Our August featured title is a special children’s book that teaches kids about the pregnancy journey. When You Lived in My Belly by Jodi Meltzer Darter debuted as the number one new bestseller in the Children’s Sexuality category on Amazon. Jodi kindly answered some of our questions about her inspiration and writing process, as well as life as a mom.
A Q&A with Jodi Meltzer Darter
- When You Lived in My Belly explains pregnancy to children. Why do you think this is such an important journey for children to know?
I never quite understood the depth of my mother’s love until I had a child of my own. I loved my son beyond compare before I ever laid eyes on him, and that shed light on my mom’s feelings about me during my pregnancy. I finally understood, at age 37, the depth of our innate bond.
There’s an indescribable connection between mother and child that is not always explored or celebrated. I wanted to bring it to the forefront of children’s minds, so they could better comprehend the incomparable journey they went on with their mom, and how those precious foundational months informed their relationship and shaped their lives.
- The book chronicles your own pregnancy with your son, Alex. When did you know you had to write this book?
I knew I had to write a children’s book after my beloved mom died of ovarian cancer in 2013. It was always her dream to publish a children’s book, though I don’t think she made any real attempt to realize it. I scoured through half-written journals and miscellaneous scraps of paper filled with her perfectly passé cursive handwriting, and I didn’t find any evidence of brainstorming or sketches.
I do vividly remember fleeting late-night conversations when she would discuss her love of children’s books—she was an animated storyteller who delighted in reading to my son—and how much she would want to contribute to the genre. She just didn’t take that first step, so I knew I had to take it for her.
Still, I was trying to wade through the dense fog of crippling grief, which diminished by ability to come up with ideas. I spent countless hours thinking and researching possible children’s book angles, but I was stuck for months.
When my son finally gave me the winning idea by randomly asking, “What was it like when I lived in your belly?”, I devoted every minute of my free time to answering his question.
- What was writing the book like? Do you think writing in verse made the process more difficult?
My son was a toddler when I began writing When You Lived in My Belly. At that age, he was positively enamored by books written in verse. When he discovered one, he would run over to me triumphantly, with his arms outstretched, and offer the book as a temporary gift (he’d always want it back). “It rhymes, Mom!” he’d say, with a spotty-toothed grin on his face. He regularly quoted Dr. Seuss rhymes. It was a no-brainer that a book based on his question had to be written in verse.
I broached the idea of writing in verse to some in the industry and they advised me against it at the time. Verse was “out of vogue”, but I went with my gut—and my son’s preference—regardless of popular opinion. I am so glad I did.
Writing in verse was definitely more challenging. I not only had to research and synthesize a lot of information about fetal development and pregnancy, but also make it rhyme in digestible and intriguing couplets for young readers. It took a long time to get it right.
- Your illustrator is a longtime friend. Was working on a book together easy or did it present some challenges?
I wrote multiple drafts at various coffee shops, between nursey school drop offs, pick ups, and work projects, before I got the book to a place where I felt others could read it. The first person I called was my best friend since kindergarten, Jody King Camarra. Jody is not only an incredibly talented illustrator, but she is also a mom extraordinaire. I knew she would be a perfect second read, and she would see my vision better than anyone else.
I asked Jody to illustrate the book and she readily agreed. I didn’t have any money to offer her. I didn’t have anyone backing me or believing in me. I had no guarantee the book would ever be published. All I had was my word—a mutual trust earned through more than 40 years of friendship–and that was good enough for her.
We effectively worked together despite multiple obstacles, zero funding, and almost daily tests of patience, perseverance, and emotional fortitude to bring this book to life. There were some differences of opinion and some strain caused by illustration delays but, mostly, there was synergy, shared commitment, and resolve to see it through. I am immensely grateful she lent her talents towards illustrating my book alongside her mom, Caryn King. Both of them knew and adored my mom and they cherish my son, so this truly was a collective labor of love.
- You’re a prolific blogger and writer and have quite a following. Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What responsibilities do you feel to your readers?
I have a commitment to myself to be honest, and that effortlessly resonates with my readers. I don’t sugarcoat my life one bit. I have endured multiple heartbreaks, from illness to death to divorce, and I bare the unfiltered ugliness of it all to connect with others who may need to hear my truth.
I can’t adequately express how much it means to me when someone reaches out to tell me a post I wrote gave them hope or made them feel heard. It’s the reason I peel back the protective layers and expose my most vulnerable thoughts through writing. It’s often cathartic for me and healing for them at the same time.
I feel so fortunate that I have bylines on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Stir, and The Mighty, and Swaay, among others, because they help expand my reach tremendously and better position me as an influencer.
- What is the best part of being a mom?
It’s surreal to me that my son once lived in my belly, that I had anything to do with the little masterpiece of a man he’s becoming. Of course, if I take a look at my belly I am quickly reminded that he did, in fact, take up residence there—I am not one of those celebrity snapback queens, even nine years later!
I have choked back tears during all of his immunizations, agonized over the smallest of decisions, and spent every waking minute trying to achieve the artful balance of keeping him safe while giving him the space to spread his wings. I have laughed and loved harder than I ever imagined, all because I have been blessed as his mom.
My son is genuine, kind, personable, hilarious, and loving despite the occasional attitude or eye-roll. He is my greatest contribution to the world; living proof I am doing something right.
The best part is savoring the gift of time to experience his growth, as it is a gift denied to many (including his father). It’s amazing to me that he came out of the womb utterly defenseless and can now stop a hockey puck with force and precision. And I get to witness it all.
I love watching my bonus children mature, dream, and achieve alongside my son.
- Your son loves to ask questions. What are some of your favorites?
“Do you think Dad is hanging out with JFK in Heaven? I hope he tells him he’s one of my favorite presidents.”
“Why is the letter “T” in Home Depot silent? Wouldn’t it just make sense to spell it the right way?”
“What makes a swear word a swear word? And who decided we shouldn’t be able to say swear words?”
“Mom, Do you think Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins goalie) will give When You Lived in My Belly to his girlfriend? What about [insert celebrity name of the day here]?”