A Q&A; with Suzy Becker

Suzy Becker’s hilarious new illustrated memoir, One Good Egg, details her experience trying to get pregnant at 39 years old. It’s one of the best new books out now. Incidentally, it might also be one of our favorite Mothers Day gift ideas. The tale is full of turns—Becker starts the story as a single woman, and ends up with a family made up of a wife named Lorene, a sperm donor named Steve, and, ultimately, a daughter named Aurora.

While we all know there are a myriad of ways to have a baby in an unconventional way (from sperm donors to egg freezing to in vitro fertilization to adoption), it’s great to see an utterly personal, informative (but not scientific), and above all humorous tale about one woman figuring out her own road to becoming a mother. Becker’s book is an exciting read, and her cartoons kill it. We’re so glad the story has such a happy ending.

Elizabeth Street was thrilled to chat with the award winning and New York Times bestselling author of All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat and I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse? about the advice she has for other women, as well some of the surprises that come with motherhood.

Elizabeth Street: If you could give a single piece of advice to women going through the ups and downs of trying to get pregnant, what would it be?
Suzy Becker: I wish I could give them that one piece of fail-proof advice, like plaster your yingyang with egg whites and blueberry jam or something, but there is so much unsolicited advice out there, and it’s such a personal thing. I guess I’d advise finding a few people or sources you trust (counting your doctor) and ignoring the rest of us. Can I give empathy instead? (I wrote One Good Egg with the hope it would be a good companion.)

ES: Do you have any advice or wisdom specifically for other lesbian couples who are trying to conceive?
SB: Work with inclusive providers. We made the mistake of choosing our sperm bank based on convenience, and then we had to deal with their “family values” on top of everything else. I remember Steve’s sperm being transferred out of there on the hottest day of the summer—I was trying very hard to visualize positive things, instead of it melting in the back of some taxi, that is if they hadn’t already microwaved it.

ES: Did any part of the process of using a sperm donor and going through IVF catch you and Lorene off guard?
SB: I think we caught ourselves off guard. Lorene and I are decisive types—we’re used to being the bosses. Heading into the process, we were both clear that we really wanted a baby, but that there was only so far we were willing to go. IVF was off the table (although we didn’t tell our doctor because we didn’t want to insult his specialty). Maybe seven months later, we were doing our first cycle of intrauterine insemination (IUI) with hormones, and my ovaries hyper-responded—I had 14 eggs. (Flash mob!)

I got a message from the nurse—either we convert the cycle to an IVF or we scrap it. Scrap the cycle?! IVF was on our table for a total of twelve minutes, and then we called to convert. So, our own flip-flops surprised us the most, I think.

ES: When did you know you wanted to write this book?
SB: This was originally going to be a book about making the baby decision. I got a fellowship to write it at Harvard back in 2000, but a couple months before the fellowship I found out I had a mass on my left parietal lobe, and that I had to have brain surgery. (I’m okay now.) I back-burnered both the baby and book projects and ended up writing I Had Brain Surgery, What’s Your Excuse? instead. Other than notes and sketches, I couldn’t get back to this book until the baby went to kindergarten in 2010.

ES: Your book is hilariously funny, even though you write about a lot of difficult experiences. Was it easier to be humorous knowing the story had a happy ending? Or did you write some of this while you were still trying to get pregnant?
SB: Humor is my main coping mechanism, so I came up with a lot of it while I was going through it. I tend to go through experiences with at least two alter-egos—the one who is handling everything more perfectly than you are (she became Eartha in the book) and the one who reminds you that so many others have it way worse (the “Mind if I insert myself?” Speculum-Speculator). I guess the question is whether I would’ve still thought the notes and sketches were funny if things had turned out differently, and I’ll never know. I like to believe there is more than one happy ending.

ES: Are you planning to talk to your daughter someday about everything you went through to have her?
SB: My daughter thinks One Good Egg is about her, and she’s not wrong. When the first box arrived she grabbed a book and ran it up to her bunk. We just finished reading it, with some serious parental-paraphrasing. Her favorite part is “when you, Ma, and Daddy score your achievement,”—when I’m finally pregnant. I’m sure we’ll read it again, and she’ll read it on her own some day.

ES: Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship you currently have with your sperm donor?
SB: Our sperm donor is my close, longtime Australian friend who she calls “Daddy” or “Daddy Steve.” We see him at least once a year, with Skype, calls and e-mail in between. Lorene says this is the part that has surprised her the most—that we Skype every Sunday with Steve’s mom, Nana June, and that you can form such a close family across two continents.

ES: I love what you write about the moment you first see your baby, when she looks so calm and demure: “Wait, this isn’t my baby, my baby…is a dark-haired, red-faced screamer. Lorene must’ve pulled this one out of the drawer under the table while I had my eyes shut.” Does motherhood often surprise you?
SB: Oh, every day, here’s a few:
1. On the way home from softball practice today, she told me she would like to be buried in high heels.
2. I had no clue that keeping a healthy kitchen would mean I’d be sneaking Tastykakes upstairs to my studio.
3. I think some piece of me was still afraid she’d be stigmatized, or that we’d be ostracized as gay moms. Now, being a mom, I feel this instant connection with other mothers and grandmothers, neighbors and strangers—so much more of the world.

ES: Have you learned a lot from your wife Lorene about being a mom? We read in your book that this is her second baby.
SB: Yes. Lorene has incredible maternal instincts. We had a good laugh when she asked our ob/gyn whether her milk might come back while I was breastfeeding. The ob/gyn said there was a decent chance, as long as Lorene had stopped nursing within the last five years (her son David was 25 at the time). I think it has been good for our family’s sanity that one of us is not a first-time mom. Lorene helps me take the long view. And then she reminds me how soon it will get here.

ES: You have a list of “notes to self” on page 185. What are your “notes to self” today?
SB: 1. Learn the constellations
2. Plant sunflowers in circle
3. See Auroras (Borealis, Australis)
4. Find balance—it’s gotta be around here somewhere.