Journalist Pallavi Aiyar has written her fourth book — Babies and Bylines — a far cry from her usual foreign affairs reportage (reporting from China, Belgium and Indonesia) and three preceding books.
She explains to SheThePeople.TV just why it is so imperative to have the unvarnished truth out there when it comes to parenting and motherhood, and why we all need to have real conversations on some of the challenges, including gender roles. Her message for Mother’s Day, too, will probably have all mothers nodding in agreement.
What I really wanted was something that acknowledged the manifold disruptions that parenthood entails, that would let the reader know that he/ she is not alone in these experiences. A book that provoked questions rather than provided definitive answers, so I could start having the kind of conversations that we all need to, about these life-changing phenomena, with our doctors, with our spouses, at our workplaces and most of all, with ourselves. This is what I hope to have brought you through this book Babies and Bylines.
Pallavi Aiyar to SheThePeople.TV:
When I had my first child, I realised that while childbirth that was something of a biological norm there was very little about it physically and emotionally that felt normal. In fact, if anything it had been a violent upending of the norm, my body felt chewed up and spat out, compounded by sleep deprivation. Yet all the messages one got from society about motherhood were of this soft, rapturous, glowing variety. I began to feel as though we are all setting mothers up to fail in some ways, in this conspiracy of silence.
I thought it was an important book to write. Though it was a bit of a change from the kind of work that I usually do, which came out of my reportage and work as a foreign correspondent, and tended to be about high politics and finance and stuff like that, this was a book that was very personal.
It’s quite a change from the kind of work I’ve done before. Here I’m talking about nannies and nipples and sleep training and family life. I think family life is often sort of trivialised and not seen as worthy to be talked about in the public sphere. Part of the reason I wanted to write this book is to bring attention to issues that are very universal and extremely important, but are usually and wrongly relegated to the periphery. The separation of the domestic and family life and the personal from the public sphere has served patriarchy very well. It’s very important to drag motherhood out into the public sphere so it can be seen, acknowledged and responded to, by governments, by employers and by the public in general.
Q: How important is it for women to have role models — you’ve done quite bravely, especially with breastfeeding, there’s a lot of judgement when it comes to motherhood
It’s quite important, what I felt when I had my first child was this sense of isolation, this sense like I was on this planet without a map. What I would have liked to see then is what I have hoped that I have managed to write now, which is a book that basically lets you know that you are not alone. I try very hard in the book not to provide an instruction manual or ideology, but I want to start a conversation, so that people can start asking the right kinds of questions, rather than providing them with answers, so they can have the right kind of conversations with their spouses, workplaces, with themselves.
What was most startling to me was how all-consuming motherhood can be. I hadn’t expected that. I had considered myself to be a professional first and foremost, and I had these visions that a baby would be an added on accessory in many ways. I would continue with my life and I would have a baby.
In fact it’s a very profound break from the past. It does involve a lot of philosophical questioning of your real choices, your values. That’s why this book is not just a straightforward memoir, but also a bit of a philosophical treatise trying to look at issues of touch, of identity, of choice and value and trying to unpack those, because those were big questions that arose for me.
Message for Mother’s Day
We have a tendency to fetishise mothers, but mothers are human beings ultimately and full of flaws. And parenting is one long adventure in making mistakes. So
I think it’s really important that we forgive our mothers, forgive their flaws and embrace them for the human beings that they are.
Picture Credit: PallaviAiyar.com