Jacqueline Friedland, HE GETS THAT FROM ME

Jacqueline Friedland, HE GETS THAT FROM ME

Jacqueline Friedland joins Zibby to discuss her latest novel, He Gets That from Me, which was inspired by an article about a surrogacy mix-up that she read while procrastinating work on another project. Jacqueline shares the detailed and compassionate research that went into this project, why she wanted to look critically at the nature-versus-nurture argument, and how her own mother told her not to take a genetics test as her characters do in the book. The two also talk about the importance of the author community as well as what Jacqueline is working on next.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jackie. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss He Gets That from Me.

Jacqueline Friedland: Hi, Zibby. Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.

Zibby: It’s so neat, I actually was talking to Kyle because I was reading your book and he was like, “Wait, I remember when we first met her. She was talking about how she was working on this book.” Here it is. I feel some sort of investment that we’ve seen this come to fruition. It’s exciting.

Jacqueline: For sure. It is. It’s a long process, though. I actually, just yesterday, was a guest speaker for a high school literary club. They were asking me about the process to publication. They were all flabbergasted. They’re like, wait, it takes that long? It takes that long to write a book? Then it’s another year or two years before it comes out, or three years? They couldn’t digest this at all. I told them it’s good to be patient. It’s a good lesson in patience, putting books out into the world.

Zibby: Yes, very, very true. Can you tell listeners what your book is about, please?

Jacqueline: It is the story of a young woman who serves as a surrogate mother only to discover ten years after the fact that she accidentally gave away her own biological child.

Zibby: How did you come up with this?

Jacqueline: I was working on a different book. I was in very beginning stages. I was procrastinating, like you do, and reading I don’t even remember what publication. I think it might have been People magazine online. I saw an article about an American woman who served as a surrogate for a couple from China. She was supposed to deliver twin babies who were going to be the genetic offspring of this Chinese couple. When the twins were born, one of the babies looked like the Chinese parents and the other baby appeared to be black like the surrogate’s husband. All parties involved kind of scratched their heads but still sent both babies home with this Chinese couple. Over the next month everybody wised up to the fact that they should investigate. It took them a month to figure it out and to figure out that the surrogate had actually gotten pregnant. She had been implanted with embryos. They thought that two had attached, but it turned out only one of the embryos took. Then when she was cleared to have intercourse with her husband, she got pregnant again the natural way.

The first thing, I was like, wait, but if she was already pregnant, how’d she get pregnant again? I’m immediately on Google and looking this up. It turns out that this is actually something that happens. It’s a thing. Women who are pregnant can get pregnant again. It’s just so incredibly rare that nobody ever tells you about it. It’s called superfetation. It’s a real thing. They actually think that a lot of fraternal twins may have been convinced this way and that there’s just not really a need to do all that testing on the pregnant mothers to figure out if they might have a week difference in their gestational age. It explains a lot why one twin is often much bigger than the other one and things like that. I went on Google, found all this out. Then I was just so floored by the entire thing that it really stayed on my mind. I got to thinking, what if the families had been the same race? Then they might not have realized that something was amiss. What if something happened ten years later where they found out? Then what do you do when you discover you have a child that you had no idea was out there? Do you take it back? Do you not? Immediately, I was like, I have to write this story. That’s how the book came about.

Zibby: Wow. I love how that’s how novelists think. All the what-ifs, instead of just being like, yeah, what if? and leaving it at that, it’s like, well, now I have to write a novel about it.

Jacqueline: They say that novelists, they have some fear in general in life, and anxiety, because they go to every what-if. They play out every possible scenario. The minute you put me on an airplane, I’m a disaster because I imagine immediately, all these terrible, crazy things.

Zibby: Me too. I’m immediately at my memorial service. I’ve gone the whole route. Who would be left? How would they find out? What if this plane? What if that plane? What if on the way back — this is why I love what I do, because every day, I talk to people who share my anxiety. It’s amazing.

Jacqueline: I know. I’m drafting my eulogy to send to my sister. I’m like, read this at my funeral, sending it from the plane.

Zibby: Exactly, I know. I’m like, should I book the place? Should I give my list of spots? Yes, the what-ifs of the world. I thought it was really interesting, the way this plot evolved and how it slowly manifested, especially from the point of view of the gay couple and how when they found out — for a lot of gay couples who have twins, it’s often the case that one is from one guy’s sperm and one is from the other, and so they both feel vested interest biologically in their kids. One of the ramifications of finding this out in your book was that one dad ends up not having a biological child and the other dad does, and so he feels sort of alone in that grief. Essentially, he’s just lost what he thought was the continuation of his DNA and his offspring and all of that. Tell me a little bit about that piece of the puzzle. I found that really interesting.

Jacqueline: First of all, when I was researching the book, I learned so much about third-party assisted reproduction and all of the different ways that couples and families can be built. If you have two women who want to raise children together, oftentimes, they will take the egg from one woman and fertilize it outside of her body and then implant it in the other woman so the other one carries the pregnancy. Then they’re both equally vested. They can both feel like the mother of this child. There are so many different scenarios like that and different ways that families figure out to include different people and have everyone be a part of it. There’s adoption where nobody was involved in the pregnancy. It got me just to thinking, we as parents project so much onto our children and believe so deeply that this trait, they got from me. This one, they got from their dad. This is from their grandmother. We think we know our kids so well.

Then you think about your own parents and how well they think they know you and how much you may think they’re wrong. I really wanted to play on this idea that the nature-versus-nurture question may be different than anything that we’ve ever thought about. The way you build a family may be different than anything that we’ve ever thought about. When one dad has a son that he can say, this child is biologically mine, he projects certain ideas onto that child. When the other dad finds out that neither child is biologically his, he sort of has to question everything and really look into, well, what is it to be a father? What is it to have a child? How independent of me is my child or should he be? I really just wanted to play with all of those questions. That’s how it came about.

Zibby: The impact between the siblings, which becomes a really big thing, how do they feel themselves? All these paternity issues that arise, you go straight to the parents, but even at age ten, they have their own feelings. Ten years is a long time.

Jacqueline: When I started drafting the book, my entire perspective was really about Kai, the boy who is genetically not related to the father that he thought he was. I was looking at it from, what has Kai missed? He has missed ten years with his biological parents. He has missed ten years with a biological sibling, with his grandparents, with his religion, with all sorts of heritage. As I got deeper into the draft, I realized, wait a minute, it’s not only Kai who’s missed it. It’s the parents and the grandparents and the siblings. Maybe Kai didn’t miss anything because he got something else. Everybody else, there’s just a hole where Kai should have been. In that regard, I think also, the sibling relationship was an interesting way to play with it. Some siblings, especially twins, can really rely on each other and really get close in a way that is very different from the parent-child relationship. I think there’s a loyalty that often exists between siblings that is unique. When somebody sort of attacks your relationship with your sibling, you almost get more protective than you ever would vis-à-vis a parent relationship.

When you write a book, they tell you, write what you know. I’d never had a child from surrogacy, but I have four kids of my own. Parenting is something I know. The idea of having my biological children in my house versus somewhere across the country where I never knew they were was something that I could really imagine and play with. I also have a sibling, a sister who’s a couple years older, who has been such a force in my life, and so I could play on that and imagine what it would be if somebody told me, actually, you guys aren’t related. It was interesting, actually, as I’ve been getting reviews and feedback on the book, a lot of people have said, as a gay dad, this book resonated with me. As a parent, this book resonated with me, and all sorts of things like that. What really meant the most to me was, one person contacted me through my website and told me that her daughter who’s in college read the book. She’s a twin. She just was so struck by the book and looking at the twin relationship and how important it is to twins to have that relationship and that identity, and then when you sort of attack it, how heart-wrenching it is. That was a very interesting facet of the book for me.

Zibby: I have twins. I don’t know how they would feel. They’d probably both be like, okay, you go. You can go to that family. I’ll take this family. How old are your kids now, by the way?

Jacqueline: I have seventeen-year-old, fifteen, thirteen, and almost eleven.

Zibby: What genders are they?

Jacqueline: Three boys, and then my youngest is a girl. My oldest just got into college. It has completely adjusted my entire perspective on parenting. Everybody says it goes by in a blink. All of a sudden, I’ve really realized he’s leaving, and so I’ve been nicer to all of my children. I’m like, spend time with me. Give me an extra hug. All of a sudden, it’s hitting me.

Zibby: I feel like I went through that early when my son went to boarding school at a very young age. I mourned that. I feel like by the time he goes to college, I’ll just be like, all right, see you later. Yes, of course, it’s crazy. To be honest, the fact that my son can now walk around the city by himself and it’s not a big deal all of a sudden, that’s been the biggest shock to me. I’m like, okay, you’re just going to decide where you go.

Jacqueline: That’s something I think about. My oldest can drive now. He’ll go out. He sort of tells me where he’s going. I have a general idea. There’s this letting go that’s really difficult. Actually, he was getting his license as I was finishing this book. There’s a scene in the book where Maggie, the woman who serves as the surrogate, she’s in New York. She has left her son with a friend in Arizona. She calls up her friend to say, “How’s Wyatt? Do you need me? What’s happening?” The friend says, “He’s fine. He doesn’t need you. He’s fine. Go do yourself. He doesn’t need you.” When they hang up the phone, the “he doesn’t need you” really resonates with Maggie. She’s like, wait a minute, does anybody need me? Do we as parents need our kids more than they need us? That’s actually something that, as I’m watching my own kids get grown and flown a little, I’m really thinking about. It’s the same joke you hear about, adults go out to dinner with their friends and show pictures of their kids, but their kids aren’t out showing off pictures of their parents. It’s an adjustment, letting go. I will say that.

Zibby: I loved Grown and Flown, the website, by the way. Do you read those essays?

Jacqueline: Yes.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, Mary Dell and Lisa, and the book too, the collection of essays. I feel like that might have been two years ago I had them on for that book. Those should come up every year.

Jacqueline: They should. It should be required reading for parents.

Zibby: Yes, it should. Here is What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Let’s jump ahead to when they leave, and here’s how to survive eighteen years. When you saw the article in People and you’re like, I have to write this novel, what did you do next? What happened? Did you outline the whole thing? Then how long did it all take? What did that whole thing look like?

Jacqueline: I knew the first thing I had to do was research because I wanted to really get it right with surrogacy. I think that the fact that surrogacy exists is a wonderful thing for so many people. I didn’t want to write the book in a way that might dissuade anyone from ever pursuing surrogacy as an option for their family. I also just didn’t want to get anything wrong. I feel like as an author, you have a responsibility when you’re sort of introducing a concept to people who might not be familiar with it or writing historical fiction, whatever it may be. People think they’re learning when they’re reading your book, so you have this responsibility to get it as right as you can. The first thing I did — I happened to have a friend who had a baby through surrogacy. Her child is now seventeen. When she did it, it was less common than it is today. She’s a very close friend of my family. When she did it and as she’s been raising her daughter, I’ve had a front-row seat. She was very generous and spoke to me at length about it.

Then from there, I met with a woman who runs a surrogacy agency called Growing Generations. She was so enthusiastic about the concept for the book. She put me in touch with other people who work at her agency who just — not coincidentally. She specifically chose one woman in particular who served as a surrogate herself three times. This woman then put me in touch with other people who served as surrogates. I really spoke to a lot of people who have gone through the process. It’s been much easier — I think there is a geographic component. Where I live, there are many more people who have used surrogates than who have actually served as surrogates. The only people that have been in my social circle who are in my demographic area who I might interact with who’ve served as surrogates usually do it for someone they know. The people who do it just getting paid, they’re more in the Midwest and more geographically spread out from me. The good news is they’re really, for the most part, very happy to talk about it. These women who serve as surrogates, for the most part, you can’t believe how giving and generous they are. They don’t do it for the money. The agencies won’t accept women who they believe are doing it only for the money. They do it because they really feel how important it is to people to have children. They, for whatever reason, have an easy time being pregnant. They enjoy it, whatever it is. They just want to give in some way to other families.

There are people who’ve done it three, four times after they’ve had three or four kids of their own. It’s astounding, putting up with the pregnancy and then giving away the child that they’ve been carrying for nine months. Then when they actually collect the payment, they use it for things that — you would be surprised how frivolous they are. They’ll go to Disney World. They’ll buy some new furniture for their living room or whatever it is. They really view the money as kind of bonus money. Learning that was very interesting for me. Also, just getting to talk to all these people who are so giving was exciting and fun. Then I spoke to doctors, fertility specialists. I spoke to attorneys in the different states where the characters go. In each state in the country, surrogacy laws are different. I needed to talk to people in New York. I needed to talk to people in Arizona where the book starts out. Then I also spoke to people in Arizona. I spoke to parents who have adopted. I spoke to same-sex couples who have looked at all the options and decided not to have children. It sort of runs the gamut. It was a lot of fun to talk to all these different people and also to find the common threads in what they would tell me. That was the bulk of it.

Zibby: Wow. Where do you like to do your writing?

Jacqueline: I do everything at home. I always thought, before I actually started writing full time, that I would be one of those writers who goes to a coffee shop and makes friends with everyone who works there and has my standard table. I can’t. The minute I go into a public place, I am so fascinated by the world around me, especially the people, really. I don’t care about the other stuff. The minute someone walks into a store, I’m like, ooh, what’s she doing? What’s she getting? Heaven forbid, I can’t make sense — oh, that’s obviously a husband and wife or obviously a mother and son. If I see a guy who’s in his forties with a guy who’s in his twenties, I’m like, is that an uncle and a nephew? Immediately, I’m building a new story about these people.

Zibby: I’m like, is it a job interview? Do they work together? Did they used to work together?

Jacqueline: Maybe it’s a college interview.

Zibby: Oh, college interview, that’s not on my menu of options.

Jacqueline: Could be anything. I stay home, which is generally great for me. It was a little harder during COVID, the height of lockdown, when my husband, who I share an at-home office with, was here every single day. I discovered that ninety-five percent of his job is talking on the phone really loudly. I developed a system. I put the AirBuds in. I started with classical music. It wasn’t working for me. Lyrics distract me. I ended up listened to classical Scottish music, which is mostly bagpipes. It’s now this Pavlovian response. When I hear bagpipes, I get in the zone right away. I’m writing away. He’s back in his office, so I only have bagpipes twice a week when he works from home.

Zibby: That is so funny. You would rather be listening to bagpipes blaring away than your husband chatting. Well, whatever, great. I’m glad you found a way out of that. That’s so funny. How about now? What are you working on?

Jacqueline: I’m at the tail end of another historical fiction novel. I have this bad habit of switching from genre to genre when I write. I can’t seem to stop myself. I find these stories, and I get very one-track-mind. This is the story I want to tell. My first book was historical fiction. My next two were contemporary fiction. When I was researching for the first historical fiction, I stumbled on a story about a runaway slave, a true story, and these two Northern abolitionists who helped this man. It’s a fascinating story that was a national sensation at the time that it occurred. This guy was a household name. These two abolitionists, Ann and Wendell Phillips, really did so much for the abolitionist cause. Most people don’t know anything about them. They’re really interesting. I had to tell the story. That’s what I’ve been working on. I was especially excited about it because Ann, the wife, was an incredibly influential abolitionist. As a female at the time in which she was living, she sort of had to do all of her work through her husband. It’s an interesting story. That was super fun to research. Almost everything included in the book is true history down to the eclipse that happened on a particular date or the newspaper articles that are quoted. It’s been a fun project for me.

Zibby: I know you have this tight-knit group of fellow authors. When did that come about? When did you consider yourself an author? What’s the importance of the author community to you?

Jacqueline: I think many authors would say they’re still — they could publish twelve books and still not consider themselves an author. There’s always this imposter syndrome fear in the background. I would say I got comfortable saying I was an author after my first book was published and out there in the world. One thing, when I was a kid and trying to figure out my career and would, in passing, say to my mother, “Maybe I want to be a writer,” she would tell me, “That sounds lovely, but you know, it’s so much time by yourself. It’s really isolating. You should think about that because you really like to be with people.” Before I was a writer, I was a lawyer. I have to say that I have so many more friends as a writer than I ever made as a lawyer. The lawyer job I found very isolating and anti-social. It’s been incredible to be a part of this author community. I have found that the authors that I come across, everybody is so supportive.

There is none of this competition and “if your book sells, mine doesn’t” kind of idea. If anybody’s book succeeds, the book industry as a whole is succeeding. That’s good for all of us. I think there’s an understanding of how hard it is to put your book out there, to put yourself out there, to take these risks, and so everyone is so supportive of each other in that way also. I remember before my first book came out, I went to hear a historical fiction panel. I just introduced myself to the authors who were on the panel. Then somebody’s publicist was there. The publicist, who was not my publicist, was like, “Oh, you’ve got to meet this person who’s a bookstagrammer and this one who’s an author.” By the end of the night, I had ten friends. Every day, I feel the community is growing. It’s really nice. I’m actually just about to start a new writing group with a couple of authors who I just met through going to things and being with people. I love the writer life.

Zibby: That’s great. It’s true. People, A, are so nice, and B, willing to help. There’s this misconception. That’s so sweet your mom said that. That’s something my mom would totally say to me, worrying about the things that they perceive. I feel like when I’m writing, I don’t ever feel alone when I’m doing it. It’s like some other thing. You don’t worry about feeling alone when you’re in a yoga class or something. It’s like a different something.

Jacqueline: It’s almost self-care. It’s like peeking inside your head and sorting through your thoughts. I agree.

Zibby: No one’s like, I’m worried about you feeling alone because you’ve been doing so much running.

Jacqueline: Right.

Zibby: You’re like, no. Of course, you’re alone, but you’re listening to music. You’re doing this. It’s good for you. You’re not really alone. Even if you’re at home on a treadmill — I don’t know.

Jacqueline: No, I agree with you. I think it’s therapeutic on some level. I find it’s almost like charging your cell phone. That’s how I am when I write. When I get up from the computer and go back out into the world, I have much more energy than I did before spending that time by myself and recharging like that. It’s funny, the other thing my mom has said that I keep talking about recently is — one of the main catalysts in the book for everybody figuring out that there’s a genetic situation that may have arisen is that the two dads and their sons decided to do a 23andMe kind of a genetic test. Everybody keeps asking me, have I done a 23andMe? I have not because my mother has asked me not to.

Zibby: What?

Jacqueline: I’m like, wait a minute. If I didn’t look so much like both of my parents, I would be really freaked out by this. She doesn’t want the systems to have my information out there. She’s concerned. First, she’s like, “The government will know you’re Jewish.” I’m like, I think that cat’s out of the bag. Second, it’s bad for identity theft, whatever it may be. My father did a test. He’s 99.9 percent Eastern European Ashkenazi Jew, which was no surprise.

Zibby: As am I, by the way.

Jacqueline: He did it years ago. They contacted him after they had refined their equipment — I guess they had new information — and told him that he was one percent Irish. I’m like, I knew it. I’ve always loved Ireland so much. You can take me back to the bagpipes, which is not exactly because it’s Scotland. Then they contacted him a year later. They said, no, it was a mistake. He’s still just Ashkenazi Jewish.

Zibby: I don’t know. Maybe there are other guys out there who look kind of like your dad.

Jacqueline: Could be.

Zibby: I’m just saying.

Jacqueline: It’s been funny, I’ve been in some Facebook groups where I’ve been talking with readers. If I ask the question, “Have you ever done a DNA test? Did you find out any surprises?” one after another, after another, the comments are, I discovered my dad was really my uncle. My brother was my father. The craziest stories. That’s just in these little Facebook groups with a thousand members or whatever it may be. There must be so many people out there who have discovered crazy things. I think it’s great for people who like that information. For me, I’ve decided to follow my mom’s advice and decide that ignorance is bliss.

Zibby: I don’t know, that could be a memoir for you. Let’s see what happens.

Jacqueline: For sure.

Zibby: Last question. Any advice for aspiring authors?

Jacqueline: Yes. I think the most important thing is to write as much as you can and not wait for the best idea you’ve ever had or the thing that you know is going to work. Just sit your butt in the chair and get words on the page. Once the words are down, you can edit. You can revise. Sometimes, just in the way that talking with a friend may give you an idea and help you think of something, actually putting words on the page may make you think of something that has nothing to do with the words you’re writing that inspires a whole different story. If you’re not writing, you can’t call yourself a writer. You got to sit down and write.

Zibby: All right, noted. Awesome. Jackie, thank you. I really enjoyed your book. I loved the characters. The pacing was great. It moved so quickly. You just kept wanting to turn the page and figure out what was going to happen. I was debating what I thought I would want to do in that scenario. It made you think and feel and all the good things. It was really great.

Jacqueline: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I hope to see you soon.

Jacqueline: Yes.

Zibby: Bye.

Jacqueline: Bye.

Jacqueline Friedland, HE GETS THAT FROM ME

HE GETS THAT FROM ME by Jacqueline Friedland

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