Interview With Lori Leibovich, Salon Life and Maybe Baby Editor
by Sheri Reed
I first heard about Lori Leibovich's new anthology Maybe Baby: 28 writers tell the truth about skepticism, infertility, baby lust, childlessness, ambivalence, and how they made the biggest decision of their lives while doing my usual once-over of Real Simple magazine, of all magazines. This issue included an excerpt from Rick Moody's Maybe Baby piece "Bloodthirsty Dwarves," which not only helped me understand a few things about my own husband but also wholly moved me and inspired me to want to read so much more on this topic. So I read the anthology, and it was a pleasure. This book opens up the hearts and minds of so many men and women who, indeed, touch almost every aspect of this complex subject. I recently talked to editor Lori Leibovich of Salon, an online mag of which I'm a complete fiend, about the anthology.
mamazine.com: For those who haven't read the anthology and didn't follow Salon's "To Breed or Not to Breed" series, how did Maybe Baby get its start? And what, in particular, drove your interest in this subject?
Lori Leibovich: A few years ago a woman in her thirties wrote to Salon, begging us to publish more stories about people who had chosen not to have children. She was the primary breadwinner in her family, and was struggling with the question of whether or not to procreate. "What would be the return on the investment?" she wrote. "Are there any laws that would require my children to pay for my nursing home when I am old? Are they going to be a sufficient hedge against poverty and loneliness?" This letter sparked a heated office-wide email debate. Some of my colleagues thought that anyone who was looking at childbearing in such stark, financial terms shouldn't be a parent in the first place. Others felt the letter writer was being refreshingly honest about her fears.
Since the question of whether or not to procreate spurred such a contentious discussion in our office, we decided to explore it in a series. I asked five staff writers to answer the question, "To Breed or Not to Breed?" From the minute we posted the first essay—a piece by Michelle Goldberg, a happily married 28-year old who has no maternal instincts but worries she'll have regrets one day if she doesn't have children—we were flooded with hundreds of emotional emails from our readers, sharing their own personal stories. After sifting through the letters—some of which we are going to reprint in the paperback edition of the book—we decided that this topic was too big for a series, and deserved a book. So I began to recruit other writers.
In terms of my interest in the subject matter, I am a longtime writer and editor of stories about children, families, and women's issues. I was on the original editorial team that launched Salon's Mothers Who Think section before it morphed into the Life section. And personally, I was at a point in my life where I was ready to start having children.
mamazine.com: I really enjoyed this anthology. I was really struck by how much I related to the writers' truths in every section, especially as a person who ultimately chose motherhood. It's like their stories have all already held space (or maybe even continue to) in the different compartments of my mind: the compartment where I chose not to have a child, couldn't have or couldn't afford to have a child, couldn't decide or was ambivalent about the idea, assumed I just would, and finally the "me" that undeniably wanted to have a child. How did you see yourself relating to all these subsections around this topic?
Lori Leibovich: Well, in a strange case of art imitating life, I found out I was pregnant three weeks after I started work on this book. And even though I very much wanted a child, I was a little rattled about the timing: How was I going to work a full-time job, edit a book and have a baby in the same year? It all felt very overwhelming, and I wished I had waited longer—maybe until the book was complete—to begin trying to get pregnant. But as the cliché goes, there's no good time to have a child. The experience upends your life and blows your mind no matter when it happens. Plus, looking back, I'm sure that being pregnant and being a new mother actually made me a more sensitive editor in some ways. Certainly, in the first few months of my son's life, when I was housebound, having problems with nursing, missing my old body and my old life, trying to understand what, exactly, to do with my son—I had moments of profound envy towards my childless contributors. But there were also two contributors—Peter Nichols and Stephanie Grant—who had children a little while before I did. And it was wonderful to be able to gush shamelessly with them about the minor things—the tiny feet, milestones like smiling and turning over, and just to discuss the daily miracle of it all.
mamazine.com: Whenever I read these anthologies from writers, I play this game in my head where I wonder what non-writers would have to say on the subject. I mean, do we endlessly speculate and toss and turn over these kinds of decisions because we are writers or do you think this a universal dilemma for those of us who can choose to have/not have children?
Lori Leibovich: I'm pretty sure writers do debate these questions more than most people. That said, the general reading public is really responding to the collection so that tells me there is an audience for a literary exploration of this topic.
mamazine.com: There was a real collection of experiences in the book. I think you did a great job finding and including the voices of mothers, fathers, gays, lesbians, and people of color, as well as people with infertility issues, mental health issues, relationship issues, and so on. Did you come across any writers who felt they had no choice about having children—whether they had no access to birth control or because it was culturally expected of them? This was a voice I did not find in the book.
Lori Leibovich: The only piece that I think comes close to what you refer to is Joan Gould's piece, "Once More With Feeling." Joan, who is in her 70s now, had two children right after she was married in the 50s—because that was what was expected of her. Later, when she was 40, and her kids were teens, she decided to be an outlaw in her suburban community and have another baby, this time because she really wanted to be one, not because she had to be. But no, the voice of someone who had a child because she didn't have access to birth control is not in this collection, and I wish it was.
mamazine.com: So many of the writers in Maybe Baby have new books coming down the pike? Are there any you're especially excited about? Do you have plans for future anthologies or other projects we can look forward to?
Lori Leibovich: Maud Casey's new novel, Genealogy, was published last week and I can't wait to read that—she's a gorgeous writer. And Michelle Goldberg is publishing a nonfiction book this week called Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism about the moralistic posturing of the religious right. She's a gifted and fearless journalist so this should be a great read.
mamazine.com: What are you reading now?
Lori Leibovich: I have subscriptions to about ten magazines—New York, Entertainment Weekly, People, The Atlantic, Brain, Child, Bust—and to The New York Times, so every day I read a combination of those. I get so behind on The New Yorker that every August before vacation I go through all the articles from the previous year that I wanted to read but didn't have time to and put them together in my own little "Best of The New Yorker" packet.
mamazine.com: This is a question we at mamazine.com like to ask other parents. Considering the society and culture we live in as parents today, what one thing would you change that would make parenting easier for you or would make you feel more supported as a parent?
Lori Leibovich: Excellent, affordable childcare and progressive, challenging public schools. Both those things would make my mother-dreams come true.
yellow lamp on blue book
beach blanket mamas