Christa Parravani, LOVED AND WANTED

Christa Parravani, LOVED AND WANTED

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Christa. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Christa Parravani: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I always think it’s so funny to interview someone who’s written such an open memoir with so much information that I’m like, I already know all about you. Let’s skip to the next part. What happened after the memoir? Let’s catch up. It’s like we already had a conversation. For listeners who don’t know much about your book, Loved and Wanted, can you please tell them a little about what it’s about?

Christa: Loved and Wanted is a memoir that is about my time living in West Virginia. I was a faculty member at West Virginia University. My family had moved there from Los Angeles. It’s about the years that I lived in West Virginia and had a second daughter and then was unexpectedly pregnant with a third child a year after having my daughter. I was my family’s sole provider. I couldn’t afford a third baby. I looked into my options for reproductive healthcare and discovered that I didn’t have any. Or very few, and not the kinds of options that, as a mother to small children, that I could take. There were waiting periods that would’ve caused me to have to take two weeks off of work and find someone to stay with our kids. Oftentimes if you get an abortion, you have to have somebody come with you. We didn’t have family nearby. The book is about that. It’s about the journey that I had afterward, after I had my son who is very much loved and wanted, which is where the title of the book comes from. I believe that you can both want to have had the choice for reproductive healthcare and love and want your children. It’s about the discovery about what the implications are for curtailing reproductive healthcare for women and children through my direct experience.

Zibby: I was so surprised to learn about how difficult it was for you in this day and age in a state that allows abortion to get it. You went through in the book so clearly, if I had done this, I would’ve had to give up this many days of work. This would’ve cost this. This bus ride would’ve cost this. Then I tried this other option. Then this doctor said no. I couldn’t believe it. You were saying that this goes on all over the country. I’m from New York City. You just don’t know what it’s like. You had been coming from LA at the time, so it was a culture shock.

Christa: It was unbelievable to me as a person who grew up in New York and then lived in Los Angeles. Our family lived in New York City for many years. We lived in Los Angeles for many years. It was shocking to me that there are laws that prevent women from being able to seek reproductive healthcare in states like West Virginia and many other states. It’s not just West Virginia. As a matter of fact, the majority of healthcare providers are in New York City and/or around New York and Los Angeles, California. The reason why we don’t understand this to be a daily situation is because those providers are near those cities. There are many states that only have one facility for reproductive healthcare. The numbers are going down and down and down as times goes on. There are fewer and fewer places to be able to get reproductive healthcare. Again, like you, until I saw that directly, I was unaware, completely surprised. Also, in that surprise, I felt crazy. I felt like, why do I feel like this is impossible? What is wrong with me? In fact, it was because it was impossible. Part of the reason I wrote the book is for that reason. The ways in which I was told indirectly that the choice was not mine to make because it was too hard to make caused me to doubt everything about myself including who I was as a mother to my two daughters.

Zibby: The fact that you had to go through that with no support and no help and struggling financially — your mother was — I’m glad she came through for you at one point in the book. I was like, well, thank god for this. Finally, there she shows up. Also, your tragic history with your sister which was the topic of your previous memoir, can you talk a little about that too? Really throw you in the fire this morning. Here, let’s start right off with your most painful things in life for me who you just met.

Christa: Let me tell you. When I was in my twenties, my identical twin sister, Cara, died of a heroin overdose. She had suffered from depression as a result of having been raped by a stranger in the woods when we were in our early to mid-twenties. She had a six-year struggle after that attack and eventually succumbed to depression and addiction. The book is about identity. It’s called Her: A Memoir. It’s about what it means to climb your way out of unimaginable grief. I wrote it because I feel like people want to know what it’s like to have a twin. They want to know what it’s like to have intimate love in that way. We don’t talk about losing that very often. I felt a responsibility to do that. I felt a responsibility also to talk about what it means to be trying to care for somebody who’s been sexually assaulted and not really know how to do that. I didn’t realize the trajectory of my writing career had to do with activism. It does. This book does that too. I’m now experiencing myself as somebody who is not only interested in writing, but interested in justice and justice for women and sharing our stories, in a way, to liberate us.

Zibby: That’s a perfect tagline for a career. That’s great. It’s great to have such a clear goal. A marketing firm would say this is fantastic. You’ve outlined your mission. I’m so sorry. I don’t even mean to make light of your horrific experience and your tragic loss of your sister. It’s just awful, what happened. I need to go back now. After I finished this book, I was like, oh, my gosh, how did I miss her first book? Now I have to go back and read it. It sounds like you’ve been through the ringer in so many ways. It’s like, at least, they should give you the choice of whether or not to have another baby.

Christa: I think we all deserve that choice. We deserve to be in situations where healthcare is strong enough for us to be able to make that choice, and once you have your baby, to be taken care of.

Zibby: Yes. That was the other thing in the book about all the pitfalls and misdiagnoses, essentially, with your son. Oh, my gosh, I wanted to scoop you up and take you to my doctor.

Christa: I wanted to go to my doctor too.

Zibby: I know. I know you did. I know, oh, my gosh.

Christa: I don’t mean to make light of any of these things. I do think, though, there’s a way in which if you don’t approach something with humor and levity, you’re never going to be able to communicate the thing that you need to communicate. All these things did happen. Miraculously, I’m okay. I want to be able to teach women and people to be able to go through these experiences and still be okay and to be able to look at them and help other people. We deserve to have good healthcare. We deserve to have good reproductive healthcare. We deserve to have good pediatric care for our children. The thing that I discovered in this — I’m looking at my book here, which is the galley copy.

Zibby: Yay!

Christa: Yay, there it is.

Zibby: Wait, let me see the cover again. I had to read it online. There wasn’t a cover yet. Oh, I love it. It’s awesome.

Christa: It’s a picture of Morgantown, West Virginia, that was taken by a local photographer not very far from the house where I lived.

Zibby: PS, I would not say this was exactly an advertisement for Morgantown, West Virginia. I’m not sure they’re going to have the biggest book party for you there.

Christa: I can’t say that many people have acknowledged that it’s happening. I can’t say that’s the case. I have a lot of love for the place even though I had difficult times there, for sure, I did, unexpectedly. The thing that I discovered is that states that curtail access to women’s healthcare — curtailing access to abortion is not just curtailing access to abortion. In fact, it’s curtailing access to pap smears and all sort of women’s healthcare that is only available to certain people in places that perform abortions. It just so happens that the money that is funneled into women’s healthcare, when you take it away, you don’t get adequate care for children. That’s something that occurs across the United States and which I didn’t realize until after I had my son. He was born with some issues that were not easily taken care of in West Virginia but would have probably been noticed in a second in some place that had more resources, less overcrowding.

Zibby: Then you think of the spread of COVID across the country and then you realize, how can small towns everywhere focus when they don’t have the advantages of all the science and all the expertise, necessarily, of bigger communities? That’s what most people are turning to. It’s just kind of frightening, to be honest.

Christa: It is frightening. In my case, I lived in a town where West Virginia University is which is where I teach. The medical center there is vast. It runs the state. It’s a historically really interesting place. Mylan Pharmaceuticals is based there. This giant medical complex is based there. There’s a history of healthcare there that’s really interesting. However, because West Virginia does not have a lot of medical offices, it is serving the entire state, basically. There are people who need to commute two and a half hours to be able to see a doctor for any reason. That includes women who are pregnant and having babies.

Zibby: There was that one scene where the mom came in with her child and waited for two hours and had to drive two hours. Then she couldn’t miss any more work and had to turn around and leave. It’s just heartbreaking. Then of course, you realize how often this must be happening all over the place.

Christa: It’s happening all over the place. It happened to me, a professor, somebody who has two master’s degrees and writes books and is a white woman. The number of women that this happens to who are women of color and poor women is astronomical. I feel like we don’t really have enough of a voice for that yet. I feel like as women, we haven’t been able to articulate this yet because there’s something about saying “I thought about having an abortion” that is still a really taboo subject. It’s one that I came up against when I was writing the book. I asked myself consistently, can I do this? Why am I doing this? What does it mean for my son to do this? I have the answers, but as I was working my way through it, I did not have those answers. I just had the desire to be able to say something that didn’t feel like it was being said often enough.

Zibby: What were some of those answers deep down?

Christa: I’ll tell you. I have two daughters. I thought about what it was that I would say to them in two decades from now, a decade from now, about what it meant to live in this time and not advocate for their healthcare. I know that I look to my mother. I say, what did you do in your time and place? I remember being really disappointed by the fact that I didn’t feel like she did a lot when she was growing up in the sixties. She didn’t have the opportunity to do that. She worked at Sears, Roebuck. She was a waitress after that. She didn’t have the resources that I have. I look to my daughters and I think, I will not forgive myself if I don’t advocate for them. If I don’t do it, who will? I think that my son will grow up in a household of girls, of a strong mother. He will understand that this necessity is one that doesn’t have a lot to do with having him being loved or wanted at all. It happens to be something that makes a better world for him too, for his sisters, for his children. I think he’ll understand. It was a risk that I had to take in order to take care of them all.

Zibby: You have to protect the ones you have. Anyway, I won’t get into it, but I get it.

Christa: Thank you.

Zibby: This is like Sophie’s Choice or something, but yes, I understand. I’m glad you came to terms with it and crystalized your point in doing it all and all of that. Can I just ask, are you and your husband good these days?

Christa: We’re trying. It was a horrific experience to go through in a marriage. It was. The time after my son was born was not easy either. I don’t write about it. The last couple years have been hard for everyone. We’re living in a chaotic country in which we’re not sure what tomorrow will look like in a whiplash news cycle. We both happen to be writers, my husband and me. There’s a way in which that career breeds uncertainty. He was really worried about my writing this book. I think he was worried about our son. I’m also worried about our son, but as a man, intimately concerned with his needs in that way, where I was concerned with our daughters’ needs. It’s been hard. We’re trying to work it out. I don’t know what’ll happen, to be honest. It could go either way. Right now, we’re still married.

Zibby: Okay, I’ll just leave that alone.

Christa: I want to say something about this. One of the things that I’m asked a lot about is what my husband thinks about this book. That’s an interesting subject. I think that when you take a subject like this and you ask about someone’s husband — this is no offense to your question because I would ask it too in a second. I would say you’re making something about what should be about a woman’s choice and her role as a mother and turning it around and asking her what her husband thinks is making it less about her and more about him.

Zibby: I did not ask that question for the record.

Christa: No, no, no, I’m talking about it in terms of — I was thinking about it. I’m a writer of nonfiction. My husband is a writer of nonfiction. We tell stories that would be harrowing for other people. He’s written two memoirs. There’s a take-no-prisoners approach in his writing that I don’t necessarily have in mine. I thought, what is my gut reaction to not wanting to address him? I’m interested in talking about the marriage, but what is it about this particular situation that makes me feel nervous about that? When I look at him, I’m taking away something that was really about me. I don’t want to do that because it clouds a situation which, to me, seems so clear in terms of what he would think and feel about, say for example, me having an abortion. He immediately, when he found out that I was pregnant, said, “It is your body and your choice.”

Zibby: I didn’t ask what he would think about it. I was more interested in, are you two okay? Just wondering what the conclusion was. I guess I would be wondering because you didn’t paint such a great picture of your relationship. Revealing that has effects on both members of the party. That would be it. It actually had nothing to do with the abortion part. That’s obviously one piece of your book, but certainly not the other piece. I also think it’s about, how do you get through being a mother in a marriage when life is really, really, really hard? I think that’s a big piece of your book regardless of the reproductive angle. It’s the day-to-day life and the struggling and the financial stress that weighs on you and the blame and his career versus yours. I just felt like so much of this was so widely applicable. Also, abortion has so many political and religious and whatever. I was kind of not dealing with that because people have such different views on it. However, I was just trying to get to —

Christa: — I totally understand what you’re saying. The thing is that any marriage has its complications. I talk to my girlfriends and we’re all talking about, oh, my god, what are our financial lives going to be like this year? How does that impact our marriage? Who’s getting to work right now? Is my husband getting to work? Am I getting to work? Who’s taking care of the children? No matter what the mess, the tangle of your life is, I think we all in some way are adjacent to that in that kind of stress. Keeping a marriage together is so hard. It’s really hard. That doesn’t mean that you don’t love somebody. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to be with them. It just means that it’s hard. It’s not just hard for me. It’s hard for all of us. Show me the perfect marriage. I want to see it. As a writer of nonfiction, it’s my job to tell the truth.

Zibby: Even still, many writers of nonfiction don’t delve this deep into their own marriages. I feel like some authors do it when they’re older reflecting back. Dani Shapiro wrote a beautiful memoir called Hourglass about her whole marriage.

Christa: I love that. So good. I love it.

Zibby: I feel like it’s not as often that you hear from the inside. I feel like there’s this, almost, iron wall sometimes around people’s inner relationships that you didn’t have, which was great which is in part what made your book so interesting and un-put-down-able. You’re like, what’s going to happen next? How did they navigate this? How would I navigate that? You put yourself in your shoes and go through it with you.

Christa: Thank you. I do feel like if I didn’t write about the marriage, the book wouldn’t ring true. I had to do it in order to tell the story. There was no way around me. Trust me, I thought about it. Do I need to do this? The answer was always yes and to do it respectfully and with love realizing that the outcome was going to be something that I felt would be helpful to people. There’s always the do no harm. I just wanted to look at it from all angles. There was really no way to write this book without that. Everywhere I hit in the story, the marriage was there looking at me.

Zibby: I got divorced after being married for ten years. I am now remarried. After this, if you ever want to ask me any questions, I’m around.

Christa: I’ll Zoom you.

Zibby: Yeah, Zoom me. I’m around. Anyway, so tell me a little more about the actual writing of this story. When on earth did you find time, especially given how you painted your life, to write a book on top of everything else?

Christa: I had the great fortunate of working for an employer that gave me parental leave after I had my son. I was on a paid leave for a semester. There was really not a lot of time to work after having that baby, obviously. He was not well. I was literally hooked up to a milk machine, a pump, for the first four and a half months of his life because he was never able to nurse. Then having the two girls running around me while I did that, it was so hard. Just pure drive and grit made me write it. I needed to get this book out of my soul. I would type it on the side while my son was napping and my daughters were wrestling around the living room, but I did. My husband was working full time at that point. He had gotten a job in television in Los Angeles, which is a more than twelve-hour-a-day job that also involves frequent travel. Those first six months of Keats’, my son, that’s his name, Keats, his life was not full of a lot of work. I did the best I could. Then he got a little older. I found a great childcare provider. Every free minute that I had I invested in writing this book. Then I used my summer vacation to write the book. Then I had to take leave off of my teaching for a semester to finish it, unpaid. There was no way to do it.

Zibby: Are you working for the same university?

Christa: Yes, I am. I teach remotely right now like so many people. Yeah, I do still teach for the university.

Zibby: But you left West Virginia?

Christa: I left West Virginia. Yeah, I did. I left West Virginia because I didn’t feel like I could live there anymore. This book is also about homesickness and sadness. It’s also about asking what it means to be from a place. I felt, even though it hurt me to live there in so many ways, that there was so much of me that loved it. My daughters loved it. It was a very hard decision but one that I felt like I had to make after looking at the facts and then knowing that if I felt like I had a heart attack in the middle of the night, when I had to call an ambulance, that it might not turn out okay.

Zibby: How is Keats? Is he okay now?

Christa: He’s so wonderful. He’s so great. He’s healthy.

Zibby: How old is now? Three or something?

Christa: Two and a half.

Zibby: Two and a half, wow.

Christa: He’s two and half. He’s just starting to put together complex sentences. He’s my big helper. He’s the neatest of all the kids. If you look at him, he’s playing in the play kitchen wiping down the counters. He’s just a sweet little love. He’s healthy and doing so well.

Zibby: That’s so great. Are you trying to write any more books on the side, or are you content with the chaos that your regular life…?

Christa: I have another book that I’m working on right now. I had been working on before this book. It was a book that I had been working on. Then when I realized that I needed to write Love and Wanted and my publisher wanted to have it in time for the election, I had to put that other book aside. It’s a deep love of mine. It’s a nonfiction book about a woman who was a CIA operative during the Bin Laden years. She worked at the top of asset conversion while also being involved in a really awful marriage that involved domestic violence and not being able to tell anybody about that because it compromised national security.

Zibby: Whoa.

Christa: I met her through a friend. That story changed my life because I realized — probably, obviously, it influenced this book too. I thought, what does it mean to be a woman working in the world at the top of your game and still have this closet full of secrets and shame? I’ll finish that book. I’m about halfway through now. Obviously, I’m taking time with the kids and teaching. Remote school is hard.

Zibby: Yeah, I get it. Wow, that books sounds awesome. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Christa: Put your rear end in the chair. Don’t worry about it not being good the first draft. It’s so important to be able to get your story out and not to stop yourself by telling yourself lies like, this isn’t good enough. Who will care about this? That’s my biggest piece of advice. Also, if you can, to find a group of readers that you trust and engage yourself with them. Writing is a solitary experience, but it’s also a community experience because you have a reader. It’s not just about you. It’s about what it means to have a conversation with somebody who picks up your book.

Zibby: I love that. I have to tell you in terms of the reader, I read this book — I couldn’t sleep. I sometimes get all this pain in my body. Anyway, whatever. It was the middle of the night. I read the whole thing walking in circles around my apartment standing up on my iPad. I read the first hundred and fifty pages just roaming around in circles and so in it in the dark with just the light of the iPad. I felt so connected to it. Then I finished the rest the next day.

Christa: That sounds like what it was like to live it.

Zibby: It was a very intense moment, especially because I feel like I was in your life in the middle of my night in a dream state or something. It was awesome. I loved it.

Christa: Thank you. That was the aim. The aim was, how do I write a book where I feel like I can put my arm around you and just tell you this thing that happened to me and we can just be together in the dark with an iPad?

Zibby: Yes, exactly. Mission accomplished. Check. Thanks so much for chatting with me today and for giving the conclusion to your story. I was like, what’s happening now? Thanks for that too. I’m excited for your book to be out in the world.

Christa: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me and for having this conversation. This is the first one that I’ve had about the book.

Zibby: No way, oh, my gosh. It’s been on my calendar. When I first heard about this book forever ago, I was like, yes, I can’t wait. It’s been one of my longest, and it did not disappoint me.

Christa: Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

Zibby: Good luck with everything. Buh-bye.

Christa: Bye.

Christa Parravani, LOVED AND WANTED