A Conversation with Daniela Petrova, author of Her Daughter's Mother

For fans of The Perfect Mother and The Wife Between Us comes a gripping psychological suspense debut about two strangers, one incredible connection, and the steep price of obsession.

 

 
Daniela Petrova
Photo © Willy Burkhardt

 
For fans of The Perfect Mother and The Wife Between Us comes a gripping psychological suspense debut about two strangers, one incredible connection, and the steep price of obsession.

The editors at Putnam asked Daniela Petrova about the real-life experience that inspired the novel. 



What is your debut, Her Daughter’s Mother, about and how do you explore issues of infertility and fun­damental definitions of motherhood?
 

Her Daughter’s Mother is a suspense novel about a woman in her late thirties who has it all—an apartment in Manhattan, a great job as an art curator at the Met, a long-term live-in rela­tionship with a Columbia professor—except they haven’t been able to become pregnant after years of trying. Their last chance is a donor egg cycle they can barely afford. But when he un­expectedly leaves her three days before the precious embryo transfer, she faces the impossible choice of having to give up on her dream of having a baby or proceed without his consent.

Going through infertility is grueling and emotionally debilitating for a couple. It brings up a lot of issues of insecurity and questions of identity, especially when using a donor egg or sperm in order to conceive. I wanted to explore these feelings and complexities from the point of view of the mother, the father and, in the case of my novel, the egg donor. How far would a woman go in the quest for a baby? How much is she willing to sacrifice? What lines would she be willing to cross? What’s it like for a donor to get to know the woman who’s carrying a part of her? To look at the father and think, He and I are having a baby it’s just that another woman is carrying it.


You drew on your own experiences with infer­tility when writing the book—how does Lana’s story reflect your own?
 

My ex-husband and I struggled with infer­tility for years, trying nearly everything to get pregnant, including a question­able procedure that was banned in the US and we had to go across the border to Mexico to have it done. Eventually, we also tried an egg-donor cycle.

Unlike, Lana, I didn’t get pregnant but as I was going through the cycle, I confronted a lot of the issues that Lana struggles with. I attended a support group where my friends and I de­bated the pros and cons of using an anonymous donor versus a woman we knew: What if she changed her mind and decided she wanted the baby? If we stayed anonymous, did we risk not knowing about future health issues? We were fascinated by our donors and talked about them as if they were celebrities, hoping to glean as much infor­mation from their files as we could. We shared their photos, their health histories and academic accomplishments. We each had our priorities of what was most important to us, favoring some traits over others as if deciding on the perfect dress to wear to the prom.

As I was going through the process, I kept thinking what if I were to run into my donor by chance? What would I do? Would I follow her, hoping to learn more about her? That sounded like a good premise for a book.

 

What specific “complica­tions” can arise when a couple chooses the egg donor route in order to conceive?
 

I have a lot of friends who conceived with donor eggs or donor embryos—some did anonymous cycles, others knew their do­nors. None of them have had any com­plications. But happy stories often don’t make for interesting books. What pro­pelled me to explore egg-donation as the topic of my novel was the potential for things going wrong in some very extreme situations. What if the donor becomes attached to the baby? What if the couple split up before the baby’s birth? Before they’ve been named the legal parents. What if the father and the donor, who are the genetic par­ents, have a relationship? What if the child meets a half-sibling later in life and doesn’t know it?
 

You grew up in Bulgaria and you’ve made both your main characters—Lana and Katya—of Bulgarian origins. What flavor does this add to the story?
 

It adds an international flavor, for sure, but more importantly it adds a layer of complexity to a story about conceiving a child that won’t have any of the mother’s DNA. We all want our children to be pret­tier, smarter, happier, which is why people tend to favor donors who are university graduates, who are pretty, athletic and have no family history of major medical issues. But we also tend to want our chil­dren to look like us. We want to see our parents in them. As an immigrant, you feel the importance of your heritage that much more and you want to pass it on to your children. Which is why Lana wants a Bulgarian egg donor.


Like Katya, you came to the United States as a young adult. But unlike her, you had to work before finding your way to college later in life. How did your own experience shape the story?
 

Unlike Katya, I grew up during Communism and immigrated to the US shortly after its fall. It was a huge cultural shock. I hadn’t seen a computer, didn’t know what a credit card was, and my Eng­lish was rudimentary at best. I worked as a cleaning lady and a nanny, while taking evening classes at the YMCA, before eventually making my way to an undergraduate program at Columbia University. I enjoyed writing Katya’s character as a rewrite of my own situation—what I wished my immigrant ex­perience had been like.


Lana’s befriending Katya is extreme—but do you think many women who become pregnant through egg dona­tion would want to become friends with the woman who has helped them conceive?
 

I can only speak for myself but I doubt that many would want to befriend their donors. Using the eggs of a younger woman in order to conceive is a com­plicated, emotionally-wrought process. It can feel like your very womanhood is negated. On a deep primal level, you feel like damaged goods. When my ex-husband and I scrolled through profiles of young, beautiful women on the donor egg agency’s website, we joked that it was as if we were choos­ing a girl for a threesome. But to me it also felt like we were looking for my replacement—a newer, better model. It’s not much of a stretch to think, “He can just make a baby with her. He doesn’t need me.”

So I would imagine that hanging out with the young woman who was your donor might feel threaten­ing on so many levels. It would remind you that your baby carries her genes. You’ll be watching her playing with your child and wonder about her intentions and about your child’s feelings for her. You’ll watch your child grow up to look more and more like her. It could be messy. But that doesn’t mean that having some relationship with your egg donor is a bad idea, especially in terms of potential health issues.


Fertility treatments have become fairly common science advances, do you think there are dangers involved in “playing God,” as it were?
 

Depends on how you look at it. Some people feel that we shouldn’t interfere with procreation, while others argue that fertility treatments are no differ­ent from other medical procedures. Infertility is an illness like any other. It’s a malfunction in the re­productive organs like diabetes is in the endocrine system. In my opinion, conceiving with an egg or sperm from a donor is no different than having a kidney transplant. But again, some might disagree because we have a human being that’s been cre­ated by three people. What does that mean? How does that alter parenthood roles? What are the im­plications—practical, religious and ethical?
 

What are some of the main ethical questions, in your view, that arise when one woman provides an egg for another?
 

Whose baby is it? The woman who is carrying it or the woman whose genes the baby inherits? Le­gally, the answer is determined by the context: if a couple has a baby with the help of a gestational carrier, then the woman who provides the egg is the mother. If a couple has a baby using a donor egg, then it’s the woman who carries the baby. But ethically speaking, what responsibilities do all the actors involved in the process of making a baby through a fertility intervention have to each other? To the baby?

Does the egg-donor have a right to know what hap­pens to the baby conceived with her eggs? What if the parents are negligent or abusive? Or die in a car accident? Can the donor/genetic mother claim the child, or should the legal grandparents be granted custody?

How about the donor’s parents? Do they have the right to know that they’re the genetic grandparents of a child? Do children conceived with donor eggs/ sperm have the right to know? And who would en­force it? What if two children from the same donor meet not knowing that they’re half siblings and have a romantic relationship?

What if a woman who was an egg donor when she was young, finds herself in her late 30s unable to conceive, now that her eggs are old? Does she have any right to the couple’s left-over embryos con­ceived with her eggs?
 

Would you classify what Lana does in the book as stalking? What is her interest in Katya and is it normal? Justified?
 

Lana doesn’t plan to stalk her donor but when, one day, she recognizes her among the strangers rid­ing with her on the subway, she can’t help herself and follows her. She wants to learn more about the woman who has given her the gift of pregnancy and whose genes her baby will inherit. I think it’s natural to want to know more about your egg donor, which is why some couples do not choose to go the anonymous route. In that case, both parties have made the choice and are aware of the risks. But Lana definitely crosses the line by following and be­friending her anonymous egg donor.

 

You explore some very serious and timely subjects through the devices of a suspense novel. Why did you choose this genre to tell your story?

 

I didn’t choose it. It chose me. Suspense is an inte­gral part of infertility struggles. Every month, every cycle, you wait in suspense. Will I get pregnant? Will it stick? Is the pain I’m feeling normal? Why am I bleeding? Will I miscarry? Is this girl the right donor for me?

Using suspense also allowed me to ask questions about situations that are not common but could happen and gave me an opportunity to highlight all the things that can go wrong.


Secrets, lies and obses­sions—and their effects on relationships—play a big role in your novel. How did your background in mental health counseling inform the story?
 

I have always been interested in psychology and especially relationships. The first graduate class I took, before enrolling in the Counseling for Men­tal Health and Wellness program at NYU, was on Couples and Family Therapy. I’m fascinated by how two people can read the same event differently, how we can hurt and undermine each other without meaning to, how we can misinterpret the actions of others. During my internship at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, I was surprised how many of my patients presented very differently from the way they saw themselves. Beautiful girls felt ugly, anorexic ones felt fat. Successful, seemingly confident and in control people turned out to be consumed by self-doubt.

So often we unwittingly hurt those we love most because of our fears and insecuri­ties, which we keep locked up deep inside. Lack of communication can destroy rela­tionships, and I wanted to explore that idea by making the reader privy to the thoughts of my three main char­acters. If only they had been honest about their feelings, they wouldn’t have hurt each other, and a lot of the unfortunate outcomes could have been averted.

While evil people can do a lot of damage, I find it more poignant and heartbreak­ing when well-meaning, ultimately good people end up the villains.


With nonstop plot twists, and thought-provoking exploration of fertility and family, Her Daughter’s Mother is perfect for book clubs. Here is a Reading Group Guide to help spark your discussions.

“[An] impressive debut . . . burning questions will keep readers on the edge of their seats . . . a gripping tale of the consequences of obsession. Petrova is off to a promising start.” —Publishers Weekly

A sample excerpt is a great way to start reading Her Daughter’s Mother, or request an eGalley on NetGalley or Edelweiss.

 

 


SPONSORED BY

 

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


RELATED 

TOP STORIES

LIBRARY EDUCATION

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COMMUNITY FORM

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT

Kids are using VR to explore worlds and create new ones

Get connected. Join our global community of more than 200,000 librarians and educators.