By Molly Caro May
Giving birth to a baby and a book the same year. Molly Caro May, author of a newly released memoir, The Map of Enough, shares the struggle and unexpected beauty of bringing forth both under the big skies of Montana. Find more of her warmth, wisdom, and delicious words at www.mollycaromay.com
One day in late August of 2012, I peed onto a pregnancy stick in the sagebrush. Then I walked down our hill and opened my computer to discover that, not only was a baby in my future, I had finally sold my book.
My husband Chris had to dance around me to get me to react.
How do you react when so much goodness gets showered over you at once? I had, thankfully, not worked hard to get pregnant. But I had been working hard to make this book see the light of day. I wanted both–in a very particular sequence. Sell my first book. Then, only then, consider pregnancy. That order of operations was my bible. I was already 30 years old. I was terrified that if a baby came first, the book would never happen. “What if you never sell a book?” people asked. “Well, then maybe I’ll never have children.” I couldn’t have been serious. But I was stubborn. Stubborn me. My stubborn edge. I would not back away from it.
Much had come before this moment. My first book proposal, about a different topic, never grew grown-up legs, despite the serious help from my writer’s group. My second proposal (this book) came from a deeper place. Because I was still living the story when I began, still waking to owls and elk and cranes outside our yurt window, I didn’t know what it would look like. I took notes. I wrote. I sent it to readers. I revised 1,000 times. I courted a few agents. Two said, “Yes, I believe in this project.” One asked me remarkable questions, forced me to think and wonder in a way I hadn’t yet. I revised again. We began to shop it around. At this point, you know to expect some rejections. But each rejection was the same. Editors liked, even loved, the writing, but no one shared my vision for the book. They wanted it to be something else.
Where was the editor who would “get” what I had been trying to do? Around that time, my mother unearthed a box in storage and found a handmade book I had written in 3rd grade about a friendly triceratops. On the last page, under a drawing of me in pigtails, my author’s bio read, “Molly May is from Australia, Dominican Republic, Spain, and Mexico. She is an author, a real author at the very young age of 9.” But this process was no longer about just “becoming” an author. I wanted to communicate something. I wanted the chance to dialogue with an audience. I revised once more. We sent it out again. This time something was sure to click. It had to, didn’t it?
On a trip to Spain that we could barely afford, after weeks away from internet, I finally checked my email. Propped on the edge of a tiny bed, I braced for good or bad news. #1 the second round of editors had rejected my proposal, #2 the writer’s conference I had applied to did not accept me for the scholarship or even for a paying spot. Walking through the narrow, ancient streets of Granada, past kittens and vines and trash and candle makers and white-washed everything, I finally let myself cry. I raged for a few minutes and then, as my feet chose direction, as alleyways called out to me, I gave into the sadness and talked out loud. Chris followed behind me. Sometimes with me. But mostly on his own. Found some graffiti with a version of my name. Took a picture next to it. Felt appropriate. Oh, man, the writing process had taught me so much; it was good, right; no, I wasn’t the first writer to write an unpublished book; I wouldn’t be the last; yes, I could reformulate the book into an essay; maybe this book just wasn’t meant to be. So. Just. Let. It. Go.
When we emerged from wandering six hours later, I knew the book was dead. I had grieved it and said goodbye. A river had rushed through me and washed me clean. It is one of my proudest moments–the one time I truly let something go. In retrospect, I don’t know why the drama. Maybe the foreign place allowed me to step away from myself. My agent hadn’t given up on me or the project, but I must have known that something about my approach needed to change.
A few weeks later, after we were back in the yurt, after telling myself that I would start to consider what form (essay, long poem, blog) this material would take, just not yet, my agent wrote, Editor Interested! And not just any editor. This man got the project, understood my vision, and came from Counterpoint Press, an author-driven (what?! amazing) publisher invested in literary work. I almost choked on my apple. It felt like finding my people.
A baby and a book.
But there was work still to be done. Not only did I have to write the last 1/3 of the book, I had to dig it up from a grave. Hello, book, I’m sorry I left you alone, I’m back, we’re back, let’s do this thing. Now with an editor who shared my outlook, I felt a renewed sense of Yes, yes, yes. As my belly grew, the book grew. As my body changed, the book changed. I set up a tighter deadline than my editor needed. I knew that I would want to abandon everything in order to enter “the cave” before birth.
And so, twelve days before giving birth, I submitted the manuscript at long last. “Voila,” I wrote, “Here it is.” Then I crawled into my cave and prepared for my other baby, my human baby. Who would she or he be, who would I be?
The Map of Enough launches a month before my daughter’s first birthday. Twins, in a way. She won’t know anything about it yet. Right now she is more interested in exploring computer cords, crystals, and the painted giraffe from Mexico. I am conscious of not wanting to align her with the book because she is a person–her own person separate from the book, separate from me. But it feels important to acknowledge how letting go of the book prepared me for the letting go of birth. She helped me grow the book; and the book, with its messy and revelatory process, helped me grow her.
I am grateful.