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Author Q&A: Zahie El Kouri

Headshot Zahie El KouriWhat was your inspiration for writing Don’t Tell Her to Relax?

During my many years of struggling to get pregnant, I experienced a great deal of frustration with friends and relatives who really wanted to be helpful and compassionate, but who kept saying the wrong things. I was painfully aware that these people cared about me and would have said something less hurtful and more helpful if they knew what that might be. I imagined a sign I could carry around listing my top 5 requests for human communication during this time, and that imaginary sign turned into this book.

What was the hardest part to write?

It took a few drafts to sort out my feelings about interacting with people while wanting a child and not being able to get or stay pregnant. I really had to use my novelist’s brain to put myself in the shoes of all the nice people who meant well but who said things that I found hurtful and frustrating.

What was the greatest challenge in bringing the book to market?

The greatest challenge was my own attachment to the traditional publishing model. It was difficult for me to let go of the idea that someone else had to say the book was good enough to merit publication.

What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?

I hope readers will learn some simple, concrete actions they can take and meaningful, compassionate things they can say to be supportive of those who are experiencing infertility.

What book(s) had the greatest influence on you?

If I had to narrow the list down to three,

  1. Gish Jen, Typical American, for its portrayal of the immigrant family experience.
  2. The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey, because Peter Carey is amazing.
  3. Mei Ling Hopgood , How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, for its reminder that almost all parenting truths and methods are culturally constructed.

How do you balance writing and motherhood?

Now that I am a mother of infant twins in addition to a toddler, I am able to balance writing and motherhood with a lot of child-care help from my husband, my mother, and assorted babysitters. I also am really working on defining success both as a parent and as a writer on my own terms. Having worked so hard to have a child and being an older parent has made me both more comfortable with my current work-parenting balance (which currently involves more parenting than work), and more eager to get back the time I invested in fertility treatments and logistics.

What is your advice to mother writers?

Ask for the help that you need. Ask for the time that you need to do the things that will make you a balanced person and better parent.

BMP- Don;t tell her to relaxRead an Excerpt from Don’t Tell Her to Relax.

Buy the book.

 

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