Lu Hanessian Says It’s About Seeing With the Heart

June 15, 2004
Written by

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Lu Hanessian
Author of Let the Baby Drive, Navigating the Road of New Motherhood
Host of "Make Room for Baby" on the Discovery Health Channel

By Doris Booth

June 2004

Let the Baby Drive by Lu Hanessian

Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood by Lu Hanessian

Do we dare let the baby drive? Lu Hanessian, host of "Make Room for Baby" on the Discovery Health Channel, touchingly answers the question in her first book about navigating the rough road of new motherhood.

Here, we experience Hanessian's darkest dread of being consumed, of losing herself forever, only to emerge with a new understanding of how "to truly trust in our children and

ourselves. . ."

Unlike many dry "how-to" books, Let the Baby Drive addresses the universal—and often unspoken—fears and concerns of every woman who has borne a child. This work will leave the reader thoroughly empowered, whether a new mom at 16, or a grandma recalling her own child-rearing years. Lu blends insight, poignancy, and humor to leave her audience both enlightened and uplifted. Let the Baby Drive is a book with real heart. It is one we highly recommend not only to every woman who reads, but to writers everywhere as a fine example of the craft.

In an exclusive Authorlink interview, the author talks about what it took to capture her life changing and awesome experience on paper. " In the beginning I

was absolutely terrified.

I would constantly

analyze my own behavior."

—Hanessian AUTHORLINK: This is a brave book that lays bare the universal fears of motherhood. You describe new motherhood as rather terrifying:

"On our first night, our baby son cries from 9:36 p.m. to 4:09 a.m. My heart has lodged itself in my throat, my pulse thrashing wildly as if this were the scene of a crash and I'm sifting through twisted, steaming metal until the paramedics arrive. I'm watching myself in the third person, hovering over my life." —p.5

How did you find the courage to say all the things other parents are thinking, but afraid to say aloud?

HANESSIAN: When I found I was pregnant, I searched everywhere for a book in which mother and child learned from each other. I found so many books about surviving new motherhood. But I wanted a book about thriving. I wanted an intimate perspective. I didn’t want a laundry list of grievances about how tough and thankless it is to be a mother. And I wasn’t seeking advice. Nothing seemed to tell it like it is. Motherhood is a terrifying and awesome experience. So, I really started writing this book for myself. I had had a career most of my adult life. I was a person who was in control of things, had her ducks in a row—organized, together, reliable, dependable Lu, the gal who had answers to everything. But then the baby came, and defied all logic. In the beginning, I was seized with a kind of covert terror. I never wanted to let my anxiety show to my son, who I figured had enough on his plate. I would constantly analyze my own behavior. I would lie in bed at night and think about how personal mothering was. Maybe he doesn't like me. No, that’s ridiculous.

It occurred to me that so many of us, especially educated career women, are not sure how much we're going to allow the baby to change us and redefine our world. I consider myself a flexible, open person, who is pretty self aware. So it was amazing to me to sniff out my ambivalence. The baby’s needs, his cry, his vulnerability, triggered so much fear in me. I began to see how these feelings of inadequacy could so easily spawn resentment, helpless, and powerlessness in a parent, and insidiously spiral into a harmful way of approaching the relationship. In a job, a career woman can get the job done and receive an immediate pat on the back. With a child you can't see the results right away. Some days I would feel like the world's great mother. But when I wasn't having such a good, day I knew I had to take care not to bring that negative energy into the relationship. After all, being a mother isn't about me. It's about the baby.

"Nothing seemed

 

to tell it like it is.

Motherhood is a terrifying

and awesome experience."

—Hanessian AUTHORLINK: The way you describe this relationship will really hit home with many parents:

I notice that the more I give him a say, the more he listens. The more I empathize with his frustrations, the less he tends to hold on to them. . . .I see that the relationship itself is what shapes him, not my parental righteousness.—p. 43

So, with a baby on your hip and such a time-consuming relationship to build, how did you ever write an entire book?

HANESSIAN: When I started the book I was two weeks postpartum with my first son. He was such a sensitive baby, but I refused to call him a "high need" child. .He was uncomfortable, anxious about any noise. He clung to me like a kitten. I tried to console him by nursing. For the first two weeks I was really in a stupor. I needed a way to express my own despair, to find some order in the chaos—even just stand in the chaos and not panic. I had been writing since I was a girl. As a new mother trying to keep a kind of newborn inventory, I started a "nurse, pee, poop journal." This lasted several months, until my intuition took over from charts and graphs, and my self-doubt took a backseat to some bonafide maternal conviction! I realize in retrospect that one cannot come to a place of conviction and clarity until one has felt the anguish of quiet despair and wildly irrational fear.

This baby will drain the life out of me. My own life is over. My career is done. I am but a shadow of a person.

Then one day my husband brought the mail in to me. There was a letter from a literary agent, Meredith Phelan, who had read a travel piece I had written some time ago in The New York Times. Meredith, who is now with Judith Ehrlich Literary Agency, said she really liked my writing, and asked if I had any ideas for a book.

 

AUTHORLINK: The idea of trusting oneself as a parent is a theme that runs throughout the book:

. . . I wonder why so many of us parents have lost trust in ourselves and our own intuition. We tune out our baby's voice to better hear our own; then we muffle our own voices to better hear those of others. We need doctors, to be sure. But why do we need to outsource our parenting to them?— p. 52

Is this what motivated you to write the work?

HANESSIAN: This is certainly the core idea. I had always wanted to write a book. In fact, during my pregnancy, I did write about 200 pages of my thoughts on emotional defenses –how and why we build them, how they protect yet thwart us, hold us back from our potential, and how we can dissolve them to live our authentic life. But I had certainly never planned to write a book about emotional defenses in motherhood. I had written so many journals, been in television writing, and was even a closet musician. The moment I read Meredith's letter I felt a chill. I think this is the road I’m supposed to take. We met in New York for lunch—me and my leaky breasts—and she asked me to seriously think about book ideas.

A few weeks later, while nursing the baby in one arm, I typed 20 pages about motherhood with my one free hand, and e-mailed them to Meredith. She called me and said, "You need to keep writing." I thought, "Well, the book—whatever it will be—will just unfold." I wrote and wrote, and after a year I thought I might be done. I wasn't. It simply wasn't a book that would be finished quickly or neatly.

I was learning so much from my son about giving him the benefit of the doubt, and understanding the benefits of my own doubts. My doubt made me question, investigate, back-track, find the right questions instead of the answers. I was mustering courage, faith. That first-year mark was a huge turning point. But I knew there were so many more crossroads and choices that lay ahead. My oldest is now five, my second baby is two years old, and I just finished the book last August.

AUTHORLINK: And during that time you discovered something very important:

 

". . .surrendering to my baby, I finally realize, is not at all about defeat on or off the read. it is about seeing with the heart.—p.167

Writing, too, is about seeing with the heart. How long did it take you to complete the book?

HANESSIAN: It took me four and a half years of writing before I sensed that I had told a meaningful story. I didn’t know where or when it would end, until on moment late at night when I was cleaning up in my office and stumbled across a letter from me to my unborn son Nicholas. I knew intuitively that I had just found the last page of my book. Throughout the book- writing process, I wrote as I was actually experiencing the events. That may be part of why the book is compelling. Other mothers can witness my experiences first hand. If I had written the book in retrospect, two things would have happened: 1. I would have lost the detail that made the book credible; 2. I'd have been writing from a different standpoint, from the perspective of knowing the answer then going back to discuss the question. Writing the experiences as they happened to me made the book more of a live quest.

AUTHORLINK: How did you find your publisher?

HANESSIAN: When Meredith Phelan and Judith Ehrlich began pitching my book, I asked them if we could query St. Martin's Press. Having seen other books they had done, I had a sense that they'd be the right house for the book. We received several offers, and sure enough, we chose St. Martin's. I had heard all sorts of horror stories about the publishing process from other authors, but I have found my editor Jennifer Weis, and everyone else at the house, to be a joy, so supportive and enthusiastic.

AUTHORLINK: Did you have to make many revisions to the manuscript once sold?

HANESSIAN: Jennifer didn’t touch the writing, but instead offered some excellent suggestions of where to incorporate an event or dialogue in a few chapters to ground my emotions and observations in time and place for the reader. For example: " I'd love to hear more about your husband here," or "Could you could add a concrete event, a nugget, somewhere in the second and third chapters. Like, when did your blues end? How did you choose your pediatrician?"

The conversation with my husband as we walked along the beach was added at Jennifer's suggestion. It really made a difference in the emotional integrity of that chapter.

" Mothers who have read

 

my book so far say

they feel so much hope."

 

—Hanessian AUTHORLINK: How did you learn to write so well?

HANESSIAN: I don't have a neat answer. I received my B.A. in English Literature but never took a writing course. To me, writing is music. Rhythm. Syncopation. I love playing with contrasts, absurdities, subtleties, and use them to make certain points. I like to juxtapose ideas, and use symbols from my environment for imagery. To me, context is everything. It’s important to me to that the writing sing, move, travel, dig deep crevices and emerge with the reader feeling triumphant, changed.

I didn't want to write about the chaos of motherhood, true as it may be. I came way from so many other books feeling discouraged, not enlightened. Or sometimes informed, but not inspired. I wanted a book to give me perspective— the sense that everything was going to be okay. Not in the crystal ball sense, but in the sense that there is hope. Mothers who have read my book so far say they feel so much hope. And confidence.

Each child is different. If my first son, Nicholas, had had a different mother who refused to respond to him, I think I'd be dealing with a child with serious emotional problems.

 

AUTHORLINK: Indeed, the final pages of the book indicate you have achieved your goal:

I am just beginning to understand that in order to truly trust in our children and ourselves, we have to keep our own light on. This isn't simply about having the courage to stand up for what we believe in, but having the courage to doubt, to change, to be changed. . . —p. 254

My letter to Nicholas had been sleeping inside a book all these years, laying dormant on a dog-eared page, keeping the place of a poem I liked that asks me to be patient with all the questions in my heart, because, in some distant day, I will live my way into the answers.—p.255 Lu Hanessian lives in New Jersey with her husband and their two boys.

 

—Doris Booth

 

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This post was written by Doris Booth