Maybe Baby: 28 Writers Tell the Truth about Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and how They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives

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To breed or not to breed? That is the question twenty-eight accomplished writers ponder in this collection of provocative, honest, soul-searching essays. Based on a popular series at, Maybe Baby offers both frank and nuanced opinions from a wide range of viewpoints on parenting choices, both alternative and traditional.

Yes: "I've been granted access to a new plane of existence, one I could not have imagined, and would not now live ...

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To breed or not to breed? That is the question twenty-eight accomplished writers ponder in this collection of provocative, honest, soul-searching essays. Based on a popular series at, Maybe Baby offers both frank and nuanced opinions from a wide range of viewpoints on parenting choices, both alternative and traditional.

Yes: "I've been granted access to a new plane of existence, one I could not have imagined, and would not now live without."—Peter Nichols

No: "I can sort of see that it might be nice to have children, but there are a thousand things I'd rather spend my time doing than raise them."—Michelle Goldberg

Maybe: "As we both slip into our mid-thirties, my own personal daddy dilemma has quietly taken on an urgency that I frankly didn't expect."—Larry Smith

From infertility to adoption, from ambivalence to baby lust, Maybe Baby brings together the full force of opinions about this national, but also intensely personal, debate.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A few years ago, touched a primal chord when it hosted a series of personal essays about "to breed or not to breed question." In this expanded collection, more than two dozen writers weigh in on the fears, hopes, and uncertainty of the Big Baby Decision. Contributors include Anne Lamott, Mary Roach, Dani Shapiro, Michelle Goldberg, Laura Miller, Amy Reiter, and Cary Tennis.
Publishers Weekly
Inspired by a letter written to requesting more stories about people who chose not to have children, senior editor Leibovich brought together a broad spectrum of writers to create a refreshing, sometimes painful, collection of essays in which, to quote the subtitle, "28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives." Lionel Shriver celebrates her adults-only existence in "The Baby Stops Here"; Amy Richards goes through the seldom-discussed procedure of "selective reduction" in "Triple Threat"; and Kathryn Harrison cares for her dying grandmother as well as her newborn daughter in the beautiful "Cradle to Grave." Other standout essays include Neal Pollack's, defending his right to have only one child (his response to the often-voiced concern "Won't he be spoiled if he's the only one?" is "Not with our credit card debt"), and Rick Moody's, revealing his early-in-life assessment of children as "bloodthirsty dwarves." This bittersweet anthology is the perfect antidote to readers tired of the number of books lauding child-rearing and its many joys. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This work, an outgrowth of a series that ran in 2003, considers one of modern life's great issues: parenthood. Divided into three sections ("No," "Maybe," and "Yes"), the 28 essays personalize the choices found in broader society today. Leibovich (senior editor, has selected stories from contributors (both established and emerging writers) who don't fit the traditional prototype; they are single parents, teenage mothers, gays and lesbians, and others whose path to parenthood was "complicated or unique." Michelle Goldberg expresses her lack of desire to have children in the face of doubters and doomsayers ("You'll regret it"). Lionel Shriver, a childless advocate for choice in parenthood, sees the hypocrisy in her position as she also believes that childlessness endangers our culture's ability to reproduce itself. Larry Smith describes how the ticking of his "sociological clock" has him pondering whether he can live without children. Louis Bayard writes about how adoption has "filled [him] up," while Amy Richards describes her experience with the selective reduction of her embryos. These superbly written essays are recommended for all libraries, especially gender studies and sociology collections.-Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060737825
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/10/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,544,403
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

A former staff editor at Salon, Lori Leibovich has written for many publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Cookie, Harper's Bazaar, and the anthologies Mothers Who Think and The Real Las Vegas. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt

Maybe Baby

28 Writers Tell the Truth About Skepticism, Infertility, Baby Lust, Childlessness, Ambivalence, and How They Made the Biggest Decision of Their Lives
By Lori Leibovich

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Lori Leibovich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060737816

Chapter One

No Thanks, Not for Me

Michelle Goldberg

To Breed or Not to Breed

When people learn that I'm in my late twenties, happily married, and am not planning to have children, they respond in one of two ways. Most of the time, they smile patronizingly and say, "You'll change your mind." Sometimes they do me the favor of taking me seriously, in which case they warn, "You'll regret it."

I've heard this enough that I've started worrying that they might be right. After all, I'm not completely insensitive to the appeal of motherhood. In fact, I have a name chosen for the daughter I don't plan to have, and sometimes I imagine the life I could give her. Spared my mortifying suburban childhood, she'd be one of those sparkling, precocious New York City kids I've always envied. I'd take her around the world, to study languages in Europe, to see the Potala Palace and the Taj Mahal. She'd have all I wish I'd had.

My husband doesn't particularly want to be a father, but he's said that, should I ever feel the ravenous baby hunger said to descend on women in theirthirties, he could be coaxed into parenthood. He's a loving and generous man, and I have no doubt he'd dote on our child if we had one. So would his wonderful family, who live within walking distance of us. They're the reason his sister, a bar owner, has more of a social life than any other young mother I've met. I think of his grandmother and late grandfather, who lived in a rambling house in rural Maine. Three generations of their adoring descendants admired them as few people admire the very old anymore, and seeing that has made me think that family can be the key to the best kind of life.

Still, the vague pleasures I sometimes associate with having children are either distant or abstract. Other women say they feel a yearning for motherhood like a physical ache. I don't know what they're talking about. The daily depredations of child-rearing, though, seem so viscerally real that my stomach tightens when I ponder them. A child, after all, can't be treated as a fantasy projection of my imagined self. He or she would be another person, with needs and desires that I would be tethered to for decades. And everything about meeting those needs fills me with horror. Not just the diapers and the shrieking, the penury and career stagnation, but the parts that maternally minded friends of mine actually look forward to: the wearying grammar-school theatrical performances. Hours spent on the playground when I'd rather be reading books or writing them. Parent-teacher conferences. Birthday parties. Ugly primary-colored plastic toys littering my home.

I can sort of see that it might be nice to have children, but there are a thousand things I'd rather spend my time doing than raise them. The daily grind of motherhood seems like a prison sentence to me. Though I have nothing but respect for the work of raising children, I don't like being around them. At least, I don't like being around most of them most of the time. Some people say I'll feel different about my own, but I'm not sure I want to take the risk. I think about Martha Gellhorn, the globe-trotting war correspondent who, when she was middle-aged, adopted a little boy in a moment of loneliness and sentimentality. At first, she was in love, like mothers are. Then she grew bored and frustrated. According to a recent biography of her, she was terrible to him, and he was the great failure of her life.

Two years ago, when I wrote a story about all this for Salon, I got dozens of letters in response. Most were empathetic, but a few, mostly from men, were disgusted, calling me a selfish caricature of feminism. Those letters hurt because I suspected they might be right, that some nurturing part was missing in me. But I doubt the wisdom of bringing someone into the world just to defy that fear.

Especially when motherhood seems so hard even for those who want it more than anything. When I wrote my Salon story, I spoke to Rick Hanson, a California clinical psychologist and coauthor of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. He told me that raising a child is grueling even for those who like childish things. "Most parents, men and women, say they dramatically underestimated how intensely demanding, stressful, and depleting parenthood would be," he told me.

Meanwhile, despite general social disapproval of childless women, their ranks are growing. A quarter of American women will never have children, Hanson said. The numbers are similar in other developed countries. Some of these women can't have kids, but others simply have other priorities. Three-quarters of America's childless women are physically able to be mothers, according to Hanson.

They won't always be. Fertility starts declining in your mid-thirties. Sylvia Ann Hewlett's 2002 book Creating a Life may have been shoddy, irritating, and smug, but it was accurate in its assessment of the dismal odds stacked against women who seek fertility treatments in their forties. After a certain age, having a baby is no longer an option.

This breeds another fear -- that I'll regret my effrontery in defying the whole history of the human race. Are deliberately childless women setting themselves up for a lifetime of barren desolation?

According to the experts I spoke to, the happy answer is no.

When I started writing my story for Salon, I would have described myself as ambivalent about childbearing. Yet when experts told me I was unlikely to suffer debilitating psychological fallout if I spared myself motherhood, I felt enormous relief, as if I'd been let off the hook. They said that people who choose not to have children (as opposed to those who desperately want to have children but can't) tend to have . . .


Excerpted from Maybe Baby by Lori Leibovich Copyright © 2006 by Lori Leibovich. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
Introduction xiii
Part 1 No Thanks, Not for Me
To Breed or Not to Breed 3
Emancipation from Propagation 11
It's Not in My Nature to Nurture 18
The Baby Stops Here 22
The Life I Was Meant to Have 33
The Impossible Me 40
Part 2 On the Fence
Bloodthirsty Dwarves 49
They Will Find You 56
The Rise from the Earth (So Far) 66
Beyond Biology 76
The Daddy Dilemma 84
Next Stop, Motherland 92
Redemption 100
Part 3 Taking the Leap
Parenting on a Dare 111
Not a Pretty Story 117
Second Time Around 130
We'll Always Have Paris 137
Surprise, Baby 147
Cradle to Grave 157
Mother's Little Helper 176
A Dad's Affidavit 184
Once More, With Feeling 191
Triple Threat 203
Diagnosis: Broken 208
One Is Enough 224
Mama Don't Preach 231
My Tribe 236
Road Trip 246
Contributors 257
Acknowledgments 265
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Reading Group Guide


To breed or not to breed? That is the question 28 accomplished writers—including Anne Lamott, Rick Moody, Kathryn Harrison, and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez—ponder in this collection of provocative, honest, and deeply personal essays. Based on a popular series at, Maybe Baby features parents and nonparents alike exploring how and why they decided whether to have children.

This powerful work offers frank and nuanced looks at those choices, both alternative and traditional, from a wide range of viewpoints. From abortion to adoption, from ambivalence to baby lust, from single parenting to searching for the right partner to have a baby with, Maybe Baby brings together the full force of opinions about this national—but also intensely personal—debate.

Questions for Discussion

1. Maybe Baby divides essayists into three categories (against parenting, still uncertain, for parenting) with respect to their views on starting a family. To what extent did you find yourself in agreement with the essayists in the category that corresponds with your own views?

2. A number of the essayists in Maybe Baby explore the unusual circumstances of their families—twin girls born to a lesbian couple that chooses artificial insemination, selective reduction used to terminate a triple pregnancy. How has technology altered the landscape of reproduction and redefined parenthood in our society?

3. Several essayists in Maybe Baby explore their resistance to having a child. Why is the decision not to parent considered socially unacceptable and controversial in so manycircles?

4. "Redemption" by Joe Loya and "My Tribe" by Asha Bandele consider some of the complications of raising children in the wake of incarceration and mental illness. To what extent do you think that such experiences might help prepare adults for the emotional complexities involved in raising children?

5. How would you describe the phenomenon of baby lust, and why do you think so many adults—especially women—experience it?

6. "Not a Pretty Story" by Dani Shapiro and "Cradle to Grave" by Kathryn Harrison examine the multigenerational conflicts that can arise when a baby enters the family. Why might the arrival of a newborn be especially unsettling to older generations?

7. To what extent is the decision to have a child a bid for immortality, or an extension of one's self?

8. In "Mother's Little Helper," Laurie Abraham describes alcohol as her generation's "answer to Valium"—a response to the dual stresses of intensive parenting and intense work. To what extent do you agree with Abraham's argument that the construction of parenthood in American culture is partly responsible for increased alcohol use?

9. In "Diagnosis: Broken," Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez describes the difficulty of accepting her young son's autism diagnosis. How do her experiences reflect the range of emotions parents experience as they navigate the uncertain terrain of raising children?

10. Of all of the personal accounts in Maybe Baby surrounding questions of whether or not to parent, which did you find especially compelling, intriguing, memorable, or heartbreaking and why?

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book was recommended to me by a friend who has a child. She too struggled, maybe not as much as I am, with the decision to be a parent. I am so glad I read Maybe Baby. There must be a highlighted mark in every chapter. The 28 writers describe everything I was feeling, that I had trouble putting into words. I recommend it as a first read for those who want to start figuing out why they too are struggling with the decision to be a parent and how to communicate their feelings to those around them.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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