Emma Donoghue: ‘I’ve been very out from the start – it’s let me contribute to the cultural visibility of women who love women’

The author of Room talks to Charlotte Cripps about childbirth, sperm donors, pandemics and her latest novel ‘The Pull of the Stars’

Monday 20 July 2020 06:32
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Emma Donoghue has drawn on her own experience of childbirth in her latest work
Emma Donoghue has drawn on her own experience of childbirth in her latest work

Emma Donoghue never believed she’d be a mother. “When I was growing up in Dublin, I thought that because I was gay and choosing to follow my heart, I clearly wouldn’t be having kids,” says the Irish-Canadian writer, who is best known for her 2010 literary hit Room. “I just felt, ‘Oh it’s two different tracks.’”

It wasn’t. Donoghue has two children now – 16-year-old Finn and 13-year-old Una – with her partner Christine Roulston. Both were conceived using an anonymous sperm donor. “In my experience, when you have a slightly unusual family story to tell the kids, if you just get in there early enough, they don’t raise an eyebrow,” says the 50-year-old, speaking cheerily over Zoom – her flame-coloured hair no less striking over webcam – from her home in Ontario, Canada. “If you told kids that you had flown to Mars and brought them back, they wouldn’t mind, as long as you were happy about it.”

But childbirth wasn’t easy. After the birth of Finn, Donoghue suffered a potentially life-threatening complication. “Like many women, I had just one thing go wrong: my placenta wouldn’t come out,” she says. “So a doctor rushed in and literally with bare hands got it out of me. It was all over 15 minutes later, and afterwards I realised, ‘Oh my god, that’s the sort of thing that kills mothers if they are in situations where there isn’t a good healthcare system.’”

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