Author Archives

Meaghan O'Connell

A Certain Kind of Mammal

Illustration by Natalie Nelson

Meaghan O’Connell | And Now We Have Everything | Little, Brown and Company | April 2018 | 22 minutes (4,425 words)

When I was pregnant, every time someone asked me if I planned to breastfeed, I stammered and avoided eye contact. Of fucking course, what do you think I am, some kind of monster? I felt like the person had just asked me if I wanted to be a real writer someday. Obviously, I thought about it all the time but I didn’t want to jinx it by talking about it. Declaring my intentions felt too vulnerable, too potentially humiliating. The question was not whether I planned to breastfeed the future baby but whether I would physically be able to. What if the time came and the baby didn’t latch on or my body didn’t produce enough milk? What if my boobs couldn’t get it up?

The internet was full of stories about women struggling with just that. It was impressive but scary to read about them turning their lives upside down, willing to try or do anything if it meant they could check off this box. Take herbs, chug water, eat special cookies, go to meetings, buy a scale so they could weigh the baby after every feeding, hire expensive consultants, pump around the clock, give up dairy, give up gluten, get their infants’ tongues and gums “clipped” so they could open their mouths wider, spend an entire week in bed naked with their babies.

An outsider might find it easy to dismiss this as ridiculous, especially considering you can walk into any grocery store and buy a canister of formula. But, then, an outsider hasn’t lain in bed at night facing the harrowing uncertainty of motherhood, desperate to know she was giving her baby “the best start possible.” Read more…

Girl Wonder

Book jacket art for Sally Rooney's "Conversations With Friends."

Meaghan O’Connell | Longreads | July 2017 | 12 minutes (3,000 words)

The other week, a hardcover copy of Sally Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations With Friends, was jammed through our front door mail slot as I was sitting down to dinner with my family. The book hit the floor with a dramatic plop and my 3-year-old son went sprinting over to grab it. It felt like it was Christmas and Santa had just unceremoniously dropped our bounty into the ashes of the fireplace.

“WHAT IS THIS? WHO’S IS THIS FOR?” he shouted at me in his cheerfully desperate way. My son is a book publicist’s dream.

“I think it’s a book,” I said.

“Is it a Mommy Book?!” he demanded, meaning is it a book that I, his mother, will read.

Yep, it’s a Mommy Book.”

Open it, Mommy! What’s your new book about?” The pitch of his voice is so high and so sincere and so loud, you either have to meet him where he is or beg him to shut up, which feels bad, to tamp down on a young child’s enthusiasm.

“Hold on,” I said and tore open the manila envelope full of anticipation, but my spirits sagged a little when I saw that it was yellow, perfect, and the very book I’d finished the day before. This copy was the published, official one — hardcover, blurbed; complete. I held it up to show my husband Dustin, pointing to the cover with a confused, sarcastic look on my face. “I just emailed their publicist yesterday about how much I loved it?” I said.

Dustin just shrugged. He works in publishing himself, book marketing specifically. “I guarantee you they have no idea who they’ve sent which copies of what book to,” he said, which I knew was a reasonable explanation but did not diminish the affronted feelings I had, my eyes scanning over the jacket copy, landing on the author bio.

“Sally Rooney was born in the west of Ireland in 1991.” I sighed loudly, only sort of joking, and pulled out the press release, a printed-out letter from the publisher, folded and tucked into the first pages of the book.

My heart fluttered as I read all the praise.

“BY the age of twenty-five, Sally Rooney was a well-established figure on the Irish literary scene.” I read aloud to Dustin, with a grandiosity that would have been mocking had I not already been won over by the book. “IN a heated, multi-house auction at the London Book Fair, rights to Conversations With Friends would be sold in ELEVEN countries, emphasis mine…and —“

“Why do they add that?” Dustin asked, cutting in just as my movie trailer voiceover impression was really kicking into high gear. “As if anyone actually cares about that stuff.”

“Ha!” I shout-laughed. “I care!” My ruefulness was so much so it broke into merriment. “They put it in for jealous bitches like me.”

“Okay, but normal people,” he said, trailing off, stabbing his spaghetti with a fork.

“Fair,” I said. Normal people are hard to argue with, especially 11 countries’ worth.

My hand twitched with the urge to text a photo of the press release to one of the handful of female peers who said they were too jealous to read a 25-year-old’s celebrated novel. Someone who GOT ME. I loved the book deeply. I’d been bowled over, thinking about it nonstop. But that was in galley form, when the book was less real, more of my own secret mind meld with the author. My own nostalgia trip. This hardcover, and its peripheral marketing stuff, the buzz — well, it was hard not to be affected. Read more…

A Birth Story

Meaghan O’Connell | Longreads | Nov. 6, 2014 | 57 minutes (14,248 words)

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It was Monday, June 2nd, and I was wide awake at 6 a.m. Maybe to some of you this hour doesn’t sound remarkable, but for me it was. It was the first day in a lifetime of six in the mornings, and I made the three-hour leap all in one go.

By this point, it was 10 days past my due date, and I had a very specific and recurring fantasy of being moved around town in a hammock flown by a helicopter. I wanted to be airlifted between boroughs.

When I told my fiancé, Dustin, this wish, he was quiet for a second. He had learned to reply to me with caution, but I imagine in this case he just couldn’t help himself.

“Like a whale?” he asked.

I laughed, standing on the curb somewhere. Actually yes, come to think of it: Like a whale.

On the morning of June 2nd I had been waking up “still pregnant” for quite some time—41 weeks and two days to be exact; 289 days. My mom was in town already, at an Airbnb rental a block away. Dustin was done with work. I was chugging raspberry red leaf tea, bouncing on a purple exercise ball whenever I could, shoving evening primrose oil pills up my vagina, paying $40 a pop at community acupuncture sessions I didn’t believe in, and doing something called “The Labor Dance.” The Dance (preferred shorthand) involves rubbing your belly in a clockwise direction—vigorously—and then getting as close to twerking as one can at 41 weeks pregnant.

Read more…