Christine Coppa was 26 and living the fabulous life in New York City when--wham!--she got pregnant. In quick succession, her boyfriend of almost three months (and the baby's father) hit the road, she had a baby boy named J.D. (Jack Domenic), and got a contract to blog about the whole thing for Glamour magazine. Now, just two years later, she's publishing a more extensive memoir about becoming a surprise single mom, called Rattled.
HuffPo: What's it like blogging about such a personal thing--maybe one of the most personal things--having a baby unexpectedly and out of wedlock?
Christine Coppa: It's funny, I never even thought of it like that. I thought of it like a job, a second income when I really needed one. What's more, I'm a writer. Writers do write about their lives. I'm a little over people saying I'm exploiting my life for money. Am I the only writer who ever wrote a memoir or a personal essay? I'm not a mom who decided to start blogging about motherhood for fun. I'm a writer who got pregnant.
Ok, fair enough. But you must have thick skin, because I'm sure there has to be some criticism involved.
Gawker.com wrote about Storked!, and gave it a good review, but one commenter said I was "walking around with the biggest mistake in my belly" and she knew what it was like because like me, she got pregnant early on in a relationship, but aborted. Maybe she was looking for some other commenters to make her feel okay about her decision--she was just someone struggling with her own mistake. I'll always remember that comment. My editor told me not to read the nasty comments, but sometimes it's like a train wreck--you can't look away.
The great thing about your blog is that you readily admit your own mistakes.
My ex and I had sex, fully aware I was not on the pill and he was not wearing a condom and I take full responsibility for that and tell people religiously on my blog I was stupid for having sex sans protection. And by the way, having a baby isn't the only responsible version of my story. Choosing to have an abortion or adoption because you can't support the child or don't want to be a mother is also quite responsible.
How did the blog evolve into a memoir?
I got a Myspace message from an editor at a publishing house who asked if I was considering a book. I was, but I was also on maternity leave with a brand-new baby. It seemed like a huge undertaking, but it also seemed like an incredible opportunity. My editor at Glamour hooked me up with an agent. Rattled! was born--so to speak!--and sold to a different editor. I wrote most of it at night because I was back working full-time at First magazine [Christine returned to work when her 20-week maternity leave--8 weeks paid and 12 weeks unpaid--was up].
And I thought I was busy!
[Laughs]. I have fond memories of JD sleeping in the swing next to my desk while I wrote and how when I looked over at him, his hands were tucked up under his chin. It was a very special year for me. I did a lot of proofreading and editing with JD sleeping in my lap. He smelled like formula and sometimes I had to pinch myself because the moment was so perfect...but it wasn't always easy. The book made me remember things, go places, relive them...I let a lot out through Rattled! It was shockingly therapeutic and what I consider a love story I never thought I would write. And by that I mean, I always imagined the full package. The husband, the house, then the baby. Things just happened out of order. This is how JD and I were supposed to meet.
It's interesting that you are writing stuff of a highly personally nature, yet a lot of times you don't "go there." Where do you decide to draw the line between public and private information?
I do go there, I think. I just think that there's nothing sensational about the reality. My son's father left when I was 11 weeks pregnant because he wasn't ready for fatherhood. In the beginning he was excited, then he wasn't, then he left. I struggle with our breakup and I try to pinpoint when we went away and it makes me feel very uneasy. Sometimes I wonder what it would like if we were still together.
Were you surprised by your ex's decision to not be involved at all?
At first I was angry and put on my super hero cape. A few days later, the dust settled and I thought maybe he settled a bit too. I invited him to dinner to talk things over. He didn't want to have dinner...and that was it. I was on my own and from there on out, everything changed. I think I shed my skin right then. A whole new person was born. There is Christine before JD and there is Christine after.
I think it's irresponsible for "mommy bloggers" to talk smack about the child's absent father. I saw a blog once titled, "Mother's Worst Nightmare: My ex wants to see his kid." A.) The kid should not have to read that and associate "nightmare" with HIS FATHER, and B.) Why is it a nightmare? And for whom? My door is open to my son's father and he knows that. I've always been very careful about what I say and how much. Glamour didn't contract me to write about my ex. They hired me to write about single motherhood, and sure, I could write about him, but why? Talk smack to your girlfriends with a glass of wine behind closed doors. Plus, I know JD is going to read the blog and the book one day. If he wants to know things about his father, I'd rather tell him myself.
Here's the thorny political question. Given that women have the right to an abortion and Plan B, do you think men should have the right to walk away if they don't want to be a parent?
I think that if a baby is born then the people who made that baby should take care of him unless a mutual decision is made that absolves one parent from the picture. There is no mutual decision in my case. In the state of New Jersey, where I live, one cannot abolish their parental rights "just because." The only way for my ex to be completely, legally relieved of his rights is if I get married and JD is adopted by my husband. And nothing abolishes the bloodline or the reality. I think a lot of men, in, say, my ex's situation, make immediate decisions because they're scared. By the way, I was so scared too!
Fathers choose to "abort" their kids all the time, even if they pay child support. A check doesn't make you a father. A father is around or there is some sort of open communication. And on that same note, women abandon their kids, too. I have two single dad friends that have full custody because mom didn't want to be a mom after she gave birth.
I think when you put all this messy stuff aside, the most important thing is that the child is taken care of. It does take a village. My brothers are religiously mistaken as JD's dad in public and that says something wonderful about them. I don't have any sisters, but my girlfriends call themselves aunts. A mom came up to me at story time at the library a few weeks ago. She asked if my son played at the park by the lake and I said yes. She said, "I thought I recognized you--your son is such a happy baby. Always smiling and hugging everyone." I actually teared up. My son is happy, healthy and thriving--and I'm a single mom.
Here's the tough question. Did you ever consider not having the JD--either having an abortion or giving him up for adoption?
I got pregnant 2.5 months into a relationship. I freaked out and thought about a lot of things, but that's where it ended. My decision to keep my baby was immediate. His heartbeat was all I needed to see. I always wanted to be a mother. I didn't want to get pregnant at 26 and do it alone but it happened. In Rattled! I say, "The pregnancy was unwanted. But the child is not." The sentence probably doesn't make sense to everyone, but it makes sense to me.
Photo credit Erik Asla for Glamour.