Most writers are lucky if they find someone more experienced and reputable to push them through the creative process. Claire Lynch, originally from Cork, hit the jackpot when she found herself won by the Booker Prize winner.
In 2017, Lynch, professor of English and Irish literature at Brunel College in London, entered a short but impactful piece of prose into a writing contest. Her wife, Bethan, had given birth to the couple’s first two children, a set of twin girls, a year earlier. The article’s resulting work, called ‘The Year Dot’, won second place in the Life Writing Prize competition, and caught the eye of the Booker Prize winner, who also happens to be a colleague of the writing. Lynch at Brunel.
“She was so happy to read it and sent me an email saying, ‘I think you should write some more,’” Lynch recalls. “I mean, when Bernadine Evaristo said you should write some more stuff, you pretty much went out and did it.”
Finally, Evaristo described Lynch’s first book Small: About motherhood is “original, important, and moving,” and she’s not wrong. In lyrical and tender prose, the book details Lynch’s experience creating a family – twin girls, now six, and a third daughter, now three – with Bethan. It’s a breathtaking take on fertility struggles, same-sex parenting, birth trauma, and ultimately the aura rhythms of life as a busy mom of three.
In many ways, theirs is an ordinary love story. Lynch and Bethan met in college, married in 2010 and moved into “the smallest apartment we could afford in London”. Not long after, they started talking about having children. “In a way, it’s a very traditional, very conventional story,” Lynch said.
Here the ‘convention’ ends. “I think we took it for granted that all we had to do in a sense was make a decision, then keep clicking and have a family,” Lynch said. “That’s an interesting point for me to think about now, because I think we were probably in the first generation of same-sex parents who lived with the expectation that it could happen. [to get pregnant fairly easily]. ”
The couple decided to create an embryo using donor sperm and Bethan’s eggs. Lynch writes of the times they reviewed sperm donor profiles on the web, wondering about this “online catalog of extremely healthy overborns.” “No photos at all,” she wrote of one profile. “I don’t want to know his face, to look for the shape of his eyes or the curve of his jaw within their… So it’s a lot harder to do this act of generosity. It is so small that it can only be seen under a microscope. So big, it created a whole new world to exist in. “
The couple decided that Lynch would carry the embryo. Lynch and Bethan are delighted to find out that they are pregnant; In one passage, Lynch recalls telling a waiter who offered her a blue cheese special that she couldn’t accept because she was pregnant. “The gift can refuse it,” Lynch wrote.
A few weeks later, Lynch suffered a miscarriage and couldn’t stop apologizing to his wife.
“I totally think of that moment now as a moment that made other things possible,” Lynch said. “It was hard to lose that child, but otherwise, we wouldn’t have the children we have now.”
The couple then decided that they would use Lynch’s eggs and that Bethan would carry that embryo. However, things are still not that simple. Finally, Lynch and Bethan will undergo fertility treatment for three years.
Lynch writes with empathy and vivacity about the moments when many couples trying to conceive will easily have sex. In the fertility clinic, Lynch observed people in the waiting room attentively ignoring the wall of pictures of healthy babies. She scoured online fertility forums, hoping to find clues and advice in the stories of strangers. “Over time, I read the forums as a punishment, looking for other people’s success stories so I could be fed up with the injustice of it all,” Lynch wrote. “At some stage, I started navigating to topics called “Let go” or “Continue.”
“I think it’s pretty hard to grasp the idea when wondering about what each [IVF] cycle can be achieved, and then have to do all that mental reordering when it doesn’t,” says Lynch. “It’s hard not to think ahead to push the swings in the park and the first day of school. I know people who have gone through many cycles and have gone through that cycle of hope and grief each time.
“There’s also the thing that when you feel like you can’t do it anymore, it’s a really hard thing, because you’re also saying, ‘I’m going to give up all of that’. I think the people who can draw a line down there are really the heroes. ”
Lynch and her wife persevered, and discovered they were pregnant in 2014. Lynch recalls some standout moments: taking a pregnancy test and finding out on an ultrasound that the baby they were carrying was a girl. Mothers-to-be also attend antenatal classes, where Lynch is discreetly contracted to the group of ‘dads’, and is sometimes, unknowingly called.
What makes Small: About motherhood unique from the wave of parenting memoirs is how Lynch unpacks the experience of motherhood in same-sex marriage. There are ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ roles as parents in the family, and awkward questions from strangers.
“It’s fun when you’re on an airplane or into a restaurant – it’s the easiest type to read, seeing two mothers taking their kids out,” Lynch notes. “People realize they’ve put their feet in there, and then they’re embarrassed. I’m sure there were some old men on the bus going, “Who’s the mother?” and the kids [point to us and say] “She’s Mama, and she’s Mummy.” “
Just before the twins were born, Lynch returned to Dublin to work in the summer of 2015, as Ireland prepared to vote in a referendum on marriage equality. “There were so many posters campaigning for No over Yes,” Lynch wrote: “As the bus followed the river out of town, the message became clear. No, you are not equal. Is not. You are not fit to be a parent. “
“I think that stage was very rudimentary and I was filled with excitement about becoming a parent,” Lynch says now. “That campaign was very focused on [same-sex] parents in a way. For me it’s not personal, but it’s very hard not to. When you’re in your own bubble of happiness, there’s a reminder that maybe the world doesn’t quite see things the same way. It’s always a bit of a shock, isn’t it? ”
The twins were born prematurely, in a painful cesarean section that Lynch recalls with emotion. They spent many weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the first few weeks of parenthood were very fuzzy for the couple.
In recalling those moments during the writing of the book, Lynch said, “I felt really good about writing it emotionally, because it felt a lot like writing. The only difficulty is narrating the audiobook. Read it all back later – let’s say I fooled myself in front of the sound engineer, basically. “
Today, Lynch’s daughters make up a boisterous trio.
Lynch writes: Between her studies and raising her three young daughters Small: About motherhood in a short time, quickly.
“Sitting on the stairs, waiting for someone to go to sleep, skipping swimming lessons, I’m going to do a little bit on the phone and accumulate all these little scraps,” says Lynch. “I have to be really clear about my timing and know when I will have an hour before lunch, or two hours before school pick up. All credit to Bethan, she has to take them to every amusement park in the county on Saturday mornings so I can write. People are going to get out of the house no matter what the weather is like.”
She laughed and added, “Don’t think for a second there isn’t an important bill for that.”
Small: About motherhood by Claire Lynch out March 3 in Brazen
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/same-sex-parents-ive-definitely-had-some-old-man-on-the-bus-go-whos-the-mum-41400404.html Gay Parents: ‘I’m sure there were some old men on the bus going,’ Who is Mom? ”