Motherhood Murdered My Creative Mojo

While most mothers, myself included, love our children and cherish our role as parents, many will also tell anyone who’ll listen how merciless motherhood can be. Some mothers will TMI you to death about the various body parts that will never return to their original size, shape, or functionality. Plenty will admit that nearly three years after giving birth, the hormonal and emotional changes still leave them bawling like a newborn with colic at the mere mention of a Hallmark movie. Nearly all can espouse to the damage years of sleep deprivation can do to one’s memory, patience, and sanity.

Me? I’m here mourning the loss of my creative mojo.

Prior to getting pregnant I wrote. I wrote. A. Lot. Four novels and a novella in about six years, in addition to nearly weekly blogs. I would come home from work, run (or slowly plod) the same four miles of sidewalk every day, surrendering my thoughts to my characters and the fictional world in which they lived, then crash on my couch for marathon writing sessions that could last until two in the morning. Writing didn’t pay the bills, but it was more than a hobby or something I did. Writing was who I was.

Just after announcing on my blog that I had become pregnant, I was honored to be accepted into a writing conference for authors of children’s and young adult novels. I sat down with a real New York agent to conference about my newest book, and while she gave me feedback on my novel, what she was really interested in was my blog and my real-life situation of becoming a single mother by choice. I was encouraged by her excitement and interest. I thought maybe this was my ticket to breaking into the world of paid authorship. So after a few more rejection letters regarding my novel, I decided to focus my writing efforts on blogging about my experiences.

Throughout my pregnancy I kept up the blogging with some regularity. It wasn’t too hard. Blogs are usually short, and the time it took to write and post them was about as long as I wanted to spend on anything other than nesting and napping.

When my son arrived, even the blogging trickled down to nearly non-existent. If I wrote, it was heartfelt and impassioned, because I didn’t have the time or energy to write anything I didn’t feel needed to be shared with the world. But I didn’t write much. And I never wrote fiction, not just because I didn’t have time, I also never had ideas. It was as if the daily tasks of motherhood had sapped my ability to create.

I thought it would pass, this muddling of my creative mojo. I figured it was just a form of mommy brain, which turns out is more than a catchy excuse for forgetting your pump parts on the counter half a dozen times, and is actually scientifically proven changes to a woman’s brain during and after pregnancy. There’s no such proof that motherhood specifically kills creativity, but I suppose it makes sense that if certain parts of my brain changed and expanded, others had to make room.

About a year and a half into this single motherhood gig, I actually had a spark of creativity. A new idea for a novel began to burn in my writing soul, and for a few days, maybe even a week, I was convinced I could nourish it into a full-blown return of my creative self. I couldn’t. I don’t remember what suffocated that spark to keep it from becoming a flame. Perhaps one of us got sick, or my son had a few nights of interrupted sleep, or laundry piled up to the point I considered wearing underwear my post-pregnancy body had no business wearing. In other words, motherhood happened. And motherhood always trumps creative mojo.

But should it? Always? At what point does an artist or writer’s sense of self, their creative soul, need to not be ignored for fear of losing it altogether? If there is a point of no return, I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of it. If I wait until my son is older, my job is easier, my finances are more secure, my brain and body have recovered from these early years (or at least settled into a new normal), I’m not sure I’ll still have the writing skills or publishing knowledge I have now.

Most importantly, I worry my creativity will be so diminished there will be no hope in reviving it. I love being a mother, but I’m not ready to allow motherhood to murder my creative mojo.

To keep my creativity alive, I know I need to prioritize. I need to let go of my need for a clean, picked up house. Despite the mental escape of mindlessly skimming through social media at night, I also need to put away my phone and pick up my pen and notebook. More than any of these, though, I need to find a way to mentally reset, to learn to daydream again, to allow my mind to wander—and not to all the worries, tasks, and responsibilities of parenthood. That’s not easy anymore. What used to come naturally, will now take work. But I’m willing to put in that work.

So I will continue to read articles about my craft and to inspire myself by reading novels written by fiction writers who made motherhood, even single motherhood, and writing mesh. (J.K. Rowling, you are, as always, my hero.) I will keep plugging at the draft of my newest novel, even if the pages I write after an exhausting day of teaching and parenting are mostly crap. I will retrain my brain to let go, to wander, to create again.

Because while the pulse of my creativity is weak, it remains—a soft, steady reminder of that part of my soul whose voice will not be silenced—even if it is covered in snot and sleep deprived.

 

Photo credit: © Viktoriia Hnatiuk | Dreamstime.com

It’s the Little Things

In my previous post I shared that I haven’t found the single part of single parenting as trying as I (and others) might have expected. I was used to doing all the chores, paying all the bills, and asking for help when I hit upon something I couldn’t figure out myself. Okay, that part about asking for help was a lie, but I got much better about it during my pregnancy and the first few weeks after my c-section. The rest, though, was true. Most days I’m perfectly content washing all the bottles and dishes, so long as I also get the majority of the snuggles.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t nice to have help, though. Some help—the trip to get medicine for the baby in the middle of a snow storm when you’re sick yourself type of help—is certainly nice. It’s amazing actually, and it’s also necessary at times. But what about the kind of help you’d never ask for, the unnecessary help, help with the things you can do yourself, but every now and then just want to pawn off on someone else?

My parents moved closer when I made my decision to become a single mom. In fact, they now live a half mile up the street from me—most of the year. Like a lot of women, I relied heavily on them for the necessary help new moms, single or not, need those first few weeks and months. But even after that I took advantage of their eagerness to spend time with my guy so I could not only run errands solo or complete a project around the house (like showering), but also so I could occasionally get a pedicure with a friend or attend book club without the baby in tow.

I appreciated their help tremendously, and I knew I’d miss it when they returned to being snowbirds in sunny Florida. I even worried about whether I could really handle things without help, both the necessary and the nice, literally just around the corner. Both little man and I getting the flu a week after they left was definitely my first real test, but we survived with help from friends and family members and just by doing our best. Once we were both healthy, our days fell into a routine, and I discovered the things that needed to get done got done just fine.

Over February break I was lucky enough to travel with little man to visit my parents in Florida. I expected it to be fun—experiencing so many firsts with my son would be amazing (it was!). But I also knew relaxing vacations of baking in the sun and staying up to read until 2am (by choice) were likely over for a couple decades. I was okay with that (and my dermatologist was thrilled). Instead of loading my kindle and packing my aloe, I packed baby sunscreen and bubbles.

I wasn’t in the sunshine state 24 hours, though, when I realized I was more relaxed, and it wasn’t just the weather and lack of work. It was the little things. While my parents spoiled little man, I luxuriated in a long, hot shower (and even shaved my legs!) and didn’t worry about whether the baby would wake up or if he was safe while he played unsupervised as I tried to speed soap the necessary places. And after meals I didn’t have to make the decision between putting away food and doing the dishes or spending a few last minutes playing with him before bed. With three of us, there were plenty of volunteers to play, and enough of us left to make quick work of the cleaning. We even tag-teamed sleeping so that my mom and I got some after bedtime shopping in, and I got an hour of nap time tanning one day.

Except maybe the mother-daughter shopping spree (we had expiring coupons!), none of these little luxuries lasted long, but they still felt rejuvenating. It reminded me once again how fantastically supportive my parents are, but it also reminded me that treating myself to a little nice, but not necessary help, time, or support every now and then is good for the soul. And a happy momma = a happy home!

 

The Hardest Part of Being a Single Mom

When I first reached out to friends and family to tell them of my decision to become a single mother by choice, I expected people to tell me it would be hard, harder than I could imagine, maybe too hard to really want to do it on my own. And while I was lucky to receive tremendous support of my decision, a few friends and family members were honest enough to tell me this, not to scare me off, but to make sure I knew what I was getting into.

I appreciated the honesty, but I knew what I was getting into. (Go ahead, you can laugh at me now.)

I’d heard the stories of rough labors, seen my friends and family members’ struggles with nursing, tried to offer help and comfort when exhaustion, or illness, or the newest tough stage of development had worn them thin. I knew it was different standing on the outside, but I also felt their experiences had to have taught me something. Knowing there would be tough days, expecting them, had to be better than going into this single motherhood thing blind, right?

I won’t lie; I worried about those days before I got pregnant. I worried about them more once I was expecting and there was no turning back. I had moments of panic when I thought to myself, ‘What have I done?’ But then I’d feel a flutter or a kick, or hear the sweet sound of my baby’s heartbeat on a monitor, and I would remind myself there would be amazing moments, too. I reminded myself I wasn’t the first single parent. I had spoken with single moms I knew and others I met through my journey, and they all said the same thing: it’s worth it. And I felt that in my heart. I was meant to do this; that had to count for something. So I took a few deep breaths and went back to happily (and naively) waddling through my nine months.

When little man finally arrived on the scene, I realized…I had had no idea what I was getting into.

I didn’t know how hard it was to hear your baby cry and not know how to help. I didn’t know I could be so tired it hurt. I didn’t know how scared I could feel hearing doctors say something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t know how impossible it would be some days to juggle work and home.

Basically, I never loved someone so much that I wanted the world for him and would do anything, give anything to assure his safety and happiness. I had never been a mother.

There have been days in the last ten months that have been hard, harder than I imagined even after seeing others’ struggles, hard enough to bring me to tears. But I honestly don’t think those days would have been easier if I had a partner. I wouldn’t have worried less, slept sounder, or likely received any more support than I’ve gotten from my amazing network of family and friends. And I wouldn’t give them up for the world, because those hard moments make the amazing ones all that much more special.

So is being a single mother hard? Hell, yes! Because being a mother is hard. The single part isn’t too tricky. (I could give you pointers, but that’s another post.) I’ve been single all of my adult life. That’s about the only thing that didn’t change when I had a baby.

That’s not to say that being single won’t pose additional challenges as I parent in the future, but each type of family structure comes with its own challenges—and its own perks. For instance, I’d certainly love to have someone else to do bedtime or wash bottles occasionally, but, on the plus side, I’ll never feel resentful or argue with myself for leaving dishes in the sink or laundry on the floor. And luckily, I’ve got at least a couple years before I’ll be arguing with little man about those things!

 

Photo credit: Christine Passler