What makes someone a mother? That’s the question at the heart of Charlene Carr’s thriller Hold My Girl

Hold My Girl is a dual narrative novel about a seemingly impossible situation: two women, Katherine and Tess, find out after pregnancy that their eggs were mistakenly switched during in vitro fertilization (IVF). For Katherine, who conceived her miracle baby, Rose, the news is her worst nightmare realized. For Tess, the news is a seed of hope: her IVF treatment ended in a stilborn birth. 

Carr pulls from her own personal experiences with IVF to walk her characters through complex, yet thrilling, emotional terrain wrought with ethical questions like, what makes someone a mother? 

Named a Black writer to watch in 2023 by CBC Books, Carr is a Toronto-raised writer and author based in Nova Scotia whose work explores truth in fiction. She is the author of several independently published novels and a novella. Hold My Girl is her first novel with a major publisher. 

She spoke to The Next Chapter’s Shelagh Rogers about writing Hold My Girl

How did the story take shape in your mind?

It stemmed from my experience of IVF and my daughter being born and visibly not really looking like me. I’m a mixed race Black woman and she was paler than my white husband. We couldn’t see any of her in me. That lasted for about six to eight months until her features started changing. My daughter’s hair darkened and curled. Her eyes, which were grey, turned brown, and her features just started shifting. Then I could really see myself in her.

Once they did and I was starting to write my next novel, this idea came to me. I really dug in and started exploring — especially the idea of what I would have owed to the other woman if my daughter had not biologically been my daughter. 

How important was it for you to show the challenge of that journey?

It was extremely important. My fertility journey started a little over a decade ago, and at that time, I felt so alone. I felt broken. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, and it took almost five years before anybody but my husband knew we were going through this. I’m very close with my family. I had close friends, but I didn’t feel confident enough to share that with them at that time. 

In writing, I really wanted to infuse the pain, heartache and insecurities I felt with the hope that women reading it who are going through similar things would feel seen and less alone.

Your story centres on two women: Tess and Katherine. Katherine spent seven years trying to have a baby and she finally gives birth to Rose, but there’s always been a worry that something doesn’t add up. What is Katherine worried about?

She’s worried about exactly what came to be in the story — that Rose isn’t her child biologically and then, what that would mean, whether she still has a claim on her. 

Being a mixed race Black woman, Katherine is scared about whether society would accept her as the legitimate mother of a white child. Being a mixed person myself, issues of identity [come up], so I thought this was an opportunity to explore racial lines and divides and question if they should be there. In Katherine’s case, she wasn’t biologically the mother, but in every other way, she completely felt she was this child’s mother.

Tess is the other protagonist. She’s had miscarriages and repeated IVF attempts. What has it done to her emotionally? 

In many ways, it’s broken her. Through the story, we see her struggle to figure out who she is and who she wants to be as she tries to overcome this pain that she never took the time to properly deal with. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much support, which is something that Katherine has a lot more of in the story.

Her parents have disowned her. She does have a brother who is willing to be there for her, but her own shame, pain and inability to figure out a healthy way to move forward prevents her from reaching out when she could have. 

Her infertility has a big impact on her marriage. How does her husband respond to Tess’s journey?

Eventually, he gives up on her. This isn’t really in the book, but it’s alluded to that he is supportive initially, but he gets to the point where she’s not able to give him the family that he wants so he looks for that elsewhere.

I know from my experiences talking to other women in infertility groups that’s not super uncommon. Fertility issues often do end up breaking a marriage.

There’s a point where Katherine’s mother-in-law emails her a story about the link between cleaning products and problems conceiving. How does it make Katherine feel?

Disrespected. It’s as if her mother-in-law is blaming her for this inability to have a child, and by extension, this inability to give her husband and her mother-in-law a child and a grandchild. I think that’s something a lot of women experience. We blame ourselves. In many ways, I did. 

I was that person who explored dietary changes, meditation, naturopathy and yoga, cutting out a lot of the beauty products that I used before because of how that could be affecting things. 

That’s something I wanted to touch on because it’s so damaging for women. Of course, it’s true that some of that stuff can make a difference. But when we frame that in a very negative way to make fertility our fault and something we can fix, most of the time we just can’t. 

LISTEN | Marsha Barber’s poetry explores losing her mother and complex family dynamics: 

The Next Chapter2:58Marsha Barber on Kaddish for My Mother

Marsha Barber on the inspiration behind her book of poetry, Kaddish for My Mother.

How do they each react when they hear the news that their eggs have been switched at the IVF clinic?

For Katherine, it’s her worst nightmare coming to fruition. Her biggest fear is: is her child going to be taken from her? 

Whereas for Tess, it’s that glimmer of hope when she thought all was lost. She thought she had no chance at all of being a mother. She had accepted the idea that she was going to be alone because of this. For her, this is a miracle.

After the news breaks about the switch, social media is full of opinions. Many people are siding with the so-called “bio mom.” Why do you think biology is such a flashpoint when it comes to motherhood?

Because that’s what we’ve known, I would say. Up until a few generations ago, the method of having a child through in vitro fertilization didn’t exist. It’s people’s first thought and I think a lot of the time, on the Internet, people’s first thought gets written rather than their second once they’ve taken the time to think it through.

I think, in this situation, it would be most people’s first thought that biology defines motherhood and that the child should go to the mother who was biologically the mother. 

I really wanted to dig into that and how that would potentially affect both of the characters on this journey. 

There’s a time in the story when Katherine wants “to erase Tess from the face of the Earth.” Both women are dealing with very primal feelings. How do you see what’s happening to them? 

Motherhood is primal in many ways. It brings out this fierceness in a lot of women in a way that not a lot else in life necessarily would. When the ability to raise your child is being threatened, I think it’s natural to revert to these very primal feelings of doing anything to keep your child, even if it goes outside of normal moral character.

LISTEN | Sheila Heti speaks to Shelagh Rogers about her book Motherhood:

The Next Chapter12:21Sheila Heti on Motherhood

Sheila Heti talks to Shelagh Rogers about her new book Motherhood.

Carr’s comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

Source link

Tags: No tags

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *