Buy Buy Baby – Helen MacKinven + Guest Post

For every woman who is unhappy with her stretch marks, there is another woman who wishes she had them.

buy-buy-baby-cover

Buy Buy Baby is the story of two women desperate for a baby. Carol’s son, Ben, died in an accident. Now, several years on, divorced and making conversation with Ben’s dog, Jinky, while her ex-husband moves on, she wonders if it’s time to become ‘Mum’ again.

Julia’s a business journalist with a swanky waterfront flat and a designer wardrobe. She’s mired in debt and looking for a baby daddy since dumping her last boyfriend for not wanting to start a family. She’s jealous of her sister whose daughter, Holly, she enjoys spending time with.

Early in the novel, both women meet a stranger who says he has the answer to their problem. But it’s an answer that’s going to cost them both.

At first glance, Buy Buy Baby appears to be a humorous look at two women’s quest for a child: Carol talks to the dog and answers herself back; Julia signs up for an exclusive dating site, but it soon delves into much darker territory. Just what are Carol and Julia prepared to do to satiate their desire?

MacKinven weaves themes of domestic violence, new relationships, affairs and life after death into an interesting look at the pursuit of motherhood. While I wasn’t wholly satisfied with the novel’s outcome, I was impressed at the way in which MacKinven dealt with issues around domestic violence, she’s clearly done her research.

HMK & sons

I’m delighted to welcome Helen to the blog to talk about motherhood and women’s identity.

I was recently ‘tagged’ on Facebook with this message.

Motherhood dare! Post a picture that makes you happy/proud to be a mum… (only one picture) I’m going to tag some ladies whom I think are fabulous mothers (I know too many to tag you all – sorry), and can rise up to the challenge of posting a pic of their own. If I’ve tagged you as one of the awesome mums, copy the text and paste it to your wall with a picture, and tag more mums! “I LOVE BEING A MUM! Xx

I do love being a mum, but I didn’t feel the need or pressure to respond to the tag and I sat back and watched as the ‘tagging’ did the rounds of my Facebook friends. The posts that followed made me think about the central theme in my novel, Buy Buy Baby, which is the quest for the two main characters, Carol and Julia, to become a mum. I wondered how childless women felt when they saw these posts. It may be the case that if they’re childless through choice then they don’t care. But I also considered the feelings of women who would like to have children but can’t, or those whose child has died.

It also struck me that I’ve never seen any of my male Facebook friends post something along the lines of ‘I LOVE BEING A DAD!’ It seems to me as if some women only share photos of their children. It’s as if they have nothing to post about themselves and their defining role is that of being a mum, and that’s all they have to say. What happened to their sense of identity after they gave birth? In my view, some women can appear one-dimensional when all they post are status updates on the lives of their children.

If these posts were boasts about buying a flashy car, getting a pay rise or booking a luxury cruise it might sound tacky to brag. But when it’s a picture of their teenager in a ridiculously expensive dress and posing beside a limo on their way to the school prom, it’s perfectly acceptable.

I have no issue with any woman that wants to wear the ‘I LOVE BEING A MUM!’ badge with pride, that’s their choice. But for the sake of balance, I’d also enjoy seeing photos of them as individuals with their talents, skills and interests showcased and not just their child’s latest sporting or academic success. Do these women feel that being a mum is their greatest and only real achievement worth celebrating? In Buy Buy Baby, Julia’s friend Kirsty berates her desperation to have a baby and asks, ‘Is Project Baby the latest must-have accessory you need to complete an outfit?’

We’re bombarded with images of motherhood in the media so it’s easy to see why some women, like Julia, can become fixated by the need to be a mum. It was that obsession that I wanted to explore in Buy Buy Baby. How far would a woman go to achieve her goal? And why do some women feel the need to be a mum over every other aspiration?

In Buy Buy Baby, the two women couldn’t be any more different and yet they share the same burning desire to fill a baby-shaped hole in their lives. This results in both characters being confronted with moral dilemmas and having to make decisions as to whether they’re willing to pay the price not just financially, but emotionally and psychologically too.

On a personal level, I was very lucky to become pregnant easily when I decided to have a family and I had no major problems with the births of my two sons. But knowing how much they changed my life, for the better, I was left wondering how I would feel if I had experienced infertility or my child had died. Would I also be as driven as Julia and Carol to fulfil my need to be a mum? Or would just being Helen be enough?

In my last novel, Talk of the Toun, although the characters were fictional, the setting and time period related to my own upbringing in the 80s within a working-class environment in central Scotland. I had to a certain degree followed the advice to, “write what you know” but in Buy Buy Baby I’ve dabbled with a subject matter that I’ve only observed and researched. I hope the quest for motherhood is a theme that appeals to readers too as I find it very interesting to reflect on women and their role in society, and the way they choose to portray themselves on social media.

Huge thanks to Helen for the insight into the ideas surrounding her novel and to Cranachan for the review copy. If you want to discover more about the novel, then the following blogs will be hosting Helen and the book over the next ten days:

blog tour

0 thoughts on “Buy Buy Baby – Helen MacKinven + Guest Post

  1. Hear, hear! I have practically abandoned Facebook for myself (rather than for a writing group that volunteer for) for that very reason, although my friends are scattered all over the world and it’s convenient to see what they are up to in one fell swoop. But I don’t like all the tagging and bragging and humble-bragging and self-congratulating, the pressure to fit in, keep up, outshine… Brrrr! I have children and I love them, but I am not defined by them, nor (I think) would I have suffered much if I hadn’t had them. So a convoluted way of saying: I’ve got to read this book!

  2. Such an interesting and loaded subject and I often wonder why we have the reactions we do to those who live their lives through their children, even to the point of wondering if we are any less of a mother for pursuing other interests at the same time.

    The thought of completely immersing in motherhood to the expense of all else feels a little to me like the thought of being completely dependent on a partner, like a precipice over which we risk losing the self, who we are. It’s not something I would wish on or for anyone, we all need that balance and I wish some of that obsession where it does exist might be channelled into helping others, however I suspect it’s may be more narcissistic than altruistic.

    • Great comment, Claire. I find these things really interesting being a stepmum who’s never wanted biological children. Most fascinating for me is that my opinion on people who consume themselves with/in the pursuit of motherhood hasn’t changed even though I love my stepkids and enjoy spending time with them. As you say, reducing your identity to one element is a dangerous thing.

  3. Another Facebook deserter here. I avoid posting pics of my daughter online and mostly share her achievements privately. Helen explores the identity issues really well and I’m feeling very secure with my own sense of living as a separate, unique being independent of my role as a mother. Having said that, I describe myself as a mother and teacher on Twitter – both are important jobs and answer the ‘what do you do?’ question, but neither subsumes my own identity.

    • I’m really interested in your last sentence: I used to be a teacher. I taught for 12 years, leaving the profession two years ago and, once the relief/excitement was over, I really did feel as though I’d lost my identity. It was a very odd time for me.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Safia and your reply Naomi. The whole notion of labels and identity is hugely interesting to me. I was recently asked by a stranger, “What do you do?” My answer was “Lots of things” as I’m reluctant to give myself a label which only reflects one aspect of my identity.

      • I can imagine. I gave up teaching when my daughter was born because as a foster career, I’d learned how crucial the first two years of a child’s development are. I couldn’t trust anyone else with her early care as I was living abroad with no family near me, so handing her to a virtual stranger 5 days a week was not an option I considered for long. I slipped into the role of motherhood from teaching, so maybe it was easier for me and less of a transition due to hormones and general fatigue, lol! Starting to write fiction when she turned three and went to nursery for a few hours a day was another new beginning and intellectually challenging. That activity no doubt replaced the part of me that identified as a teacher, i.e., I ‘became’ a writer instead. Does that make sense? The footnote is, after 7 years I am returning to a full-time job teaching from August! Now that will be interesting … and I must say, it feels like I’m re-inventing myself (again) rather than returning.

        • Thanks for replying, Safia. It makes perfect sense. I went from teacher to PhD student and it was such a difference in terms of how my days were spent and how much contact I had with other people that it was quite a shock. Now I think I’m more like Helen in that I do so many things (both paid and unpaid) that I don’t have a label anymore. Some days I feel as though I literally have different hats and I need to bring a different part of who I am to the forefront. It’s quite an odd feeling!

          Good luck with the return to teaching. I still work in education and it’s an interesting time to be part of the profession.

  4. What a wonderful idea, Naomi and Helen! I was quite surprised at the “love being a mum” posts on my timeline, most by young women who are so many other things apart from mothers – some of them amazing professionals. Couldn’t agree with Helen more.