‘My Body Is A Big Fat Temple’: Author talk and interview with author Alena Dillon
When she was pregnant, author Alena Dillon searched for books on the subject. And she found plenty, including many that presented pregnancy in an airbrushed, glamorized way. Finding their descriptions quite unlike what she was experiencing in her own pregnancy, Dillon wanted to go deeper, to understand her confusing emotions and her unexpected and often unpleasant physical reality. Both during pregnancy and as a new mother, Dillon wrote about her experiences, the sublime as well as the awful, in a new memoir, My Body Is a Big Fat Temple: An Ordinary Story of Pregnancy and Early Motherhood, published this month by Woodhall Press.
On Wednesday, Oct. 13, Dillon made a virtual appearance at Warwick’s, Rancho Santa Fe Library’s longtime literary partner. She spoke at length about her own pregnancy and the birth of her son, Rowen, to whom she dedicated the memoir.
“I wrote this to process why I was afraid, stressed, frustrated, uncomfortable, hopeful, fractured, and amazed by pregnancy and preliminary parenthood, and why those feelings mattered to me and to our collective human experience,” she wrote in her preface.
While many people have seen their productivity plummet during the pandemic, it’s fair to say that Dillon sets a high bar for authors and others. She’s a professor, a mother and a wife, and has launched three acclaimed books in the past two years. Her first novel, Mercy House, was optioned by Amy Schumer for a television series on CBS, and her second, The Happiest Girl in the World, was a Good Morning America Best Book selection. Like her latest, her first two books tackle serious and timely subjects—nuns who break the rules, and gymnasts who suffer abuse.
One of Dillon’s most startling pregnancy experiences was a delay in bonding with Rowen. She was surprised that the attachment didn’t form immediately, but instead her deep love for him took a little time to develop. “I felt the duty to care for him immediately, but affection and love developed slowly, beginning after a few weeks and expanding into what I had envisioned by the three- or four-month mark,” she said. And that’s not an uncommon experience, though few women admit it. “I’ve spoken to many women who confess similar experiences, but the bonding differs for everybody. One woman said it took a year,” she said.
In addition to her online author talk, Dillon provided answers to a few other specific questions:
Q. What are the biggest lessons you learned from writing this book? Something about yourself? Something about motherhood? About writing?
A. Writing this book helped me clarify all the feelings and thoughts I encountered along the journey. At first, they were confusing and overwhelming, but when I forced myself to put them into words, they clarified. I discovered what part of myself I feared losing in becoming a mother, that society didn’t adequately care about the discomforts of pregnancy, that pregnant women were sometimes devalued in favor of the fetus, the impact of cultural pressures on mothers, the discrepancies between mothers and fathers, and so on.
Q. What reaction from a reader would give you the most satisfaction? What would you like a reader to take away from the book?
A. This week I’ve had the great joy of strangers reaching out to thank me for my honesty. They recognized themselves in the pages and didn’t know what they’d been through was normal because nobody speaks of it. It had been a secret they’d harbored, and I was putting a name to it, and that name is ordinary. That is why I wrote this book—because too many of us are protecting a shame that shouldn’t be shame at all. I hope to poke holes in the ideal of motherhood and encourage other mothers to speak truth to unromantic, typical experiences.
Q. Do you plan to have more children? Why or why not?
A. Yes. My siblings are some of my favorite people. I want to give Rowen the gift of a person who has shared his history from the beginning, and I’d like to add more love to my own life.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. I have a novel forthcoming next fall (still untitled) about a Women Airforce Service Pilot and her daughter. It’s a dual timeline between WW2 and contemporary day, when the daughter discovers her mother’s secret past, the reason she’d harbored so much fury and grief that had affected her rearing, and the two work toward reconciliation.
Dillan’s first two books were published by Harper Collins but she chose a small independent press for her memoir. She said, “Woodhall Press is one of those rare publishers who strike the balance between literary manuscripts with commercial appeal. I admired their books and knew it would be a great fit.” All of Dillon’s books are available at Warwick’s as well as the Rancho Santa Fe Library. Visit www.alenadillon.com for more information.
Get the RSF Review weekly in your inbox
Latest news from Rancho Santa Fe every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Rancho Santa Fe Review.