Questions for Sarah Bilston, author of SLEEPLESS NIGHTS:
- In your first novel, Bed Rest, we watched your protagonist, Q, experience the perils of a difficult pregnancy with humor and grace. In your latest, Sleepless Nights, she’s surprised to find herself unprepared for the changes a new baby brings. What did you find the most unexpected about the first year of parenthood?
I couldn’t believe how intense it was. Before I was a mother I used to see new moms out and about with babies in strollers, and I thought motherhood looked pretty easy! You had a lovely baby to hold and you got to take some time off from work. What’s not to love about that?
Within twenty-four hours of having my first child I realized just how hard parenting can be. I am an only child, and before becoming a mom I was used to plenty of me-time. Of course, me-time went straight out of the window of the delivery room. I nursed, and my daughter was quite small at birth, so I was on a two-hour feeding schedule – which, as all nursing mothers know, means one hour for feeding, one hour for changing, then you start the whole thing all over again. Sleeping, eating, and showering just weren’t part of the equation.
My oldest child also had colic, which was another big shock. I’d always assumed that babies cried for fairly obvious reasons, and that their problems could be quite easily fixed by a loving mother. Not true. Wall-to-wall crying, on no sleep, was not fun at all.
- On your website you’re collecting stories from new mothers. Why?
I think the first year is a big shock for most moms. The images of mothering in the media are usually of gurgling babies and delighted mothers. But the reality can be very different. The stories from moms on my website show just this: there are lots of different perspectives, but they all share a common theme – wow! Who knew it could be like this! Some of the mothers are struggling with their own health problems, others with a child’s; some are from moms who try to find answers in books, others from moms who try every ‘trick’ they hear from their friends. But all of them show how strange and tricky it is to turn from ‘me’ into ‘mom.’
I’m hoping that publication of Sleepless Nights will help moms – and the media – have a conversation about the realities of parenting.
I think Sleepless Nights will appeal to women readers and people interested in parenting especially. But it’s also got a more serious side. I talk about the wonderful side of mothering, but also its challenges. Some chapters are comic, but others are reflective and sober.
- What’s one thing every new mother should know?
Don’t clean up when your kids are napping! Go to bed yourself, or at least put your feet up… Time off is so precious when you have small children; make the most of every second you have. You’ll be able to enjoy your children so much more if you’ve had a little bit of down-time first.
- What edits did you need to make to Sleepless Nights to make it fit into today’s uncertain economic times?
I had to change the tone completely. Last year I published Sleepless Nights in the UK, and the tone was much breezier; it was written before the current recession. People talked easily about money in the UK edition, and no-one was particularly worried about holding down a job. But by the time I was preparing the manuscript for the US market, this spring, the world had changed dramatically.
In the US edition I’ve tried to capture the edginess and worry of modern America. And I also had to make some serious plot changes. For instance: originally Jeanie, Q’s twenty-two-year-old sister, enjoys the pleasures of a summer in America after finishing up a degree in London When I was first writing, a few months off to ‘find yourself’ after graduation seemed perfectly reasonable. But who can fritter away a summer these days? As an academic myself, I see every day how anxious new graduates are about entering the workforce. Jeanie’s motivations needed to be more intimately connected to anxiety than pleasure-seeking. The novel had to be an enjoyable escape from reality while shadowing that reality accurately enough to maintain reader sympathy. In the end, I tied the lessons Jeanie learned specifically to our changing economy. The career she ends up with isn’t exactly glamorous, or well-paid, but it’s stable and fulfilling. For the time being, for a recent graduate, that’s enough.