Emily Giffin’s Baby Proof presents an unusual side of having the right to choose, namely the right to choose not to have children. In this novel, readers get a peek into how the decision not to have children affects a marriage.
Claudia Parr has never wanted children, as she tells readers in the opening to Baby Proof:
“I never wanted to be a mother. Even when I was a little girl, playing dolls with my two sisters. I assumed the role of good Aunt Claudia. I would bathe and diaper and cradle their plastic babies and thebe on my way to more exciting pursuits in the back yard or basement.”
In her late twenties, Claudia meets Ben, a man who shares so many of her views, and perhaps most importantly, does not want to have children. The couple pushes off the inevitable questions about impending parenthood, enjoying the freedom that comes with a “childfree” lifestyle. Claudia never questions her choices.
But Ben does.
Two years into their marriage, as their friends marry and have children, Ben begins to pepper his wife with comments about what their lives would be like if they did have a child. These comments cause fights and arguments until, finally, Claudia leaves.
While Claudia lays out some of her reasons for not wanting a baby, (for example, her career, her desire not to be pregnant) it feels like she holds back, or even protests too much to be genuinely believed.
At her niece’s sixth birthday, Claudia makes an observation that sums up one of the best reasons for not having a child: Children can be the ultimate accessory. When children are viewed as accessories, how healthy is that for them?
“What strikes me most on this day is that Zoe and her friends seem to be on display as the ultimate accessories, coordinated with their siblings and, in one painful case, their same-gender parent.”
While she hasn’t shouted it from the rooftops, public acknowledgement of Claudia and Ben’s divorce comes as Zoe reads a card, signed only with Claudia’s name. This sets off family questions and concerns, which Claudia seems to handle well.
Unexpected contact with Ben after the divorce is final makes Claudia think - and think way too much, doing what some may call stupid things. “It was bad enough that I Googled his (girl) friend.”
Claudia uses humor to deflect serious feeling she’s not comfortable with, and Giffin’s writing flows so well that at no time does it seem awkward.
Following the meeting with Ben, Claudia begins her first post-divorce relationship, with Richard Margo, the head of publicity at the book publishing company where she works. As a reader, this raises all sorts of red flags, but the e-mail banter back and forth between Richard and Claudia is laugh-out-loud funny.
Claudia and Richard get to know each other, and thing seem serious when they take a trip to the Villa d’Este, a place she has always wanted to go, and planned to go see with Ben. Things are wonderful until Claudia suddenly realizes it’s just not going to work between them.
Throughout the novel, Claudia interacts with her sister, Daphne, who has been trying to have a child and finds out that she cannot. When Daphne learns this, she asks Claudia to make a decision that challenges Claudia to the max, inspiring deep consideration of her reasons for not wanting a child.
With this relationship over, she flounders but throws herself into her work, trying to forget her ex-husband and ignore the feelings she has always had for him.
Readers will love meeting Claudia Parr and learning what makes her tick.
Giffin is also the author of two other novels, Something Borrowed and Something Blue.