Amanda Palmer, multi-media artist extraordinaire (and, though I am loathe to fall into the old ‘identify the woman by her family’ trap, wife of Neil Gaiman) is pregnant. I happened across this article today, in which she defends herself from an eloquent yet, in my opinion, insufferably critical and nosey fan who is concerned essentially that Amanda’s standards are slipping, and will continue to slip when/because she has a baby. Amanda has some lovely things to say, and I think you should definitely take a couple of minutes to go read the article (link again), because this is an Important Issue.
What’s the issue? Fundamentally, a compartmentalisation of women’s roles, stemming, I think, from the fact that a woman’s contribute to the public sphere has been historically undervalued. Put simply, this issue is this: while it is never called into question that men balance fatherhood and careers on a daily basis (some better than others), women are constantly beleaguered with questions surrounding their ability to balance motherhood and a career. I’m too lazy to go look up links right now, but there are plenty of examples of female celebrities being asked this question in professional interviews, while their equally-famous husbands are quizzed simply about their jobs. I’d like to say that this goes double for artists of any kind, but let’s be honest: western media culture as a whole lacks competent role models who are both mothers and workers. Trying to figure out how to balance the two falls solely on our shoulders and, if we are fortunate enough to have personal role models, those around us.
Amanda notes in her article that she is terrified that becoming a mum will somehow vanquish her identity as an artist. This really resonated with me, because I had the exact same fear when I fell pregnant with my first child. Teaching, I knew, wasn’t optional: for us, me not working was never an option. But writing? Art? Writing was a hobby, a love, something I wanted to turn into a career but something that wasn’t really contributing to the family income. Would I have time to write? Would I even want to write? What kind of person would I become when I had a small person to depend upon me?
The answer, obviously, is that I would become the exact same kind of person I was before I had a small person depending on me, because becoming a parent doesn’t change your identity, it just throws another cap in the ring. Yes, becoming a parent has changed me profoundly in many ways–but it hasn’t changed me, if you understand the distinction. I’m still the same kind of person I was–just without a lot of excess flaff. As my husband once put it, having a baby is a great way to distill your life to its essence, to what’s really important and what’s not–because you don’t have time for what’s not.
And to my great pleasure, writing was one of the things that was really important. It took time, of course; I quit writing at one point because it had become yet another yardstick by which to measure my own failure. But before my son was a year old, the itch returned–and by the time he was two, I was writing my non-fiction book From The Ground Up (2016). Last year I wrote over 100,000 words. So far this year, I’ve written nearly 70,000 words of fiction. My best year ever was 200,000. Has having children slowed down my art? A little, yeah. But has it killed it? Hell no. And as the babies grow ever, onwards, older, they will need me in different ways that are somewhat less demanding on my sleep reserves and time, and late evenings (my peak writing time) will once again be mine. (In point of fact, my day job has interfered with my ability to write far more than having children, because in busy weeks I’m stuffed by the time the kids are in bed.)
Ladies? It is possible to both mum and art. You can be an arting mum, or a mumming artist. Having children will change you profoundly–but it only makes you more you. If being an artist is what you are, don’t fear. When the dust settles, when the sleepless nights are over, your identity remains. Art on, my lovely one. Art on.