Jennifer Haupt’s new e-book “Will you be my Mother? The quest to answer yes,” includes three stories from her journey to love better and connect more deeply with her children, her mother, and the world. She hosts a popular blog for Psychology Today, One True Thing, an online salon of essays and interviews with bestselling authors.
Proceeds from the book will go to support Mothers2Mothers, a non-profit organization that trains, employs, and empowers mothers living with HIV to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies and improve the health of women, their partners, and families in sub-Sahara Africa.
JR: Did you set out to link these three essays in “Will You Be My Mother” as you wrote them, or did you discover you had a thematic tie as an epiphany?
JH: I began with a piece I’d written years ago, about a girl at the genocide museum in Rwanda asking me to be her mother. Both her question and my negative response were unsettling. After she walked away, it occurred to me that she wasn’t actually asking me to adopt her, but “to give her guidance” as she said. Her own mother had been murdered during the genocide, twelve years earlier. I began wondering, how might it have changed both me and her if I had offered her a hug, some kind words, a walk in the garden outside of the museum? How might that connection have changed both of us?
The next piece in this trilogy is about another time when I did answer “yes.” Shortly after returning home from a month in Rwanda, a boy I had met in Nairobi four years earlier sent me a letter. It was the first time I heard from Julius, who had given me a tour of the slum where he lived. We had talked about his desire to study journalism, to be the first member of his family to go to college, to move out of Kibera and start a family of his own. Now, he was writing to tell me that he was accepted to a two-year community college. He didn’t ask for money, but of course I could read between the lines. This story is about how saying yes to Julius did change both of our lives.
And then, the third piece in my e-book is about moving from being a daughter, to a mother, to mothering my own mom. It’s about learning to let go of the question, and saying yes to my mom. The epiphany is the power of giving love, and how it boomerangs back to you.
JR: How did you choose Mothers2Mothers as the charity for your proceeds from sales of your e-book during May to benefit?
JH: Mothers2Mothers is a natural fit because they are about answering yes to the question: “Will you be my mother?” They train, employs, and empower mothers living with HIV to counsel pregnant women with the disease. Basically, M2M is working to eliminate the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies and improve the health of women, their partners, and families in sub-Sahara Africa.
JR: What insights do you have about motherhood after having children that you couldn’t have had before?
JH: I could never have known how much my two sons would teach me about how to love better and live my life more fully. I try harder and reach farther, knowing that they are looking to me for guidance — even when they appear not to be watching me at all. I see this clearly, now that both of my sons are in their twenties.
JR: What drew you to journalism? How is it different from other kinds of writing you do, and do you have a preference?
JH: I was drawn to journalism because it gave me a chance to ask people the questions that I most wanted answered. As a young mom, I wrote about what to feed your baby, which car seat is safest, the pros and cons of vaccinations, and other practicalities relating to parenthood. Then, I began interviewing “women who make a difference” and “everyday heroes” (as the magazines call them). I asked them the questions I was grappling with about how to better connect with others and the world.
My two decades as a journalist have laid the foundation for writing fiction, personal essays, and now memoir. And, still, I put on my reporters cap to investigate the things I’m curious about. For example, I recently wrote a piece about the connection between depression and creativity, and another about how writer’s block may not be all in your head. I have the great luxury of getting paid to conduct research for my fiction and for better understanding my own life.
JR: It seems like a tough time to be a journalist, now that everyone under the sun can publish their thoughts for free wherever they please. How have you experienced the changes in reporting and writing now that the digital technology is so widespread and there are more writers than ever out there?
JH: I think it can be a tough time for journalists, but it’s also an exciting time to create your own opportunities. I’m doing that with my Psychology Today blog, Shebooks and Kindle Singles. Other writers I know are having great success self-publishing fiction and nonfiction. Now, more than ever, it’s all about “creative” writing!
JR: Here at Sweatpants and Coffee we always have two burning questions: What brings you comfort? And how do you take your coffee?
Coffee is a weekend luxury for me, and I take it with an equal part of warm milk in a big mug.
What brings me comfort is the knowledge that whatever I need, I carry with me wherever I go. It’s taken me a long time to come to that understanding.
Photo Credit: Masai mother by Michal Huniewicz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.