whether we want them or not. It is also time to end with the ‘haunting’ of abortions, although it may be true to some, it is not for the vast majority.

      I am glad becoming a mother has changed you for the better, but it is not a universal experience, nor one we should force on ANY women in the world in 2016. We can like children, enjoy spending time with them and pro-actively decide NOT to be a mother, and that is completely fine.

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