Off The Mommy Track
"There's an expectation on women that first comes love, then marriage and then the baby in the baby carriage. Not everyone wants to take that path," Giffin said as she watched children swing in Huntington Park on Nob Hill. San Francisco was just one stop on a six-week-long book tour during which she felt the pangs of being away from her own 2 1/2-year-old twin sons, George and Edward, who were home in Atlanta with their father. She was just as eager to answer a call from their nanny to hear an update on the whereabouts of George's favorite missing toy as she was to pick up the phone when her publicist called to tell her that "Baby Proof" made the New York Times Top 10 best-seller list.
Impeccably put together in slim jeans, a seersucker blazer and sunglasses, Giffin explained that she wrote the book to question whether there is ever a deal breaker when it comes to true love. After considering basing the book on religious differences in a marriage, she decided on the issue of parenthood, since she believes that it is the biggest all-or-nothing proposition in life. You cannot have half a child or reverse the decision once they are born and you have decided to raise them -- it's forever. In that vein, the story makes the point that choosing the father of your children is more important than choosing a husband.
Initially, Giffin planned the book to focus on a husband with very resolute feelings about not having children and a wife whose maternal instincts kicked in, but changed the angle because she felt it was more interesting to write from the perspective of what would be perceived to be an unsympathetic heroine -- a woman who wanted to live a child-free life. Giffin emphasizes that term instead of the one more often used -- childless. The book begins with the sentence, "I never wanted to be a mother."
Two months into her novel and having made the switch, as rumors began to circulate about Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston's marriage, Giffin wondered how readers would react to her treatment of the material. The Angelina Jolie factor had yet to surface, but rumor had it that the Hollywood couple was breaking up because Aniston did not want children yet.
"It was fascinating how quickly women sided with Brad and said he had to leave her, instead of saying that the couple had a commitment and his love for her should have been stronger than his urge to have kids," said Giffin, who believes a third party -- even Angelina Jolie -- cannot end a mutually satisfying relationship. She cites the high-profile brouhaha as just another example that illustrates the stigma against women who pursue careers or their own interests instead of reproducing.
Beyond Claudia's desire to maintain a child-free lifestyle, despite the fact that her soul mate has changed his mind and all her friends have hopped on the baby bandwagon, "Baby Proof" is a love story at the core. It examines the great lengths people go for each other, and is filled with well-developed female characters like Claudia's sisters and best friend who face infertility, infidelity and adoption -- all mainstream subjects that readers can relate to.
In a sense, Giffin draws on the lives of her own circle of friends. "You have twentysomething drama, and expect your 30s to be pretty straightforward. You think you will marry at 28, have the first child at 30, and work part time before going back full time," said Giffin, who met her husband of four years, Buddy Blaha, a corporate developer, at an airport. "You have a sense that you can script life, and then you get there and realize it doesn't work out that easily."
Though she says "Baby Proof'' is not autobiographical, the 34-year-old author wrote the book when her sons were just 1 year old, and admits at that point it was not hard for her to sympathize with a woman who didn't want to have kids. "I've never regretted having my sons, and I'd do it all over," Giffin said, remembering how she was prepared for things like sleep deprivation but was blown away by losing a sense of emotional freedom. "Your identity changes a bit -- you never have the ability to put yourself first again."
Since her boys were born on New Year's Eve 2003, the former New York litigation attorney-turned-author published two books before "Baby Proof'' -- "Something Borrowed,'' which explores the limits of friendship and hit bookstores in summer 2004, and its sequel, "Something Blue,'' which came out last year. Both were so well received that Giffin signed another two-book deal with St. Martin's Press for her current release and a novel due out next year.
As a working mother, Giffin had the romantic notion that she would balance her roles by writing while the twins napped. "I thought if J.K. Rowling could write living on the poverty level with a baby and without help, then I could, too," she said. A few months into the effort, Giffin found herself brushing her teeth at 3 in the afternoon with just a handful of pages written and knew she had to hire help. She now works from her attic office, two stories above where her sons play. The distance allows just enough of a sound barrier for her to get her writing done but is close enough so she can see her sons during the day.
The sudden literary success is a bit surreal for a woman who grew up writing and had her first novel shot down by several agents. The Alice Munro fan still thinks of her manuscripts as things that exist on her computer, and says she believes that a lot of luck is involved when it comes to getting a book published. Aside from receiving e-mails from fans and seeing people reading her books on airplanes, she says success is not something she thinks about. But she admits that she was shameless when "Something Borrowed'' premiered at Barnes & Noble in Atlanta. She couldn't resist announcing, "That's my book," and posing for a picture with her 6-month-old babies in front of the stand.
Heather Maddan is a working mom and a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. We are huge fans of hers, not just because she wrote a fabulous piece "Balancing Act" on Mommy Track'd for the Chronicle's Style Section this past Mother's Day, but because she is an insightful and entertaining reporter.