Writers write for only one reason: We have to. Because, honestly? This is a hell of a way to make a living; if doing it weren't a compulsion, I would have happily gone to law school, as my dad repeatedly suggested. I needed to write each of my books needed to, from the bottom of my soul but none more than this one. Writing Waiting for Daisy was a way to make sense of all that happened during my six-year quest to become a mother a time, as I tend to say, when I did everything I thought I'd never do in pursuit of something I wasn't even sure I wanted.
I didn't see anything like it in the stores: a book that, in a way that was both entertaining and true, addressed questions of whether to become a mother, of miscarriage, infertility and obsession. I'd received hundreds of letters and still receive them years later after publishing a piece in The New York Times Magazine on having a miscarriage in Japan. I'd broken a taboo by publicly discussing that experience; the gratitude readers expressed, and the stories they shared were both startling and heartrending. But even that wouldn't have been enough to get me to publish the details of my husband's sperm count. I also knew my story was, quite simply, a gripping yarn (hence the swashbuckling subtitle: A Tale of Two Continents, Three Religions, Five Infertility Doctors, an Oscar, an Atomic Bomb, and One Woman's Quest to Become a Mother ) and what writer can resist that? Here was an opportunity to stretch out, to use a more intimate, funnier voice than I could in my reported work a voice that was more like myself. It was also a chance to tell stories that I've always wanted to write about the people whom I encountered along the way: my first true love, who, with his wife, now has 15 kids (yes, 15, and yes, she gave birth to all of them). Or the so-called parasite single women whom I met in Tokyo. Their legendary shopping sprees were propping up their country's economy even as their refusal to marry or have kids was threatening to bring it down.
As a journalist, I've always been more engaged by ordinary lives than by the canoodling of celebrities, convinced that each of our stories has the potential to reveal a larger truth. I also felt that, if I was willing to put other women under the microscope I better be ready to turn the lens on myself. And truth? I thought writing a memoir would be easier than reporting: After all, I could do the whole thing without leaving my house. Plus, I'm not going to call myself and yell at me after the book is published for the way I described my hair. So I was surprised by how difficult I found the process, and not only because of the painful nature of the material. Writing about someone else, I have my notes, my transcripts, and that's it. Writing about myself, the material was as infinite as my memory. Culling it, creating the character of Peggy and carving my experience into a cohesive (I hope!) narrative was a daunting challenge. For about the first year, I mostly stared at my computer screen, played online Boggle and despaired of ever finding my way. It was my husband who helped me break through that block. He suggested I go to a therapist we knew, not so she could shrink my head (I'd had enough of that), but because she was trained to elicit a narrative of meaning from her clients. Perhaps if I recorded a few sessions, he said, I'd start to see my story's shape. It worked. I've been Boggle-free ever since. With Waiting for Daisy, I also hoped to weigh in on the latest cultural conversation about women's biological clocks, which I felt had gone badly off-track. Sure, it's harder for women to get (and stay) pregnant as we age, but I was furious over the new punitive media messages that reduced young women to their child-bearing potential, that warned them to marry Mr. Good Enough and back-burner their careers or miss out on having a child. I was equally irritated by the pathetic portrayal of professionally successful women who'd supposedly waited too long to have a baby. Someone needed to show what real life looks like for those of us struggling with these questions and pressures, to explore them without an agenda. Someone also needed to show the painful decisions and subtle manipulation that face millions of couples who enter infertility docs' offices. One in six couples will have difficulty having a baby; if that's not you, it's someone you know. But mostly, I wanted Waiting for Daisy to be a great story about being a woman in a confusing time, about trying to be true to yourself, trying to figure out the pieces of your life career, marriage, family in a way that works. And, if you're lucky, sometimes getting there.
Peggy Orenstein is a journalist, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and an author whose previous books include Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, and Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World. She lives in the San Francisco area with her husband, Steven Okazaki, and their daughter, Daisy.