Her Bad Mother

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Guest Posts Are Better Than Ice Packs And Percocet: Meet Petite Anglaise

Recovery isn't going as well as I'd like, nor is breastfeeding - it's actually all going sorta badly (let's just say, there are icepacks on every sensitive area of my body, and they're not helping) - and I'm struggling physically and emotionally...

So a guest post is more than timely. Meet the blogger known as Petite Anglaise, who just released her first book, a memoir about blogging through some profound changes in her life, and who has much to say on the subject that was plaguing me last month - being accused of exploiting her family, and especially her child, for her 'craft'...

It's still very much on my mind, that issue, because - after much deliberation - I revealed my children's names when my son was born last week. Am I pushing the exploitation envelope by sharing so much of my babies, and my self? Is it enough to say, as Petite does below, that these are my stories? Stories that are my property?

I think so, but as I replace the ice-packs on my boobs and think about how to write about the heartache of pulling my baby off of my ravaged breast, I do - for the most fleeting moment - think twice.


One of the most surreal things I had to do as part of my whirlwind publicity tour for the UK release of petite anglaise was a local radio interview marathon. Sitting in a tiny studio at BBC Broadcasting House, headphones clamped to my ears and a cup of coffee within easy reach, I gave twenty five-minute interviews in quick succession. My memory of those two hours is, for the most part, a blur.

One exchange did stick in my mind, however, as from the outset the line of questioning was unusually aggressive and confrontational. ‘Don’t you worry about how your daughter will feel when she is old enough to read your blog and your book?’ said the disembodied voice in my headset. ‘Do you really think it’s fair to use your interactions with her, and the breakdown of your relationship with her father as material?’

Catherine’s recent post about the Globe and Mail article brought that interviewers’ words back to me with a vengeance. It seems there are many people outside the blogging community who feel that there is something unsavoury – even unethical – about writing an unashamedly honest personal blog detailing the author’s experience of parenthood and relationships. Where should a writer – whether it be a journalist writing a first person column, a blogger, or a memoirist – draw the line? To what extent are stories plucked from our own daily lives our property, to do with as we will?

Petite Anglaise started life in 2004 as an anonymous expat blog, morphing gradually, over time, into something more personal. It seemed only natural to me that I should mine my daily life as a working mother for material. Natural too that the main ‘characters’ populating my posts should be my daughter Tadpole (then one, now approaching her fifth birthday) and her father, Mr Frog. I may not have been able to preserve my own anonymity, but I’ve succeeded, until now, in keeping Mr Frog and Tadpole out of the limelight. There are no full-face pictures of my daughter on the blog, either, as Mr Frog is dead set against it.

When I’d finished re-writing my blog as a memoir, every (adult) main ‘character’ received a copy of the book and a document issued by my publisher, effectively asking them to sign off on my portrayal of their private lives. I’d discussed the book with each and every one of them beforehand, allowing them to choose a pseudonym, for example, if they felt the need. But seeing these documents brought home to me for the first time that my first person account was not considered my sole property. My ‘characters’ had rights too.

In discussions about a possible film, I was told, yet again, that such a project would only get a green light if every ‘character’ were wholeheartedly on board.

I stand by everything I’ve written as petite anglaise and still feel, very strongly, that the stories I chose to share with readers of my blog and book were mine to tell. And while the blog will remain my personal forum, in any future books I plan to channel my personal experiences into works of fiction. That way I’ll be able to carry on doing what I love – telling stories – without submitting them to my main characters for approval. They will be my property, and my property alone.


Blogger Amy said...

Sorry to hear that the nursing isn't going well. Those first few weeks are so hard, aren't they? You'd think that Mother Nature would give us a break, after dealing with 9 months of pregnancy, labor, and the rest of it. Sheesh.

I'll tell you what, after nursing a toddler (I tandem nursed for 9 months after #2 was born, and it was crazy of me and I do not recommend it!), it was shocking how strong the newborn baby's suck was. They have some serious suction. I almost named her Dyson. Seriously.

Hang in there. I found that the bigger their little mouths got, the easier nursing got, and they get bigger every day.

Amy @ http://prettybabies.blogspot.com

12:34 AM  
Blogger kittenpie said...

This is interesting in adding in those nuts-and-bolts legal concerns as another viewpoint on the topic. I do think it makes sense that anyone recognizable and recurring is talked to about it, even without the legal protection needs of taking your stories to print, but that is as much out of respect to them and your relationship with them as it is about those legalities. I think - I HOPE - that anyone writing about their families will think a bit about that relationship anyhow, and work within their own and their family's parameters around things like privacy and humour, knowing that public writing is different from private story sharing or occasional necessary bitching.

(And HBM, I'm hoping it gets easier soon - do let me know if there' anything I can do to help, although it's harder with you further away, sadly. But I'm here, okay? Take care of yourself and know that every one of us who has been there remembers how hard those early days are and send you our best. I know you'll find your rhythm at some point, but it does take time - go read your own archives for proof! xo)

2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hope you start to feel better - keep icing it!

PA - that was a great guest post! I think it's an issue that all bloggers face. How much to tell, and is it ours to tell.

7:53 AM  
Blogger The Other Laura said...

HBM: First, I hope things ease up soon. The only thing that helped my milk let down was reading. I had to prop a book in front of me for the first week or two of nursing.

Second, thanks for the guest post, I am slowly becoming a bit more revealing on my blog and I'm still figuring out how I feel about it...

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the media hype astounds me. Look at the abundance of autobiographies written by (or ghostwritten for) celebrities, detailing their family lives, sex lives, secret lives, breakups... complete with family photos, although usually we have already seen those in the spreads they sold to OK! They don't seem to get nearly as much flack.

HBM, I hope things get better soon. There's nothing like the first few days to make you feel down, but you know you'll pull through. Especially with that lovely family around you.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

good luck with the breastfeeding - I hope it gets better soon. those first few weeks are brutal.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I am not aware of anyone criticizing E.B. White for exploiting friends, family, and acquaintances by writing essays about his life.

(Pick any male essayist from the 19th or 20th century, for that matter.)

9:43 AM  
Blogger Candygirlflies said...

HBM-- I hope things are getting a little easier for you! The first few weeks are so, so hard... We're all out here, rooting for you.

Just remember: happy mummy, happy baby! You know what will work best for your children, and your family. Banish the guilt (haha) and follow your instincts.

Wish I could bring you a nice, hot, bubbling macaroni-and-cheese! Email me if that sounds too tempting to refuse-- I deliver!

Much love to you-- CGF xo

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh catherine we all remember those early days home with a new baby.and breastfeeding can be so painful.hope it gets easier and less painful for you.... PETITE ANGLAISE: you know its your choice as tadpoles mum how much information to give.people can be so cruel.but really it has nothing to do with them.LAVANDULA

11:38 AM  
Blogger Jess said...

Catherine - There is no guilt. There is only love...

PA - Strong words. A very concise argument. I fail to see, though, how this is any different from any other book, fact or fiction - why is the media making such a hype about this?

12:40 PM  
Blogger mamatulip said...

To be honest, I never really considered what my kids would think about me blogging about them until I read other people blogging about it. Your piece in the Globe really got me thinking about it, not because I see anything wrong with it, but because of the reaction it spurred. I have to admit, I do hesitate to post certain things from time to time. For example - Oliver took a shit in the garden this weekend. Just whipped his pants off and pooped outside. The first thing I thought of, besides, OMG, MY SON JUST CRAPPED IN THE GARDEN; JESUS H., I NEVER EXPECTED THIS was "Damn, this would be a great blog post." But...I'm hesitant, because...what if? What if Oliver comes of age and thinks it's not cool for me to blog about him crapping in the garden back when he was 2?

Anyway - sorry to hear recovery and breastfeeding isn't going the way you'd like. Hang in there, love.

1:04 PM  
Blogger ScientistMother said...

HBM - sorry to hear that breastfeeding is taking its toll. You can do it, you HAVE done and if you choose not to do it, thats OKAY! You are an amazing mother, friend, and mentor, many hugs and good vibes been sent your way.

PA - amazing post, great to meet you. I get so frustrated with the idea that we are exploiting our children and/or family. What is the difference between and blog and publishing a diary or autobiography or memoir??

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As with your other readers, I'm with you in heart!

My first few weeks w/DD breastfeeding were also hard - one of the things that kept me going was reminding myself that going through the whole buying/sterilizing/filling bottles with questionable-value formula was even less appealing to both our budget (after all, breastfeeding is essentially free food for baby!) and to the bond I was building with her. (BTW - she turns 20 next Sunday! and is healthy as anything. :-) )

I know you must have already been through some first trials w/Wonderbaby as a newborn too, so there's probably not much we can say that will be that much help beyond knowing you got through that - just keep up as best you can!

9:36 PM  
Blogger Jenifer said...

I vividly remembering having ice packs at both ends. ;)

I do hope it is going better today.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

I remember nipple pain all too well, and the toll that pain takes on your ability to feel good about any part of Mothering. The only thing that got me through, with the first one, was knowing that if I could get through that first hellish month than things should take a turn for the better. It does get better!

I nursed three and bottle fed one and they are all amazing. You can do this, however "doing this" works for you.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HBM- Before I read the guest writer *waves hello* and forget.... put away the icepacks for a moment and try some tea bags. Soak them in hot water and then cool them off in the fridge if you like (I preferred warm). The tanin in the tea will help toughen you up without any ill side effects for little Jasper.

*shakes head* You poor dear.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It is scary that litigation can do that, isn't it? Good luck with your future adventures in fiction. Sometimes fiction can present the truth better than real life, anyway.

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HBM - I am sending positive, icepack-free vibes to you. In my experience, there is no greater joy than childbirth, and no greater misery than the 2 weeks immediately following childbirth!!!!

I'm usually just a lurker, but PA's piece was so relevant I feel compelled to comment.

I do not have my own blog, but I do occasionally guest blog and post lengthy, autobiographical comments on the blog of a friend who co-writes a parenting blog for our local newspaper. Most of the things I write about are pretty innocuous - amusing anecdotes that might embarass my kids a little if someone were to read them at their weddings - but probably nothing that would send them running into their therapist's arms once they hit their 20s. So for those, I use my name and their names.

However, once in a while I flirt with writing about the darker -- no, not really darker, just more challenging, oh, who am I kidding, DARKER -- parts of my life as a wife and mother: a husband with a significant physical disability, and a daughter with significant developmental, cognitive and visual disabilities. To write honestly about these would likely involve revealing things that I'm sure my husband would be horrified to read in a public forum. And in my daughter's case, I worry less about her reaction (I doubt she'll ever really understand the complexities of her own situation), than I do the reactions of her peers, teachers and others in the community.

So on the rare occasion when I guest blog or comment about the more painful parts of my life, I do so anonymously and leave out identifying details. But it isn't because I don't want to "exploit" my family --it's because I want to protect them from others who might exploit them.

Unfortunately, whenever I do write from my anonymous or de-identified persona, it just doesn't feel like I'm using my own voice. It's a much more self-conscious process.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A very timely subject considering a current article written in the New York Times by Emily Gould, a young woman recounting her varied experiences with blogging and its many perils, traps, and personal costs. Reader reactions have also been varied, some quite scathing, others more sympathetic.

Still, after all that is written in this sphere, and in fact elsewhere with the added credibility of editors, fact checkers, publishers, is that one iconic essay by Joan Didion that written in 1967 continues to resonate with such truthful ferocity.

To share or not to share? If that is no longer a question but in fact, an established reality of our interconnected, wired world, then this follows: How much to offer? And at what cost to self and others?

There are many readers views, many personal voices, this one too, one of a multitude, but ultimately, it is an exquisitely wrought essay, "Goodbye to all That" where Didion, at twenty eight discovered "that not all promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination every mistake, every word, all of it."

There are some narratives that rise above the din and noise, the voices of many vyng for space and recognition. Didion's is one.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never edited myself on my blog. And I pray everyday that my mother in law never gets internet access....

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lansinoh. Saved. My. Life.


We miss you!

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lansinoh...I totally agree with parentingbynature. That stuff is pure gold but a little expensive for such a small tube. Anyways, I really hope it gets better. I remember those days with my twins too. Just keep in mind it gets better.

I will admit I do not blog myself but I adamantely read your blog along with several others. I do not mind the use of "code names" for members of a family because you can write the truth without telling the real names of anyone. The story is still the same even with the name change. I will admit I love seeing pics of your beautiful babies because children are magnificent and wonderful no matter what age. It makes me happy to know others out there revel in the beautiful smiles, frowns, goofy faces, etc. of their children the way I do mine.

I would just like to say thank you for sharing. All of it...

3:04 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

People have been writing memoirs forever. Is a blog writer any different? I think the media is looking for a new story to pit mommy vs. mommy, since the work/stay-at-home or breastfeeding/formula stories are getting a bit worn out. I wish you great success with your book and look forward to reading it, and hope that the dissenters get over it.

Catherine, I hope you are doing ok----those first days/weeks are heck on wheels. Give yourself permission to change the plan if it isn't working. It took me to Baby #3 to be able to breastfeed exclusively and, believe me, I tried. I wish I could send you more help than just words. Just remember that there is no perfect way to mother.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think kittenpie hit the nail on the head. There is a difference between public writing and your personal journal. Some bloggers get that...and some use their blog in a way that is too personal and jeopardizes their relationships with others because it is a bitching session and often reveal details that can be harmful. It is a very delicate balance.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear the first week is rough. In addition to the other great suggestions, don't forget a good lactation consultant, if you think that will help you. (since this is baby #2, you'll know!)

10:29 PM  
Blogger MsPicketToYou said...

Most fiction comes from some kind of reality. And most art is essentially "over-sharing."

Hate to get all feminista, but sometimes I wonder how much of this debate has to do with the fact that women who "tell" are somehow considered gossipy, or exploitive, or crazy.

More power to the tellers!

And the new moms who carry on, aching boobs and sleep deprivation aside!

9:11 AM  
Blogger The Other Laura said...

I've been sending you good thoughts and I do hope things are going better.

4:51 PM  

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