Getting Even With Baby: One Mom-To-Be's Story
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Next to TELL ME MORE's weekly parenting segment. Usually we turn to a diverse group of experienced moms for common sense and savvy parenting advice. But today we talk to a new mom about her journey to parenthood.
Teresa Strasser takes an open, funny and sometimes uncomfortably honest approach in her new book, "Exploiting My Baby Because: It's Exploiting Me." It's the story about conceiving, carrying and giving birth to her now 18-month-old son Nathaniel. Teresa Strasser is with us now from our studios at NPR West.
Ms. TERESA STRASSER (Author, "Exploiting My Baby Because: It's Exploiting Me"): Thank you so much for having me. This is the section where usually savvy people give helpful information to parents. That won't be happening.
CHIDEYA: Oh, you have helpful information. We will get it out of you. But let's talk about this exploiting my baby. You know, some people have said how dare you talk about exploiting a baby.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHIDEYA: What do you mean by that?
Ms. STRASSER: Well, I've been a writer for 20 years and I've always written first person stuff. But when I was pregnant and I wanted to write about being pregnant, I thought, oh, this is really tacky. I'm going to be Kathie Lee Gifford. People are going to think I'm exploiting my baby. So I just decided to look that boogie man right in the face and no one owned the domain name exploiting my baby, so I bought it and I started a blog and that became the book.
CHIDEYA: Now, tell me the story about how you were being considered for a job on a prominent TV show, but the fact that you were not a mom at the time got in the way. Tell me about that.
Ms. STRASSER: Oh, so devastating. It was so devastating. Well, I wanted to be on "The View," that was my big dream, and they were casting for the I'm making air quotes "young person." And they were auditioning a bunch of people from all over the country. And I made it down to the last five people. And they were - generally when you don't get a job in television, you don't really know why. Of course, you spend hours very productively wondering what was wrong with you and what you could have done better. But in this case they actually said, look, we need somebody to be pregnant in the coming season because a lot of our viewers are stay-at-home moms. They're interested in other moms. No one on the panel really has a young kid. And at the time I didn't even have a boyfriend, so I figured unless I've met somebody on the plane on the ride home to LA, my chances of getting that job were very slim.
But Hasselbeck, really, I got to hand it to her, it is fascinating to look at somebody pregnant on TV and I think she's been straight pregnant for about the last six years.
CHIDEYA: You mean "The View"'s co-host Elizabeth Hasselbeck?
Ms. STRASSER: Yeah. She was already married and to an NFL player. Also, she was very conservative and that was something that they needed. So I needed to be two things: pregnant and conservative. And I don't know which one of those is going to be more difficult for me to achieve at that point.
But it's, you know, in writing the book I looked back into the history of Hollywood pregnancies, because you can't if you walk by a magazine stand, you're going to see pregnant celebrities. We are completely fascinated by looking at, you know, baby bumps.
Like, if you Google baby bump, you'll get 15 million hits or something. And back in the day, when Lucille Ball got pregnant, the entire country shut down to watch the episode where she gives birth to Little Ricky. I mean I think it overshadowed the inauguration, which was the next day of - I want to Eisenhower. I'll sound really stupid of him wrong.
CHIDEYA: No, you're right. It's Eisenhower.
Ms. STRASSER: Thanks. You know, historically we're very, very fascinated by celebrities and their babies, so I can see why "The View" made that choice.
CHIDEYA: So you know the Hollywood stuff inside and out. And there's also like a brand of like celebrity baby books. You talk about Jenny McCarthy's baby book. But you also felt like there was a void. So what void are you trying to fill? Because sometimes, you know, this - you get a little intimate, sometimes you get a little gross.
Ms. STRASSER: I do. Well, I feel like there's two kinds of baby books. There's the "What to Expect When You're Expecting," which is, you know, it's very clinical. And then there's your like Nancy O'Dell-type pregnancy book, which is lots of chapters on how to laminate your ultrasound photos, how to pick out the curtain fabric for your nursery. Really hard-hitting information like black is slimming. Elastic waistbands are good when you're pregnant - just syrupy stuff that would make a unicorn yak kind of stuff.
So all the pregnancy books I could find were either just purely clinical - and there's a place for that and everyone should have "What to Expect When You're Expecting." But I needed what you're expecting to expect to fail, because I mainly spent those, what's actually 10 months, just being completely paranoid not only about the health of my baby but about how I was going to be as a mother because the entire time I was pregnant I didn't talk to my own mother and we had pretty much - you know, it was not "I Love Lucy." It was a very strained relationship.
So I was really worried what kind of mother I was going to be, and I think that might be more common than you think. It's just something people don't talk about. They also don't talk about three weeks about after you have a kid - this is, I think this is a universal. You will be sitting somewhere. Maybe like me you'll me sitting outside your porch in Los Angeles in Koreatown. It'll be 4:00 in the morning and you'll think to yourself for a second, I kind of wish I hadn't done this. I am so tired. I'm so terrified. I'm so in over my head. I'm overwhelmed. And the fact that I'm even thinking this is proof that I don't deserve this child and I'm not meant for this.
This thought is going to pass through your mind at some point or other. And if a mother in your life that you trust doesn't tell you, oh yeah, I thought that too, you're going to freak out.
CHIDEYA: If you're just joining us, I'm Farai Chideya. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are talking to Teresa Strasser about her book "Exploiting My Baby Because: It's Exploiting Me."
Now, let's talk a little bit more about your relationship with your mother. I thought it was really interesting - in the acknowledgments you say, mom, you take some serious - expletive deleted - in these pages.
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CHIDEYA: And while you may not have always been a great parent, you are a great sport. There is a, you know, a kind of happy ending without revealing too much to how you ended up relating to your mom around the pregnancy. But why, what were some of the things that made it so difficult for you to be in contact with her?
Ms. STRASSER: Well, my mom, I joke in the book that she should have named my brother and Burden and Buzzkill because that's about how much she enjoyed having kids. She just didn't approach motherhood with a joie. You know, and by the way, I grew up in San Francisco in the late '70s and early '80s and my mom wanted to go folk dancing. She wanted to go to Pete Seeger concerts. She wanted to be out on the town in her Frye boots and Capezio leotard. And she didn't want to be a single parent raising kids. It wasn't fun. It just wasn't - she wasn't a natural. I don't know. Maybe that was just the time. But we were sort of - kids were adults and adults were kids. And because of that she made a lot of really big mistakes.
I mean this sounds overdramatic but in today's world she - we would likely have been taken by the state because she would do things like put me on the Greyhound bus to see my dad. He lived in Los Angeles, so that was about a 10-hour drive by myself, I think probably starting around age eight, and maybe I'd do that every couple months. So I'd travel on the Greyhound literally in my pigtails reading Mad magazine. And the stops along the coast in California are generally around prisons, because the Greyhound is people visiting their relatives in prison or people leaving a prison, going, you know, home or wherever they're going.
That was, you know, pretty scary, and she would leave me with my grandparents for long stretches. She just - I took the public bus to school and it was usually two to three buses probably starting around age eight. And my mom also put me on a plane alone at four, which is no longer legal. And I think - my baby's 18 months old. I can't imagine some of the things my mom did. On the other hand, I can imagine her frustration and her fatigue and her fear more than I could before.
And by the way, she lives around the corner from me now. I moved her out because I - when I became a mommy, I needed my mommy. And my mom was desperate to make up for, you know, almost 40 years of generally subpar parenting, and she's an amazing grandmother, amazing.
CHIDEYA: Wow. That's clearly a happy ending. So let me just let you go with saying one thing, because you really do talk about how you instantly fell in love with Nathaniel. Tell me one thing you really love about your son.
Ms. STRASSER: Okay. One thing. Oh, gosh. I have to make it, I have to split it.
Ms. STRASSER: For one thing the smell. Okay, so the smell of your baby, to have that new baby smell, and it really is, I can't wait, you know, I'm a working mom so I pick him up for the daycare and I just can't wait to smell his hair and his little cheeks. There's nothing in life that's going to smell like that to a mom.
And other thing is he has - because he's saying new words, I - often times I don't know he's saying, so he'll say something and he'll look at me like, dude, isn't it obvious that I'm asking you to chop my popsicle up? Whatever weird thing. But he started saying ama(ph), ama, ama. And I couldn't figure out what he was saying. Then I realized he's saying Campbell, and I think Campbell is his first friend at daycare and he just kind of gets lonely for Campbell. And every now and then he says amble. And so, yesterday he's sitting in his high chair and I said, are you excited to see your new best friend tomorrow? And he very quietly whispered, amble.
CHIDEYA: Oh, that's a beautiful place to leave it. Teresa, thanks so much.
Ms. STRASSER: Thank you so much for having me.
CHIDEYA: Teresa Strasser is the author of the book "Exploiting My Baby Because: It's Exploiting Me." She joined us from our studio in NPR West. To read an excerpt from the book, go to our website, npr.org, click Programs and then click TELL ME MORE.
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CHIDEYA: At TELL ME MORE we'll be celebrating National Poetry Month in April, and an occasional series called Muses and Metaphor will combine two passions of this program: social media and poetry. We would like you to go on Twitter and tweet us your original poetry using fewer than 140 characters, of course. We'll air our favorites. Tweet us using the hashtag TMM Poetry.
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CHIDEYA: And that's our program for today. I'm Farai Chideya and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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