How a Writer Deals with Baby Brain
On motherhood and art
“Mothers are all slightly insane.”
― J. D. Salinger
I haven’t written a newsletter in about a month because every time I sit down to write one, all I can really think about is the baby.
I’ve heard of this happening to other female writers. They have a baby and their life is reduced to small fingers, small toes, diapers, bedtime routines. Before I got pregnant I was terrified of it happening to me. I didn’t want to lose my creativity. I didn’t want the grey matter in my brain to shrink into the shape of a small child, my own body broken apart until it became irreducible.
About a week before Samantha was born I picked up two books to try to prepare myself for motherhood as a writer. The first was Life Among The Savages by Shirley Jackson. It turned out to be a fluffy memoir about her life as a mother, with Hallmark pieces about shopping or giving birth, with scant information about how she also managed to write. The dark woman who’d written We Have Always Lived In The Castle had been nicely sublimated and locked away, replaced by this chirrupy wife full of syrup and witty, but not too cutting, observations.
The second book was The Baby On The Fire Escape by Julie Philipps. I couldn’t even finish it. The first chapter was about the artist Alice Neel. Her husband left her and kidnapped her daughter, leaving her with his relatives in another country. She had two sons later on with another man, but the daughter ended up committing suicide after Alice failed to recognize her at an art opening. The author tried to spin this as a revolutionary and courageous example of an artist who also tackled motherhood, but Alice instead came off as neglectful. Not exactly the role model I wanted.
So I ended up giving birth, without having a good blueprint of how I was supposed to be a writer and a mother. I only knew that I was going to make it work, and I wasn’t going to lose myself.
Losing is the wrong word.
Sometimes I have time to write, and I don’t, because I just want to hold Samantha and stare at her while she sleeps. I cradle her close as her tiny little fingers curl around me and I watch her tiny breath go in and out, a mystery being reshaped into skin.
I thought I’d be bored having a baby. I thought I would barely be able to wait until she was older. I don’t feel bored. I feel entranced with every moment, every curl, every sigh. Everytime she smiles the universe splits apart. My cells want to fold like origami.
When she cries so hard she’s inconsolable and my body is flooded with adrenaline, I’m riveted to the moment. I lay down in the soft silence that comes after, when I’ve finally rocked her to sleep and she’s still in my arms, and I know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.
I thought having a child would be the death of my old self. In a way, I was right. The first time I held my child a clear rift appeared in my life. No matter what happened I couldn’t go back to the way things used to be. I’d entered a new phase of adulthood.
But death is just another word for nothingness. It is a thing that no longer exists. And when your old self dies, all that you have left of it is the memory, and sometimes not even that.
I don’t miss my old self because it would be like missing the time before I existed. There is nothing there to miss.
The days that I used to sit in my dad’s office as a child scrolling through Paranormal Activities forums, playing with my Neopets, and drinking orange soda are over. So are the days when I used to live in a drug house and take turns throwing knives at the wall. Even the memory of those moments can only be seen through the filter of the present.
It’s silly to me now that I spent so many years worrying about being reduced to “mother.” Mother is just another word for god. It’s the split open lip from which the flowers and blood and milk of the world pour out. Being “mother” means that I get to see how cells divide, what chooses to create itself over and over again.
So I’m okay with writing a little less and with not being so productive. I’m okay with losing myself in her eyes and the whorls of her face.
When I look at Samantha I don’t just see her, I see me and her father, an unbroken chain to the beginning, the thing that holds the moon captive for the sea. I know that one day she’ll be too big for me to hold in my arms, and each moment I have to keep her safe and close to me is scored in such a brief period of time that it’ll be over far before I’m ready.
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