REVIEW: Maybe This Time by Joan Kilby
Dear Ms. Kilby:
When I was growing up, every kid on the playground knew the perfect chant to embarrass some poor boy and girl. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage.” Still, it was–and still is–the stereotypical dream of many girls and boys. The idea that marriage and children are the portrayed as the desirable foundation of happiness makes many angry, sad, disappointed, and/or betrayed. In the years I’ve been reading romance, I’ve noticed a welcome change in the love/marriage/babies script making its way into romance. Now we have heroines who don’t marry, raise children on their own, define themselves outside of that script’s paradigm. Many would argue there are nowhere nearly enough books that celebrate not marrying or not having children and I’d agree with them. But there are more out there each year. What there aren’t very many of in romancelandia are books that portray babies as, well, awful. As someone who had a rough postpartum depression, I think about this often when I read romances in which the heroine has a child. The challenges new moms face are rarely a part of the story and, if they are, they are usually caused by some external factor–poverty, a difficult spouse or family, debilitating social situations. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance in which the mom struggles to like, let alone love and care for, her new baby. Until I read Maybe This Time.
Emma Lewis and her ex-husband Darcy Lewis divorced a little over a year ago. Their marriage imploded under the extraordinary stress of the death of their eighteen month old daughter Holly who was run over by a drunk in their driveway. In the months following their baby’s demise, Emma pressured Darcy to have another child something Darcy simply couldn’t imagine. They parted, full of anger and pain, and haven’t spoken in months. When they both find themselves on a weekend singles cruise, they end up in bed together, unable to resist the strong attraction fueled by great sexual memories they have of their marriage before Holly’s death. The sex is fabulous but as the post-coital glow fades, they begin the same arguments that drove them apart. Emma storms out of the cabin saying, as she leaves, “Next time fate throws us together let’s hope we have the sense to walk in the opposite direction.”
Six weeks later Emma realizes she’s pregnant with Darcy’s child. (They used a condom a little too late when they made love.) Emma is happy to find herself pregnant; she’s never stopped wanting another child.
Her arm wrapped protectively around her waist. The situation was far from ideal. She’d hoped that after her divorce she would meet a man she could build a relationship with, someone who would want a child as much as she did. Instead she’d gotten pregnant by Darcy, who didn’t want children, and was the one man she could never have a relationship with again.
Darcy’s reaction was his problem. And yes, she’d wanted to marry again but sometimes things didn’t work out the way you planned. The main thing was, she was having a child. Maybe it was better that she was single.
That way she wouldn’t have to deal with a potential husband’s opposing ideas about child rearing. This time she would be in complete control. She would be able to do everything right, take no chances. She was prepared to raise the kid on her own. That wasn’t a problem. Did she have to tell Darcy? Wouldn’t she be doing him a favor by keeping him in the dark?
No guilt, no responsibilities…that seemed to be the life he wanted.
She didn’t need his help. As a nurse she had decent pay and conditions. She would get a year’s maternity leave on half pay. Less money but more time to care for the baby. Juggling university with work and a baby might be tricky but having the master’s degree would give her a better future as a single mother.
However, when Emma tells her sister Alana and Alana’s husband Dave about the baby Dave is adamant Darcy must know. Emma realizes she must tell Darcy she’s carrying his child. Emma is certain Darcy won’t care but Dave is not so sure.
“What if he wants to be part of your baby’s life?”
A brief surge of hope caught her off guard. She would love to be a family again—she and Darcy and their child. She quickly tamped down the hope. Darcy had never been part of Holly’s life in the way Emma had expected when their little girl was born. He was too busy with the pub, with his friends, anything but being a family man. Oh, he played with Holly and took great delight in her but he wasn’t a hands-on dad who changed diapers or fed her or did any of the mundane caring things that led to real bonding—at least in Emma’s opinion. Since Holly died, he never wanted to look at old photos or talk about her, something that would have given Emma comfort and helped her grieve. It was almost as if he wanted to forget Holly had ever been born.
“He can’t be part of my new baby’s life because I won’t allow it,” Emma said flatly. “But that won’t be a problem. You’re right…he doesn’t want a child.”
“Take your lawyer with you when you tell him,” Dave advised. “Make sure he knows he’ll have to pay child support.”
“I’m not going to ask for support. Getting pregnant is something I want—even though this pregnancy was accidental. This baby will be one hundred percent mine.”
Darcy is stunned when Emma comes to his pub and flatly announces she’s pregnant. She brusquely tells him she doesn’t want a singe thing from him.
“I don’t want your money or your time. I don’t want your interference or token parental effort. I’m going to raise this baby on my own.” She looked him straight in the eyes. “Is that clear?”
“Crystal.” She had it all worked out how she would manage the baby without him. Typical. She’d done that with Holly, too. Made him feel as if he was clumsy and useless. And he had to admit she was right, witness the time he’d let Holly roll off the changing table. That one incident had been a game-changer, a turning point in their little family. From then on he and Emma both accepted that he wasn’t good with babies. He knew how to play with them but he didn’t know how to care for them.
That’s how he saw it and he was pretty sure she did, too, because after that she didn’t let him help.
But whether he was a good dad or not, a baby was on the way. No matter what Emma said about not wanting his money, he couldn’t shirk his responsibilities.
He wasn’t made that way. “I’ll set up an account for the child.”
Money was the easy part. Worse would be the whole emotional angle he would have to deal with. Another baby. Another fragile, vulnerable, mortal human being he was biologically programmed to love more than his own life. He couldn’t do it again. He just couldn’t.
These attitudes of Emma’s and Darcy’s don’t change as Emma goes through her pregnancy. Emma pushes herself professionally and in school and plans for the lovely baby she’s sure she’ll have. When she thinks of Darcy it is with anger and hurt but never with need. Darcy too is angry and hurt. He stays away from Emma, focusing on protecting his pub from a new wine bar going in across the street. Both think often about Holly, Emma blaming Darcy for Holly’s death (she feels he should have taken the keys away from the man who was drinking), Darcy bitter at how Emma never let him be a part of Holly’s life. The reader sees both perspectives as fatally flawed, things that grew out of pain and solidified with anger. The distance between Darcy and Emma is almost as great a loss to each of them as is Holly’s death. Emma and Darcy are emotionally stunted, stuck playing out over and over again the warped narratives they have of their old married life.
Then Emma has a baby–she calls Darcy after the birth to let him know–and, from the moment her newborn son doesn’t latch on to her nipple with ease, things fall apart for Emma. By the time baby William is two months old, Emma is miserable, stressed, and afraid. He’s colicky, a poor nurser (Emma’s nipples are constantly cracked and painful), and he never sleeps for more than two hours at a time. And the most terrifying thing of all? Emma doesn’t love him.
He might as well be a stranger’s baby for all the love she felt. If only she could breastfeed him properly, she was sure the bonding would come. And the joy. At the moment she wasn’t enjoying Billy at all. She felt guilty for not being a better mother and guilt made her resentful.
Despite her misery, Emma is determined to not ask Darcy or his family for any help. Finally, one night Darcy drops by Emma’s to ask her for a professional favor. Emma, literally sick and exhausted, lets him in and Darcy takes in the wreck of her apartment and hears William crying in his crib. Darcy realizes Emma is falling apart, putting herself and William at risk. He cajoles an worn-out Emma into letting him help and the two begin, each with trepidation, to share the care of their child.
I liked Maybe This Time. Emma and Darcy are likable, strong, compassionate people who, after the press of death, see the other through a skewed lens. And, as hard as they are on each other, they are even harder on themselves. It’s heartbreaking to watch them struggle with denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. For much of the novel, I wondered if they’d ever find the resilience to accept the tragedies of the past.
This is a romance and thus the way Emma and Darcy face the future is haltingly, confusingly, together. In the second half of the book, Ms. Kilby shows us with subtle skill the steps toward the future Darcy and Emma take, steps they themselves often misconstrue as mistakes. I cared deeply about their–and their child’s–happiness and was soundly satisfied with the way all three found a happy ending. It is, unapologetically, a happy ending that celebrates marriage and baby carriages even as it makes clear the path to both is often full of loss and sorrow, struggle and pain.
Maybe This Time is well-written with secondary characters and story lines that compliment the main plot. I enjoyed it immensely. I give it a B+.