Charlene Carr’s Hold My Girl is a gripping novel about motherhood and race that was inspired by her own complex story of infertility and in vitro fertilization.
“I’m a mixed-race Black woman, and when my daughter was born via in vitro fertilization she emerged visibly white, with almost no features that matched my own,” shares Carr, who received countless remarks about how her baby looked like her husband, but never like her. “I started to wonder if there could have been a switch at the fertility clinic. My biggest fear was not that we may not share DNA, but that if we didn’t, there may be some other woman out there who would one day stake a claim on her.”
By the time her baby was one, those fears alleviated, especially when Carr’s daughter began to grow hair just like her and develop similar features, but it was that initial questioning that became the premise of Hold My Girl. Doubt and uncertainty are major themes in the book. “There’s been no other time in history when mothers have had so much information at their fingertips—from books, to blogs, to podcasts, to social media ‘Mom groups’, and the endless stream of posts displaying how to ‘Mom’ and the best ways to ‘Mom’ and that imply other people are ‘Momming’ seemingly better than you. It’s a lot. Everywhere we turn, some professional or layperson seems to be talking about the best way to parent, and there’s value in that, of course, but it also creates a lot of pressure, a lot of guilt, and I think, too often, the sense that we’re failing in some way as mothers.”
For Carr, writing Hold My Girl allowed her to examine the multitude of pressures women face in motherhood, and also question how we mother. The book also helped her heal. “I wrote this novel during three rounds of fertility treatment for frozen embryo transfers, three pregnancies, and three losses. It reinforced the life lesson that if you want something but don’t know how to get it, you need to believe it’s possible, then step beyond your limited views to figure out how to get it.”
A deeply emotional page-turner, Hold My Girl dares to explore the most challenging parts of motherhood with compassion and depth. Hold My Girl is Carr’s 10th novel and we are honoured to be able to share an excerpt with you.
She couldn’t think about the voicemail. Katherine inhaled sharply. The muscles in her neck clenched. She took another deep breath, willing herself to relax. She wouldn’t think about it. Not today. Instead, she thought of Patrick. Patrick, who managed to get to work on time, who kept perfect records for his clients, who never forgot a friend’s birthday but could not, no matter how much she emphasized the importance of it, put the keys in the bowl by the front door.
They needed a second set. They’d had a second set, of course, but Patrick had lost it.
Katherine wrenched the couch cushions to the floor and swiped her hand along the crevice. This was exactly why it did matter to vacuum everywhere, despite Patrick, and her mother, calling it anal. No nasty crumbs or sticky residue were on her hands.
Also, no keys.
Katherine stood, exhaled, and replaced the cushions, pushing them tight, so the edges lay flush. She propped her hands on her hips and surveyed the room. This exquisite room in this stunning house Patrick had provided for her.
She hadn’t worked full-time in over two years, and he’d been fine with it. Better than fine. She hadn’t worked at all since Rose was born—almost a year now of putting her interior design business on hold. When she’d brought it up, asked if he thought it was time to start working again, Patrick, with his kind eyes, told her she worked plenty. She took care of him, Rose, the house. It was enough. So maybe Patrick forgetting to put the keys in a practical place
wasn’t such a big deal. Maybe she should stop mentally lecturing him, preparing the argument—sharp enough to make an impression, but not so sharp to create an uncomfortable distance between them—for when he came home that night.
But he was making her late, and Katherine Matheson was never late.
“Just a minute, sweetie.”
Katherine scanned the living room again. Everything was where it should be, as it always was. She walked through to the kitchen. Scanned. Everything, here too, was where it should be . . . which was Patrick’s argument. Everything was always where it should be, so how hard would it be to see the keys if he left them on the counter, or the coffee table, or his dresser? She’d find them.
Katherine clenched her jaw, fighting not to let frustration get the best of her. She’d told Saadia she’d be at the party fifteen minutes early to help set up, which was five minutes ago. And now, if she wasn’t in the car in precisely four minutes, she’d be late for the start, even if she
caught every green light. Which meant she was already late, because how likely was that?
Katherine picked up her phone and clicked on Patrick’s picture. She paused. If she talked to him, asked where the keys were, he’d ask how her day was going, and what would she say? She’d received a phone call from the fertility clinic. A strange message, “a rather serious issue
regarding your IVF procedure,” and she hadn’t called back. Telling him would put voice to the fear she’d lived with for almost a year—that Rose wasn’t hers. Katherine was light-skinned for a Black woman, even a mixed-race one, but Rose, as a newborn, was so white she made Patrick’s cream-coloured skin look tan. Her hair was fine and straight and almost blond. Her eyes a bluish-green, which was possible. Patrick had blue eyes, and Katherine’s aunt on her mother’s side had a hint of green.
They’d joked about it in the beginning, Katherine forcing a smile.
To her, it had never been a joke. Katherine closed her eyes, swallowed. The call, whatever the doctor had to say, would be nothing, of course. A formality. Maybe someone’s life was about to irrevocably change, but it wouldn’t be hers.
Katherine spun. A laugh burst out at the sight of her baby on the floor, the little miracle she’d nearly given up hope of having. Rose’s sweet chubby legs splayed in front of her, a grin on her face, and the keys held high in her hand, shaking them like a rattle. “You little scamp!” Katherine dropped the phone in her bag, then stepped toward her daughter. She scooped Rose and the keys into her arms and smothered the girl with kisses, her stress easing at the sound of Rose’s laughter. She wouldn’t be early, but if she were lucky, she wouldn’t be drastically late. Katherine pulled into the last spot at Natural Ways Wellness Centre, the site of her first job when she’d branched out on her own, starting KM Interior Designs. Ten minutes late. It was fine. The five red lights and construction holdup weren’t the end of the world. Still, she’d wanted to be early. Saadia was Katherine’s most loyal client. Each time Saadia expanded to another section of the building, growing the centre from a two-room fertility-focused naturopathy operation to one that could accommodate a second acupuncturist, an osteopath, two massage therapists, and a pelvic floor physiotherapist, she’d called Katherine for the redesign, and Katherine had come.
Today was a chance for Saadia to celebrate ten years in business, to show the world, and her family, all she’d accomplished. The media would be there.
Past and potential clients would be there. Saadia’s father, who’d written Saadia off as nothing more than a snake-oil salesman, would be there.
Although her demeanour and outlook on life was a little more New Age than Katherine expected of a serious business person, Saadia Medina was exceptional at her job. Katherine, who not too long ago would have nodded her head along with Mr. Medina’s dismissal of a career in holistic health, was now a believer. After charting her basal body temperature, tracking her cervical mucous, multiple IUIs, and two rounds of IVF, with all the accompanying drugs and injections, it wasn’t until Katherine finally stopped interacting with Saadia only as
her client and became her patient that, on her third round of IVF, she’d gotten pregnant with Rose.
So, for Saadia, Katherine wanted this day to be perfect. She sighed as she turned off the car and unbuckled her seatbelt. Even if the day wasn’t perfect, it’d be perfect enough. Those words were Patrick’s, a phrase he hauled out when overwhelm flooded Katherine—fear that something
would not go exactly as she’d planned. A phrase Saadia would echo. Katherine glanced into the rear-view mirror, adjusting her curls and checking for any smudges of mascara, then stepped out of the car. She lowered her shoulders, relaxed her jaw. A smile played across her lips as
she unfastened Rose’s car seat, took in her girl’s pink cheeks and bright eyes. Saadia wouldn’t be stressed. The most easygoing person Katherine knew wouldn’t be worried or annoyed either.
She’d laugh about Patrick forgetting to put the keys in the bowl, yet again, place her hand on
Katherine’s arm, and say, with that calming voice and smile, “Katherine, he’s not you.”
Katherine pulled Rose into her arms and turned toward the centre, determined to have a good time . . . if only she could stop thinking about that voicemail.
Excerpt from Hold My Girl by Charlene Carr ©2023. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.