woman is not a completed reality, but rather a becoming, and it is in her becoming that … her possibilities should be defined”
– Simone de Beauvoir
About a year ago I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t exactly planned, but it wasn’t a total surprise either. My husband and I had talked about having kids many times in our fifteen years together, but with our nomadic ways and our epic self-absorption, we found it hard to take the plunge. At the beginning of 2014 we sort of (probably drunkenly) agreed we would roll the dice and not try to prevent it anymore. We continued our lifestyle, ignoring the possibility that I might eventually become pregnant, totally unaware of the turn our lives were about to take.
That positive pregnancy test was a shock to my system. Suddenly I felt totally unprepared for what I had just gotten myself into. The fear and weight of the responsibility settled immediately over me, took over my entire being. At the time I had no real idea of how vulnerable and constantly concerned I would feel once my son came into the world, but I knew it was going to be tremendous and that it would change me, and the fear of that change was palpable.
On top of constantly worrying that I was doing something that would harm my baby (the amount of googling that took place in those pregnancy months was impressive) and being concerned that all fun and adventure were gone from my life forever, I was also worried what becoming a mother would do to my creativity and my ability to write. In her book, Black Milk: On the Conflicting Demands of Writing, Creativity, and Motherhood, author Elif Shafak wrote about her own struggle between being a writer and being a mother.
My vocation as a novelist thrives upon solitude. In almost all areas of art one has to work with other people during the creative process… But not fiction writers. For weeks, months and sometimes years on end, we retreat into the novels we write; we stay inside that imaginary cocoon surrounded by imaginary characters, writing destinies, thinking we are God… Self-absorption and an inflated ego are the two most harmful side effects of our profession.”
Would I still be able to write, to create, once I became a mother? Or would I have to let go of that self-absorption and inflated ego so necessary to this work in the process of becoming a mother?
This pull between the needs of creativity and the demands of parenthood has long been a popular topic with writers. Recently, Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings highlighted a book dedicated to the subject. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum gets to the heart of what many writers feel about the decision to have kids or not.
No young woman aspiring to a literary career could ignore the fact that the women writers of highest achievement, women like Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, did not have children… Doris Lessing declared herself “not the best person” to raise the two young children she left behind when she moved from southern Africa to London to pursue her career. Why? “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children.”
– Sigrid Nunez
As evidenced by my total lack of posting or social media interaction over the last year, pregnancy obviously did have a profound effect on my writing. I found it difficult to know what to say. Suddenly I was thinking in terms of being a mother rather than simply being myself. What would my child think of what I was writing? How would my decision to publish one thing over another effect him or her in the future? Once my son was born, it became a problem of finding the time as much as anything else, and of not feeling guilty for spending that time with a pen instead of him. It was overwhelming to the point that I quit writing all together. But the urge never left me. In fact, having my son made me want to write even more, to capture all the new thoughts and emotions that have flooded into my life.
Now, with a beautiful seven week old boy sleeping peacefully beside me, I have finally found my voice again. But I find it has changed. I’m no longer the person I was before, but I’m okay with that.
Is being both mother and writer going to be a challenge? Of course. But now that I’m here, now that I can call myself both mother and writer, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This baby has given me new eyes with which to see the world and I’m happy for the change. I’m looking forward to exploring both my inner and outer worlds from this new vantage point.
I’m looking forward to a continued becoming.