Writing Motherhood

baby 1

I’m a 36 year old, so far childless, woman. Most of my friends are already mothers. All of them tell me nothing on this earth compares to motherhood; once you become a mother, nothing else will ever be as important. Pre-motherhood, many of them used to complain about women who only talked about their children, like there was nothing more important, entertaining, or topical than their own spawn. These same friends now do exactly that. One of them openly recognises it and announces with a grin that she doesn’t care one bit, that nothing captivates her like her own son. But none of these women are writers.

I consider writing my profession, yet I earn no money from it, and perhaps never will. I’m not sure that anyone who works in a career that does pay money can understand what drives this sort of vocation. It takes up more of my waking (and oft times, sleeping) thoughts and daydreams than anything else in my life, including my soul mate and my desire to have a baby. And I can’t imagine this changing. But apparently it will. And honestly, I’m not doubting for one minute the all-consuming experience of motherhood. But nor can I doubt what my writing means to me, the place it has in my life.

I’m sure the two will just fit together, like siblings who fight for their parents’ affections, but love each other and live together in a manner unlike any other relationship on earth. But how? How will this coming together occur, this dance  that starts off shaky and unsure and ends up with a unique rhythm all of its own? How much help will it need from me? Will it just happen on its own?

One of the writers doing a Fellowship when I was doing my residency at Varuna told me that before her son was born she’d been commissioned to do a children’s book, but her son came early, so she used one hand to breastfeed and the other hand to type the book. She wrote it in six weeks.

This story fills me with hope. It makes me smile, this tenacity that writers have. This abilty to push on in the face of ridiculous odds. Whomever it was who said we’re a sensitive bunch got that wrong, didn’t they?

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29 Comments

Filed under Family, Fiction, Humour, Inspirational, Love, Motherhood, My Book, Poetry, Reading, Short Stories, Women/Feminist, Writing

29 responses to “Writing Motherhood

  1. Simmone, I’m sure you’ve already caught Rachel Power’s book? full of stories about balancing the yarts and the babies, honest and wartsy. It’s a must-read.
    Her blog is fabulous too.
    http://rachel-power.blogspot.com/

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  2. Hi Simonne, great post.

    I am not one of those for whom motherhood and writing just clicked, though I have performed with a baby on my hip, read with a toddler clutching my legs and wrote my first novel over three years of naptimes. The pull between my two greatest creative outputs is constant and trying. I have a three 1/2 year old. My heart broke when, at two years old, on my way out to a gig he said “I don’t want you to go out and do your poetry any more. It makes me sad. Why can’t you just stay here tonight and be my mum?”

    On the other hand, motherhood has made me a better writer, and being a writer has made me a better mother. Before my son was born I rarely read my work in public. After the birth I thought. Can I go on stage? I suppose I did give birth. It couldn’t possibly be more difficult than that. Now it’s my regular gig.

    My mother was a fantastic actress, who gave up her (professional acting) career to raise three children and is only now back treading the boards. Even as a child, I knew there was some kind of sad yearning in her from day to day – though I could never pinpoint what it was. It is this longing I hope my son will never have to sense.

    Yes, Tillie Olsen famously wrote with babies on her knee. Her output was also insanely small though, considering her brilliance.

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    • Maxine, thank you for such a considered and honest reply. It’s nice to hear that you think being a writer has made you a better mother. You hear the opposite all the time, so it’s very heartening to hear you say that. Can you tell us why?
      I resonate with what you’ve said about your own mother. My mother is very creative and such an altruist and she put too much on hold to be a mother – that sadness was a part of her – and I think the weight of missed opportunities weighs heavily on her still.

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  3. Hoa

    Hey Simonne
    Reflective post- and something that I have been thinking about too. My friends who are writers and have babies have managed output- but small amounts. I have come to terms with this thinking writing will last me a lifetime and so will a child- and like the others here I think a child will enhance the writing over time.
    Cheers Hoa

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    • Hi Hoa, yes I remember us chatting about this a little bit at Varuna. I agree wholeheartedly that being a mother will enhance the writing over time. I guess the output thing, as Maxine mentions in relation to Tillie Olsen, is one of the things I find daunting.

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  4. Hi Simonne,
    this is such an important subject you’ve touched on, and something that I think doesn’t get discussed often enough. We are led to believe that motherhood is always wonderful, that we will feel totally fulfilled, and that of course, we will find time to fulfill our creative needs as well. Sometimes I feel there is almost a conspiracy of silence, a refusal to admit that sometimes, perhaps most times, it doesn’t work like this at all. For me, and in talking to other artists who are mothers it seems I’m not alone, the struggle to balance motherhood and being an artist is constant and ongoing. Each pulls us so far in opposite directions that sometimes we feel we are being stretched so thin we might break. I don’t know what the answer is, I don’t think there is one. I love my children so fiercely, so completely, I would die for them, but I cannot give up my need to create for them, because that is a different kind of death, a slow and terrifying dissipation of who I truly am. I know that I will never be able to bring to fruition all the ideas that crowd in my head, I simply don’t have the time or the brain space…but I cannot regret having my girls either, they truly are the light of my life. It is a life of contradiction, of putting parts of me ‘on-hold’, while revelling in the joy of watching my children grow and learn. I simply stumble through as best I can, knowing I probably will never be a great artist or a great mother because my loyalties are divided, but hoping that perhaps I can be OK at both.

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    • Maybe you should get Rachel Power’s book too, Christina?
      I thought you of you actually, when I wrote this. I was sitting in front of the fire last night, half watching a movie, half daydreaming, and blogging at the same time, wondering about lazy weekends like this disappearing once I’m a mother. For some reason I thought of you in your gorgeous artist’s studio with the purple walls, surrounded by paintings and happy daughters and noise and dogs and a husband! Both pictures are equally appealing to me! I did wonder, though, if the visual artist requires as much silence as the writer (well, I do anyway)?

      Anyway! I see you as an artist and a mother who seems to be getting the balance right, so thank you so much for sharing your thoughts here. I admire you greatly, and I think you’re MUCH better than just OK at both by the way!

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      • Thanks Simonne. He he, yes, I had already checked out the link to Rachel’s blog and taken down the book details! Sometimes it does all fall into balance, but more often than not it doesn’t quite, though I agree as an artist silence is not as vital as it is for a writer. It’s one reason why I have put on hold any writing, though I used to love it. Not that I’m particularly good at it, but it was something I enjoyed that has had to fall by the wayside. Perhaps it will come later. That’s one of the problems, you have to choose sometimes, you can’t do ALL you want to do, so you have to pick one, and let other things go. But a certain amount of solitude is something I need/crave to mull over thoughts and work out ideas for paintings, and that’s a hard thing to come by in this modern world even without children (LOL, my girls have just come into the studio and are arguing loudly with each other!). Usually it’s chaos here, and sometimes it’s impossible to sit and paint with constant interruptions and questions. But then, every now and then, my kids give me the inspiration I need too, as on the day I was sitting upstairs in my studio in front of a blank canvas, moaning audibly that I couldn’t think where to start, and a little voice floated up from below and said “I don’t think Mummy, I just paint”! Pure gold!

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    • Dawn

      Christina you are so right. It was something I could never understand – this complete conspiracy of silence. No women ever told me how hard it was. None ever shared their fears and doubts and so I struggled and floundered and in my mind, failed horribly. Then I worried that I had turned my girls off marriage and motherhood but as it turned out I needn’t have worried as they both married relatively late and to the right people. There is a wonderful quote and when I unpack my books I shall dig it out and share it with you. I think you women today are much better at talking openly and honestly – I salute you!

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  5. Ah, Simonne, how funny that we were blogging simultaneously about different aspects of this challenge – I hear you loud and clear on this aspect of the conversation too. I am frankly terrified of the encroachment – necessary, unavoidable, permanent – on my writing life that having a child would bring. And yet I yearn. So I guess we see what happens, and look to people like those writers and artists who have responded here for their wisdom and example, and we strive to strike that balance in the same way we currently strive to write well. I don’t think anything worthwhile – creative expression, motherhood, personal fulfilment – ever stops requiring care.

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  6. Hi Simmone,

    I guess what I meant was that the attributes that I believe I have, and have honed over time as a writer: patience, analytical thinking, emotional availability, empathy, critical thinking, and in my case a desire to explore the greater political and emotional ties that both bind and divide us, are now second nature to me and so are naturally also applied in mothering.

    I mean: here we are, online, building a supportive community of like-minded people, sharing one of the most important things we all have: our love of words. Isn’t that what we do for our children, in so many ways?

    I think you will make a fantastic mother when the time comes, Simmone. Your consideration, understanding and also anxiety about how motherhood will fit in with your writing means that you will be able to have some of both worlds. And as much of a struggle as it is, it’s a truly worthwhile one.

    Thanks again for the post. I feel that this topic is very taboo and not nearly discussed often enough.

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    • Those attributes are so admirable Maxine and so clear in your writing, and I can imagine what a wonderful mother you are. Thank you for sharing this with us. And thank you for the wonderful compliment! It has been good to have this discussion. I really needed it!

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  7. I am expecting, well, my wife is at least. I worry about many things, one of which, is that I won’t have time to continue my goal of becoming a published author and also, there is the blog.

    I think though, that perhaps, having a child will open the door to a flood of new emotions and, if I am as good of a writer as I think I am, I will be able to articulate those new emotions onto the computer. As with anything else, a baby will give you more material. I think, I hope, the two will simply meld together.

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    • A man amongst us, how wonderful. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with us; it’s reassuring to see how similar they are. I hope the two meld together too!

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  8. There’s a great J. G. Ballard quote on this. In fact, why don’t I go find it? Back in a sec.

    Got it:

    ‘Cyril Connolly, the fifties critic and writer, said that the greatest enemy of creativity is the pram in the hall, but I think that was completely wrong. It was the enemy of a certain kind of dilettante life that he aspired to, the man of letters, but for the real novelist the pram in the hall is the greatest ally – it brings you up sharp and you realise what reality is all about. My children were a huge inspiration for me. Watching three young minds creating their separate worlds was a very enriching experience.’

    Ah. Now whenever I find myself gripped by the fear of what I may lose, I think about the potential ally in the hall.

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    • Ok, so crying now! I want that ally in the hall so much… It’s hard to even admit it sometimes, because, as Maxine said, just talking about a lot of this stuff is taboo.
      Thanks D.

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  9. My pleasure – I think that’s the sort of quote one remembers forever and so should be shared. And the more we talk and write about it, the less potent the taboo. All of this sort of discussion helps me at least enormously. Hang in there, honey!

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  10. More about that pram, here.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/feb/16/biography.jgballard

    His wife died, and he drank every morning after taking the children to school. By the time they were grown up he had pushed back the first drink to six pm. Certainly not your garden variety writer, but a very fine and inspiring person all the same.

    I know there were male (visual) artists who liked saying to women that they could not possibly create great art if they had children. I think that sits behind all our fears on the matter. It could really just be a pissing against the wall thing, and a lot of women are getting the help they need to perform these days. As it should be.
    It’s managing that divided sense of loyalty that’s the tough part – that’s what’s so brave about Rachel’s book, I think that may be what the real taboo is? just a thought.

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  11. oh silly old woolly sniffy brain I have today – division of loyalty being exactly what you are talking about in your post, of course.

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  12. I think too, that part of the problem is the perception, or perhaps more the stereotype, our society has of what an artist (of any discipline) is. For so long we have had the idea of the tortured, inspired, obsessed MALE artist who cannot think about something other than his art long enough to even cook himself a square meal. Of course, there was often some adoring female floating around in the background who poked food under his nose, washed his clothes, probably dealt with the creditors to keep them off his back, then got done like a roast in subsequent biographies about him for being controlling and manipulative! And so you used to (and occasionally still do) get idiotic comments about women being unable to be REAL artists because they’re too busy thinking about the kids. In a totally practical, time-management sense, yes, it’s a hard thing to juggle as we all agree. But the idea that women simply weren’t capable of ever achieving greatness because their place in life is to bring up children, still lingers I think, because we still have this romantic notion of the tortured genius, who gives HIS all to his art. Perhaps society still wants our artists to be loyal only to their art, so we create an artificial loyalty divide where there should be none. I’m following a train of thought here, so hope it’s not too muddled! I’m wondering if society nurtures this notion of the obsessed artist because our society doesn’t truly value the arts, therefore figures that the most obsessed will do it anyway, even with no support at all, so why support/pay for what you’ll get for free? And if some fall by the wayside (especially those like mothers) because their loyalties are ‘divided’ who cares, the arts aren’t that important anyway. Hmmm, I must be having a cynical day!

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  13. adairjones

    Simonne–This is an important post about a delicate issue. I’m coming from the opposite direction. I’m not an established writer wondering about fitting children into my career. My children have made me a writer, clear and simple. Watching the world through their eyes has remade me. It’ll be the same for you. All of a sudden there will be this startlingly new point of view and you will be intimately connected with it.

    Then again, I often say that I’ve never written a sentence I haven’t fought to write.

    Life ebbs and flows, expands and contracts. Sometimes we’re taking from the well; other times, we’re replenishing. Having children is a creative act. Every minute. Watching them, raising them, writing from the experience of knowing them are all part of the creative process.

    You’ll manage it beautifully: children and writing.
    They aren’t mutually exclusive.

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    • Oh Adair, thank you for this wonderful comment. How much better you make me feel 🙂 It’s so good to hear this perspective. Such a relief. If my future children make me half the writer you are I’ll be a happy Mum indeed.

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  14. I find that I have to restrict the amount of time and, yes, passion, I put into art and writing on account not only of being a mother but also just making a living. When I get into my projects, I am an obsessed woman, and I tend to hole up and not be there for my kids. So I set goals around my creative work, and I seek balance.

    I can see why many artists and writers have made their work their lives. It’s hard to have it all and give what each deserves.

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