Tuesday 16 January 2018

'The truth is pregnancy is beautiful -- and dirty!'

Heidi Murkoff, author of bestseller What To Expect When You're Expecting, talks to Niamh Sweeney in New York

Great expectations:
Matthew Morrisson
and Cameron Diaz in
What To Expect When
You're Expecting
Great expectations: Matthew Morrisson and Cameron Diaz in What To Expect When You're Expecting

Heidi Murkoff

In 1984, Heidi Murkoff wrote a book. And for five years, almost no-one read it. Today that book has sold 35 million copies, spent 560 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers' list, been translated into 30 languages and has spawned a Hollywood movie starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez.

Dubbed the "most successful book in self-help franchise history" by Forbes magazine, What to Expect When You're Expecting is known as the "pregnancy bible".

But it wasn't always plain sailing. Murkoff -- who is now in her fifties -- says she was dismissed out of hand at first.

"I remember going to my first medical conference . . . we were handing out copies of the book and I heard two male doctors saying 'What do mothers know about pregnancy?', because it wasn't written by doctors," she adds.

Perhaps it didn't help that Murkoff was only 23 at the time and had no medical background. She had also just given birth to her first child, which she describes as an 'oops!' pregnancy.

"That 'oops!' inspired What to Expect When You're Expecting," she says.

"There was only a handful of pregnancy books. I found them not only terrifying but they didn't answer my questions," she adds.

A slight, diminutive figure, it's hard to imagine her ever being nine months pregnant. But she was -- twice. Her kids are 29 and 26 now.

All hugs and air kisses, Murkoff has been on the media treadmill for a long time. But there's something very genuine about her.

Murkoff's first impression today perhaps mirrors her first impression 28 years ago. That 'something very genuine' about her spoke to expectant mothers. This reassuring and empathetic book began to take off.

Now, there's a movie to go with it -- even though she had to be "dragged kicking and screaming to this one".

It wasn't the first time she had been approached about making a movie.

"I had always said no because it just didn't seem to be the right concept," she says. But, in this case, the production company really did seem to get it."

Murkoff says the 'ensemble' movie Love Actually was the inspiration for the What to Expect screen version, because "it shows the universality of love.

"It seemed random, turning a how-to pregnancy guide into a romantic comedy" she admits. "And yet, when I thought about it, it made sense because there's nothing more romantic than becoming parents."

Of course these are not your run-of-the-mill expectant couples. The cast includes Dennis Quaid, Elizabeth Banks, Glee's Matthew Morrison and Chris Rock.

So did Murkoff have any reservations about glamourising an experience that is beautiful and dirty?

"Absolutely. You can say with some certainty that we don't all look like that!

"But hopefully we captured at least some of that 'dirty' aspect -- being uncomfortable and miserable and happy and excited at the same time."

But there are things you won't see -- product placements for baby formula. That was one issue on which Murkoff refused to back down. At a screening for advertisers, the baby industry was broadly represented, with the exception of formula brands.

"Millions of dollars have been thrown at me to do things that I won't do," she says. "I don't like how [formula makers] market in third-world countries . . . the safest way to feed your baby in a third-world country is to breastfeed," she says, squarely.

What the movie lacks in formula ads, however, it makes up for in abundance with 'I peed myself' jokes.

"You've got all the slapstick humour of the physical symptoms of pregnancy," beams Murkoff. "Ya know, passing gas is funny!"

Irish Independent

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