“What was it like when I lived in your belly?”
That was the question that prompted author Jodi Meltzer to write When You Lived In My Belly, a book Kirkus calls “A reassuring book with kid-friendly explanations that celebrate the maternal bond.”
The question was posed by Meltzer’s young son, and the outcome is a breathtakingly beautiful ode to the challenges and milestones of pregnancy.
When You Lived In My Belly captures pregnancy with beautiful words and illustrations.
The book, illustrated by Caryn King and Jody King Camarra, literally paints a picture, every page featuring a gorgeous watercolor design. The words carry the reader through pregnancy in a series of rhymes starting with the excitement and nausea of month one right on through baby’s first cries.
As I read along, I found myself reminiscing about my pregnancies, memories the book no doubt intentionally elicits. In fact, when the story ends, several blank pages follow for the reader to pen her own story.
The story behind the book is equally moving.
I had the privilege of interviewing Jodi Meltzer about her new book. In addition to discussing When You Lived In My Belly‘s backstory, we also talk grief, family traditions, good coffee, and more. Many thanks to Jodi for sharing her thoughts with us!
1. When You Lived In My Belly is such a beautiful book. What inspired you to write it?
My mom gracefully and valiantly fought end-stage ovarian cancer for nearly 12 years. I was her primary caregiver. During late night conversations and chemotherapy infusions, she would initiate conversations about how she always wanted to write a children’s book.
After her funeral, I was completely lost. In an attempt to center myself, I became fixated on fulfilling her dream of writing a children’s book. When You Lived in My Belly is the realization of her dream. It took me five years, and I endured countless road blocks, hardships, and hurdles in pursuit of her dream, but I did it!
My son gave me the winning idea for the book by innocently asking, “Mom, what was it like when I lived in your belly?” And I devoted every minute of my free time to answering his question.
Multiple drafts and rewrites ensued at various coffee shops, between nursery school drop-offs, pick-ups, and freelance projects. Once I got the book to a place where I felt others could read it, I called my best friend. Jody King Camarra has been by my side since kindergarten, and she happens to be an incredible artist. She agreed to illustrate it right away.
2. The illustrations are simply incredible. Did you collaborate on design with the illustrators or were the pictures entirely their visualization of your story?
I was very active in the illustration of my book. When You Lived in My Belly is a deeply personal project–inspired by my son’s question, to fulfill my deceased mom’s dream. I could not trust it with some random illustrator. I could not be completely hands-off with this book. I knew my limitations!
I asked Jody and her mom, Caryn King–an established artist with quite the following, to include the baby in the belly. I wanted to demystify pregnancy for young kids, to show them what happens in utero, to combat the stork myth. I haven’t come across any other book that is like When You Lived in My Belly.
We have broken the mold from both a visual and storytelling perspective, and made it a keepsake with special pages in the back for moms to write to their children about their individual pregnancy journey and share ultrasound/pregnancy photos, etc.
Other than insisting we show the baby, and weighing in at different stages of design, the work is completely theirs, and, I agree, they created a beautifully illustrated book. I am so grateful they were the ones who gave life to When You Lived in My Belly as my mom loved them, too. She would be thrilled that we worked on it together.
3. What’s been the most positive feedback you’ve received on the book?
I adore all of the social media posts of moms reading When You Lived in My Belly with their kids! It seriously warms my heart when I see them sharing my book, opening up dialogue that reinforces their innate bond.
I am fortunate that I have received all positive reviews thus far, from established critics such as Kirkus Reviews and Midwest Book Reviews; mom influencers/bloggers/reviewers; and smaller publications. I love them all, but the review on MuggleNet could be my favorite, if I have to choose. It includes commentary by the self-proclaimed tough critic and her daughter, and they both loved it.
I am on a book tour, with dates coming up in Virginia on October 5 and 6; Walpole, Massachusetts, on October 12, and Warwick, Rhode Island, on October 19, with many more to be announced. It is so rewarding reading the book aloud to kids and getting their feedback. At my first book signing, a little girl thanked me for writing the book because it answered questions she didn’t quite know how to ask.
4. From reading your blog, it seems as though you and your family have experienced some very heart-breaking tragedies in recent years. Do you have any plans to write books based on coping with grief (for children or adults)?
I have been tested…and tested again (and again and again). I have grappled with an unusual amount of death and loss in my life. My mom died a cruel death shortly after my 40th birthday.
My son and bonus daughter lost their dad (my ex-husband) last year. He was only 8 and she was 21 (and had already lost her biological mom when she was just 4-years-old). I suffered a devastating miscarriage.
Grief has been overwhelming at times, and it is a part of me. It walks alongside me, forever, but I have learned to embrace it because I cannot shake it.
I have written extensively about grief in numerous publications. I am working on a book about coping with it from two vantage points: as a daughter and as a mom.
5. What is your favorite family tradition and why?
Thanksgiving was always my holiday with my mom. We’d spend countless hours sifting through her vintage, typewritten recipe cards, some with the remnants of crusted food curling the sides. We’d watch the Food Network in marathon mode. We’d trade recipes we stealthily ripped out of magazines at the hospital during her chemotherapy infusions. We’d debate about who would host and, with a passion only foodies planning a Thanksgiving menu can understand, what we would serve.
When she died. it all changed.
I spent a few Thanksgiving holidays utterly paralyzed, unable to cook a feast without my mom by my side. But my husband changed all of that, and reinstated my family tradition of cooking my favorite meal together.
My man shares the same birthday, the same cooking infatuation, the same Thanksgiving Planning Fetish Disorder (TPFD) as my mom. He has all of the elements of her that I enjoyed during holiday prep — her hilarious ways, her chef tendencies, her love of 80s music, her penchant for dancing. He gave me my holiday back and I am profoundly grateful.
Now, my husband and I plan, prepare, cook, bake and clean together. We do things in my mom’s memory (using her dining room furniture) and in her honor (using many of her recipes) to keep her at the table.
Other family traditions:
We visit North Conway, New Hampshire, to kick off the summer every year. Our kids love it there.
The birthday boy/girl/man/woman in our home eats a cupcake for breakfast and we all go around the table and say what we love about him/her to start their special day off right.
6. What’s your daily routine like? Do you work from home? In an office?
I am blessed to work from home with my rescue dog, Adara, curled up on my lap. I can’t work at a desk because I would break her heart! When my kids leave for school and I brew my coffee, she knows it’s time to work.
When I take my seat at the edge of the couch where I balance my laptop, she runs, full speed, and plops down right on my lap. That’s our routine!
7. What is your advice for aspiring writers looking to publish their first book?
If you want to be a writer, write. I got this advice a long time ago, and I have never forgotten it.
Be humble. As a writer, you need to fully accept criticism and use it to fuel your next chapter.
Persist. It takes a lot of discipline, patience, and skill to get a byline on a publication you admire or to publish a book. It’s easier to give up than it is to see it through. Don’t stop chasing your dream, and you will eventually realize it.
8. I’ve read that you’re a self-proclaimed “coffee snob.” What’s your favorite/least favorite brand/type?
An affinity for Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be in the collective DNA where I live (in Massachusetts, the birthplace of the brand), but the coffee is far too weak for me. I like a bold roast with depth and richness–one that delivers that undeniably glorious zing that gets me going in the morning after too little sleep. I love Costa Rican beans (my brother lives in Costa Rica), but there are various supermarket brands that are also good, including Peet’s, Mary Lou’s, and, yes, Starbucks.
9. Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
My mom. Through death, she passed her life baton on to me, and it’s my job to keep going, to keep striving, to keep living. She inspires me to dream a different dream if I realize one. I will never stop honoring her memory.
This article/press release originally appeared on The Mom at Law.