I’m 37 weeks pregnant, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this subject. How will being a mom affect my writing? I know I will have way less time and will need to learn to maximize free moments even more than I do now. But, beyond schedule and logistics, will the stories I’m drawn to change? Will the kinds of characters I write change? I’m really excited to find out.
A week ago, The Atlantic published an article on the topic of motherhood and creativity, saying, “Cultural messages tell women that making art and having children are incompatible pursuits. But science suggests that women may become more creative after having kids.”
The article starts by talking about new-mom rats, whose behavior changes dramatically as they adjust to their new roles:
“Even as her offspring grow and learn to fend for themselves, the neurological changes of motherhood persist. She will experience less memory decline in old age, and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes. She is more efficient, making fewer errors. She finds new and unusual ways to get tasks done—problem-solving approaches she had not considered before giving birth.”
It seems to be true that “whether rodent or human, a mother’s brain requires cognitive, emotional, and behavioral flexibility.” That type of thinking outside the box is the very definition of creativity.
Before my sister had kids, she was known for what my mom calls “piddling away a day.” She wasn’t very organized. She moved through life somewhat slowly. Then she became a mom–three times over. Now, she is a multitasking champion. She runs a thriving business while raising her boys and scheduling photography sessions in her “free time.” She doesn’t “do it all” perfectly, but I can say that being a mom has made her the best version of herself. And she is infinitely more creative and driven as a mom.
Anna Abraham, a professor who studies the neuroscience of creativity, says, “Being a mother gives you a different perspective. You’re dealing with a wholly novel situation. You’re discovering a side of yourself that is completely new. All of this could be useful to creativity–which is about novelty.”
I know this: I’ve written quite a bit during my pregnancy, despite the queasiness and fatigue. And, while I’ve had moments of mental fogginess (“pregnancy brain”) over the past several months, I’ve also had moments of feeling weirdly on top of it. I feel like I’m mentally preparing for what’s ahead, organizing and nesting and all that good stuff. I feel more “on,” more driven. But what will happen when the baby is actually here?
In one of my baby prep classes, the instructor showed us illustrations of a mother’s brain before having a child, and then after. Predictably, once becoming a mom, a large chunk of space previously dedicated to other things becomes totally occupied with the baby. This makes sense. It’s nature’s way of ensuring the baby thrives. But, I have to believe that, over time, the mom thrives too (as evidenced by women like my sister).
Artist Hein Koh says, “I always have a million ideas I’m thinking about, and when I’m with my kids, a moment of inspiration will strike, and I will file it away.” When she gets to her studio, she says, “I feel like I can’t get my ideas out fast enough. Sometimes it causes me pain to leave. At the same time, I love going home to my family, switching gears and going into mom mode–it helps normalize me.”
I’ve found that, in general, I do my best writing when I’m busy. The shifting of gears between different priorities keeps the neurons firing. Plus, when I’m tending to other things, my subconscious can get to work on a plot or character problem. It’s always a good thing when I have to abandon a writing project to do something else because I come back to the writing project excited (and often with solutions to those plot and character problems). Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
There will never be enough time to do all the writing I want to do. That’s the reality now, and I assume that feeling will intensify when the baby is here. But, I think writing will be sweeter in a way when I have less time for it. I will feel more of the urgency that Koh describes, more of that need to create that can sometimes fade when I get too up in my head about it, overanalyzing it until it feels more like an obligation than a joy. I won’t have time to get up in my head about it. In those rare free moments, I’ll only have time to do, to write.
If you are a mom and a writer, what are your thoughts?