AYA DE LEON's Hero's Journey Into Motherhood - Mutha Magazine

On Writing

Published on August 20th, 2013 | by Aya de Leon


AYA DE LEON’s Hero’s Journey Into Motherhood


My journey to motherhood begins, like any other heroic journey, with the refusal of the call to adventure.  As an aspiring novelist I’ve been studying story structure, including Joseph Campbell’s notion of the Hero’s Journey. In his model, great adventure stories from around the world begin with the call to adventure, and the hero first declines.

At the age of 23, I refused the call of parenting.  I accidentally got pregnant and it didn’t occur to me for even a moment to keep the baby.  The baby’s father was immature and irresponsible, but I wasn’t.  I had a college degree; I could have easily moved in with my mom and gotten a job.  I wanted to have kids; I loved kids; I’d joyfully worked with kids since I was a kid.  But I was clear that this unplanned pregnancy did not offer acceptable conditions for motherhood in my life.

As a teen, I had been mentored by a number of second wave white feminists, queer and straight, who offered the perspective that motherhood in a male dominated society was a bum deal.  My own parents were divorced.  I had been raised by a single mom, and that road looked tough. My dad had gone on to have a few baby mamas, and that looked even tougher.  Although I had suspicion and hostility toward the institution of marriage, the commitment and recognition part looked like a better context in which to raise a kid.

Also, when I got pregnant I had just begun the process of healing from my own childhood issues. I could see that I was an emotional mess.  I was coming to terms with the generations of addiction, abuse, neglect and tragedy in my family. I wanted a chance to heal from those legacies and not pass them on to my kids.   Finally, I was just starting out as a writer. I knew that having a baby would mean putting my artistic dreams on hold.

I have never regretted that decision, although I’ve come to believe that there was no wrong choice. If I’d had that baby, I’d be totally in love with her/him and would have made it work. It wouldn’t have been the end of my life, just a very different life.

Throughout my 30s, I hustled hard as an artist. I pursued every creative passion that I knew would be insurmountable with a child.  I toured as a spoken word performer. I was a hip hop and hip hop theater artist, spending many a late night in clubs and theaters.  I had the ultimate goal of becoming a novelist, which is much more compatible with parenting. So I went full out with all the parts of my artist life that were less compatible.  Then I began preparing for motherhood.  I got a teaching job and finished my MFA. I was 40 when I started trying to get pregnant. I knew it was a risk that I had waited too long, but I was adamant. If it meant that I had missed my fertility window, I could live with that. I couldn’t live with the regret of not pursuing those performing arts passions.

Ironically, when trying to get pregnant as an older mom, the fact that I’d had an abortion was a hopeful sign.  What was supposed to have been a shameful badge of sexual irresponsibility in my 20s became a good omen in my 40s.

In 2009, I had my daughter at home. I’m madly in love with her, but the second wave white feminists were right:  motherhood in a male dominated society is a bum deal.  In particular, it’s been rough to see how the sexism in my relationship has intensified (I’m married to a bio guy).  But by delaying motherhood, I have had time to plan and set up my life so that I’ve built infrastructures, relationships and community to insulate me and my daughter from the sexism.

My mother’s response to sexism in marriage was divorce. Her mother’s old school Catholic response had been to stay and suffer. Mine is to stay in the marriage and fight to transform it, using tools like compassion, confrontation, gender guerilla warfare, and couples counseling.

Overall, it’s working and things are going reasonably well for all of us.  In particular, my artist life has developed enough momentum that it hasn’t been derailed. However, it has slowed down considerably.  And I had time to heal, so I’m passing on only a small portion of my family trauma.

One of the biggest challenges of my early time as a mother has been that I underestimated how hard it would be to sell a novel.  While I was gallivanting about being a performing artist, the literary industry was falling apart.  This puts debut novelists at a bigger disadvantage than ever before.  It used to be that editors and later literary agents would take on new authors with promise.  Today, they generally only take work that needs little more than a final polish.  This means that the onus is on authors to do all the heavy lifting to prepare the work before we can even get in the door.  When I realized this, I had a serious period of identity crisis and despair.  It seemed that, as the mom of a small child, I wouldn’t have the time or mental space to move my projects forward.  I was afraid that parenting had put me out of the fiction game as well as the performing game.  Slowly, I’ve learned to work intensely in the moments of time I have, and to accept that the pace of my artist’s career can’t continue at the high speed of accomplishment that I enjoyed as a childless writer.  Slowly, I’m inching toward the goal of publication, and learning to enjoy myself and my family along the way.  Also, prior to having a kid, I didn’t invest as much in my relationships and community.  As a mom, the isolation can be crippling.  So I’m building more community with whom to commiserate and celebrate.  In particular, the HackerMoms have made a huge difference.

I don’t know why the hero’s journey begins with the refusal of the call but my heroic journey into parenting did. And all moms are heroes. Some days I’d like a cape, the ability to fly, and an immediate response from the mayor’s office. But many days it’s just achingly lovely to have this feral little girl who knows my every fault, and still sees me as her biggest hero.


About the Author

Aya de León teaches creative writing at U.C. Berkeley. Kensington Books publishes her adult novels, her award-winning “Justice Hustlers” feminist heist series (which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico), A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about a young Black woman FBI agent who infiltrates an African American political organization fighting for climate justice and Black Lives (out now), and QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY about women in hip hop, police violence and the climate crisis (out now). In October 2021, Aya published a young adult thriller about a pair of undocumented Dominican teen girls who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal called THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE. Given the climate emergency, this novel was too politically urgent for traditional publishing, so it was serialized in in six installments on Orion Magazine, and is available free of charge. In October 2022, her next young adult novel comes out from Candlewick Books, UNDERCOVER LATINA—about a 14-year-old spy who passes for white to stop a white nationalist terrorist—the first in a Black/Latina spy girl series. In spring 2022, Aya is producing a free online conference called Black Literature vs. The Climate Emergency at UC Berkeley African American Studies. Aya is also working on a memoir of her body that explores the intersection of food, body image, race, and the environment. Finally, her Justice Hustlers series has been optioned for television, and she is currently working on the pilot. Find her at ayadeleon.com

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