Aileen Weintraub, KNOCKED DOWN

Aileen Weintraub, KNOCKED DOWN

Award-winning author, journalist, and editor Aileen Weintraub joins Zibby to discuss her new memoir, Knocked Down, which recounts her experience of being on bed rest during her pregnancy. The two talk about the flaws in how the medical system in this country views and treats women, what inspired Aileen to tell this story, and how moms do ultimately find time for things in their lives. Aileen shares what her experience was like processing the grief of losing her dad while incapacitated, as well as how she felt both while writing the book and recording the audiobook.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Aileen. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir.

Aileen Weintraub: Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here today.

Zibby: I love this hot pink cover, by the way. Are you so excited about your cover? What do you think?

Aileen: I love my cover. We went through a couple rounds of covers. The first round didn’t really express the entirety of the book. There was actually a pregnancy stick on the first draft. I was like, “This book is so much more than just about pregnancy, but I really like the hot pink on the positive sign. Let’s do something with that.” They came back with this. I said also, I was like, “I really want a tiara on the cover, if we can make that happen.” When I saw this draft, I screamed. I was so excited.

Zibby: It’s really great. Why don’t you tell listeners a little about what this book is about?

Aileen: Knocked Down is about being a Brooklyn girl who moves to the country, ends up having this whirlwind romance, and ends up on pregnancy-related bed rest in a rickety old farmhouse for five months. Everything starts to go wrong. My marriage starts to crumble because it’s a new marriage. We’d just bought a new business. The house is falling down. All of a sudden, I realized my father had died and I never gave myself the chance to breathe. Now I’m staring at the walls all day, and so I start to really process my entire relationship with my father and allow myself that time to unpack his life and the kind of man he truly was. All this is going on while I’m fighting for the survival of my unborn child.

Zibby: Wow. You had this really great line about — I’m so sorry for the loss of your father. You really brought him to life, which in itself I feel like is a mitzvah for this book. I can hear his voice. You did such a great job, or at least who I think he was based on your book. Maybe you did a terrible job. I don’t know. You certainly crafted some sort of a character who I feel like I know well. You wrote this. You said, “There is a saying that a boy becomes a man when he loses his father, but what about a girl? What does she become?” Then you just ended the chapter with that.

Aileen: Grief is such an odd thing. Especially in our culture, we don’t really have the tools in place to grieve. Even in the Jewish religion, there’s a lot of tradition around grieving, but then you’re supposed to kind of move on and not talk about it. It stays with you. My father has died over twenty years ago now. I just did the audio narration last week. I was in the city all last week, in the studio. I really saw my book in a whole new way. The hardest parts for me to read were about my father. I realized I’m still holding onto this grief. It’s not something we ever actually let go entirely. Grief, it’s like the roots of the tree. It spreads and spreads. You have to keep nurturing that and processing it over and over. It’s a lifetime thing.

Zibby: I was just talking to somebody about this. The longing doesn’t end, the missing and the longing. You’ll always miss the person. There’s always something missing. You can’t get over it. You don’t want to live without this person.

Aileen: Absolutely. After doing the narration and really — when you’re writing it, it’s one thing. When you’re speaking it out loud and you’re living these scenes over and over — there’s this scene when I’m a little girl. My father and I used to play this game. He really suffered from depression, but he really tried to be present for me. There’s this scene that — I would stand in front of him on the sofa. There were just days he couldn’t get off the sofa, but he still wanted to be a dad. We would play this game where I would run across the room. I was three or four. He’d flip me over. I’d stay between the couch and his back. I would just stay there for hours. I would draw pictures on his back. He would sleep or watch TV. We would kind of talk. That was a way for us to have closeness. When I was reading that scene, I had to stop myself from the tears streaming down my face.

Zibby: I cried three different times recording my audiobook, by the way, my memoir. It brings it all right back. You’re right there because you’re trying to show somebody what it is, but then you have to relive it. Oh, my gosh. It was a heartfelt depiction of it. I feel like the loss courses through. I feel it’s a misnomer to make this about pregnancy, even though that is the device you used to organize it, which I really found clever, five days on bed rest or five years before bed rest or eighteen weeks, one day. I love that kind of timing, how you put everything in context that way. That was very clever. Also, you confronted, really, a trauma. You had to stop your life to save a life, which I understand. I was on bed rest with twins, which was horrific, for weeks on end. I relate to this plight. You had another paragraph that I loved. You said, “Sometimes there are simply no pill or procedure or anything else. Sometimes it’s just you and whatever or whomever you believe in trying to figure out how to get through the next moment. I had a hard time coming to terms with the idea that we couldn’t just fix this, that I couldn’t just fix this. What if I just didn’t do it? Would I really lose the baby? What was I willing to risk?” That’s that feeling of, wait, I cannot do anything about this. It’s the worst. You captured it so well. Tell me more about this moment and how you were feeling.

Aileen: As women and as mothers now, we feel like we have to do everything. This idea that we’re going to be on bed rest — I’m sorry to hear that you were on bed rest. So many women have reached out to tell me about their experiences with their pregnancies through this book, which I think is amazing because it starts the conversation. We’re expected to do everything and hold it all together. When your life just stops, I don’t think that the medical profession really understands what that means or necessarily cares. Especially, there’s not only the physical aspect of it, but your mental aspect. I lost my autonomy. Our finances began to suffer. Nobody prepared me for any of that. No one seemed to care. I don’t want to give too much of the book away, but towards the end, there’s this question of whether it was even necessary to be on bed rest for five months. I’m like, wait, what? Why are you telling me this now? My marriage is in shambles. I’ve lost my job. I can barely walk. Now there’s going to be this whole other human in the house that I’m responsible for. I think giving ourselves, especially as women, permission to just be sick or take care of ourselves, even if it’s a little self-care or to have this ability to say, hey, I need to do this for myself and my family, and it’s going to be okay, I shouldn’t have guilt or shame around it.

Zibby: I think that some people related to it more post-lockdown. I’m like, this feels familiar. I can’t leave my house. I can’t do anything. Except then, everybody is going through it. You’re right. I think it’s very easy to say, you should do this. It might help. Then also, when they say that to us as women, if I don’t, then I ruined it. Then I caused this. You have to just do it. How could you live with yourself?

Aileen: The way we speak about women and health care is appalling. I was told I had an incompetent cervix. There’s a line, that’s five years of therapy right there. Now my cervix is incompetent. That all has to change. What I would love to see in every single doctor’s office is, and not just for pregnancy, but for perimenopause and menopause, a little pamphlet that says, here are the symptoms to watch out for. You’re not alone. Here’s a number to reach out for help. When I was on bed rest, I started feeling prenatal anxiety and prenatal depression. Nobody asked about that. You’re just supposed to be still pregnant. Pregnancy is not always this happy, glorious time. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that.

Zibby: It’s true. After my twin pregnancy, for my next pregnancy, which wasn’t until six years later, the whole time, I was like, I cannot believe I can be out and about. I can’t believe I get to go to this. I can’t believe I get to go to that. I just couldn’t believe that I was a pregnant woman out in the world just living my normal life and that that’s what a lot of people’s experience is like. The pregnancy, of course, is the vehicle for your story, but it was not the whole story. I don’t want to make people think this book is only about that. Of course, that is a central piece of it.

Aileen: catalyst for everything that happens because life doesn’t really happen one thing at a time. Life happens all together. I’m pregnant and on bed rest. We’ve also just bought this new business. The house is also falling down. We’re also having marital problems. Bed rest is kind of the catalyst, but so much happens to people all the time. You deal with it and what you learn from it.

Zibby: It’s so true. Oh, my gosh, you on the dairy farm, I couldn’t believe it. I’m also really interested in the journey of your writing this book. I read in your acknowledgments how it even started and how at one point, you had a draft in a plastic bag that you just threw somewhere. Tell me a little bit about becoming the author of the book.

Aileen: Just to speak about the plastic bag, I do this thing when something scares me, like a contract, even if it’s a good contract, or something like that or a manuscript or an article. I will wrap it up in plastic, and I’ll shove it into a really big armoire in the back, like that’ll protect me from it. It’s just a funny thing I do. I’m like, okay, we’re just going to get this as far away — we’re going to put a massive piece of cherrywood between me and this manuscript for a while. The process is that there was no real process. What happened was I started this book club for moms. We read The Happiness Project, or half of it or parts of it because that’s all we had time for. As you know, moms don’t have time to read. After that, I was like, hey, it’s been five years. I’m holding onto this trauma. I want to tell this story.

I want to help other women because I think hundreds of thousands of women a year are put on bed rest. There’s almost no research about it. The research is very conflicting. I just want to give people ideas about what to do when they’re on bed rest. For example, having a tray table was a life-changer. That’s actually how the book started. I had a friend who was like, “Hey, I think you should go for it.” I was so ambivalent at the time. If she had said it’s not a good idea, I would probably have not pursued it. It’s really important to have good people around you who believe in you sometimes more than you believe in yourself. I just started writing. I was full-time mom-ing, and so I would write in the school parking lot. I’d scribble notes waiting for pick-up or in the grocery store line or the doctor’s office. It took ten years to write this book. For a really long time, I didn’t give it a priority. Finally, I realized, hey, I deserve some time each day. Instead of putting it at the bottom of my list, I put writing at the top of my list. That changed everything. My list still got done, or maybe it didn’t. That’s okay. That’s okay because now I have this book that I’m really proud of.

Zibby: Wow. That’s it with, really, all of the things. This whole thing is a joke. Not a joke, but that moms don’t have time to whatever. We all have time. We just have to figure out how to use it. Of course, with kids and jobs and everything else, our available free time is limited and limited. If you want to write and you want to make that a job, other things have to give. Something always has to give. You’re not going to watch TV. You’re not going to be on Instagram for a day, but maybe that’s the day you write. I think we all have to sort of trick ourselves into making the time for the things that are important. If it’s putting it in our calendars or it’s putting it on the top of a to-do list or something or finding a partner to — Gretchen Rubin, I loved how you mentioned The Happiness Project even in your book, as you did now. I feel like I’ve had this life-changing thing about her Four Tendencies. Did you read that book, The Four Tendencies? Go take the quiz or whatever.

It identified me as one of these four types, which is obliger, which means that I can do anything professionally or that needs to be done for somebody else. It’ll always be on time. I’ll get it done. When it comes to the stuff for myself, and in that I include even my friends or my husband or whatever, that all falls by the wayside because I view that as a me thing, and that can wait. To do that, I need reinforcement or accountability or something. I think that’s the same thing. I think that’s why book clubs are so important. We want to read, so we make a book club. You want to write. You have a writing group. You even named your writing group after your friends or whatever. If you know you are somebody who needs that extra level of accountability, there’s no shame to it. In fact, she said it’s the most pervasive personality type. I feel like I just got this free pass. I thought it was a weakness of mine that I needed help. Actually, it’s super common. We all need help. How great is that? Maybe that helps with that.

Aileen: It also goes back to giving ourselves as moms permission to do things for ourselves and not put ourselves last. Ultimately, when I’ve spent a couple of hours writing, I’m so much more present. I’m doing something that’s important to me. I think we have to give ourselves permission to be kind to ourselves too.

Zibby: It’s true. Having gone through this process of, maybe it’s a book, maybe it’s not, now it is. Now it’s out. What does that feel like to you? What is the sensation of looking at the finished thing?

Aileen: It’s amazing to see. This book went through so many drafts. There was this time in writing group we spread it out on my friend’s dining table, the chapter by chapter, and weaved in all these threads. In one of the initial drafts, my father wasn’t as big a theme, but he was there. It was more about bed rest at that point. Someone said, “There’s more to this. Let’s pull out the themes and explore them.” It was so obvious that that was the one that really needed to come out. The part about my father was weaved in afterwards, actually. That wasn’t in the earlier drafts. It’s really been such an exploration of not only a writing process and, of course, my life and how things unfold and how things relate, and I learned so much about my family of origin writing this book. It’s been life-changing, and also what I can handle as a person and how I can survive and what I can get through and the wisdom that I’ve taken from that.

Zibby: Very interesting. Has this inspired you to write another book?

Aileen: That’s the million-dollar question. Before this, I’m a children’s book author and a journalist. I just had this other book come out a year ago called We Got Game!: 35 Female Athletes Who Changed the World. That’s doing well. I love writing for children. I’d love to do another children’s book, but I’m also a journalist. Yes, there’s definitely a feeling that as soon as I feel like I’ve put as much energy I can into marketing this book and publicizing it, I definitely want to do another book. I think it’s also going to revolve around women’s health and making sure women are seen and heard. It might have to do with perimenopause and menopause. I think I want to bring in other voices and talk to women about their experiences. For this book, what I’ve heard the most is that women want to tell their stories. I was in the gym. It seems to always happen in the gym. You work out in the gym, and you kind of know people. You’re friendly, but you’re not talking a lot. I’m standing there lifting weights. This woman comes up to me. We start talking about my book. She hadn’t read it yet. Within five minutes, she’s telling all about her fibroids — I’ve known her for years — and how she had all these surgeries and all this pain. We never discussed it. It just poured out of her. I think one thing this book is doing is opening up a conversation and allowing people to tell their stories and discuss their trauma and release it. That is so important.

Zibby: Very true. Are you reading anything good yourself?

Aileen: I am. I’m reading quite a few things. I have Bomb Shelter right here by Mary Laura…

Zibby: Philpott.

Aileen: Which I got at your salon, actually. That’s right on my desk. The Menopause Manifesto is also on my desk. I’m reading Alexis Paige’s Work — wait, I always get it wrong. It’s Work Hard, Not Smart. It’s about craft writing. I have a lot of books in my TBR pile. I switch. I flip back and forth.

Zibby: Awesome. Love it. Amazing. Aileen, thank you so much. This has been so fun. Thank you for braving your — I won’t discuss, but your current situation and doing this podcast anyway. You have such a great voice on the page. It comes through so clearly. You’re so likeable. This is going to sound so hokey. It sounds like sitting down to coffee with a friend. I really mean it. This is one of those books where you’re just like, oh, she would be so fun. It was great.

Aileen: I’m so glad you said that because when I was writing this book, that really was my goal. I wanted people to feel like they were talking to a friend on the back porch, having a cup of tea or a glass of wine and chatting about life. When we talk to our friends and get together over cocktails or coffee in the morning or whatever, that’s when our stories come out. I’m so glad you got that from this book. Thank you so much.

Zibby: Good, I’m glad. Awesome. Great. Thank you so much. Feel better.

Aileen: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me today.

Zibby: My pleasure. Buh-bye.

Aileen: Bye.

Aileen Weintraub, KNOCKED DOWN

KNOCKED DOWN by Aileen Weintraub

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