So You’re an Artist and a Mother?

When I was pregnant with Butterbean in 2019, I read a lot of books, blog posts, and advice columns, as mothers-to-be do. But isn’t it funny that practically all parenting advice is completely focused on the baby? How to feed Baby, play with Baby, get Baby to sleep. Any advice given directly to the mother about the mother is only in relation to her basic physical needs: eat 6 small meals a day, sleep when the baby sleeps, pump milk first thing in the morning.

So when the baby actually came, I was prepared for how to take care of it. And I was prepared to keep myself alive as well. But I was not prepared for the life-changing identity shift that also occurred. I was not prepared for the profound changes that happened not just inside my body, but also inside my mind. Some major transformation was going on in me, far deeper than eating and sleeping schedules. Having a baby changed my entire inner experience.

And no one really tells you about that. Or maybe there’s just no way to prepare someone for that. Maybe it’s something you just have to experience and figure out for yourself.

Perhaps the most glaring way motherhood changes you is that you are now responsible for another living thing. But the stakes are much higher and much more emotionally charged than if you adopted a cat or a dog. You created this thing, you built it inside you, bone by bone. It is a part of you and utterly dependent on you.

And that responsibility alters your daily life. Whereas before you had seemingly endless hours to read, exercise, draw, write, cook, work, whatever—now you seemingly have none. Having a child forces you to reorganize how you spend your time and what you prioritize.

Pre-baby, my identity was completely wrapped up in being an artist. I’m one of those people that has an endless list of projects I want to create in my life. I have books I want to write, comic series I want to draw, classes I want to teach—I have enough ideas to last the rest of my life even without all the new ones that pop up every day. But now, with a child, those projects often feel either selfish or unattainable.

The life of an artist-mother is like that graphic design Venn diagram by Colin Harman where you can only choose two of the following: Fast, Cheap, and Great. As artists and mothers, we are constantly choosing between Creating, Cooking, Cleaning, and Making Money. And no matter which two you choose, it always feels like you should have chosen the other one.

(P.S. I am well aware that men/husbands/fathers also cook, clean, create, and make money, but I can only speak from my own experience as a mother. I also think that in the early newborn days, there is more dependency on the mother and that creates a different dynamic between baby and mom.)

That’s what it feels like to be unprepared for the inner changes motherhood instigates. It makes you feel overwhelmed if you don’t take time for yourself, and selfish if you do. It feels like you’ve lost a part of yourself that you’ll never get back. That you are now less yourself, as you’ve given all of yourself—physically and mentally—over to the baby.

But I realize now, 2 years later, that while it felt like my identity had been consumed, what was actually happening was quite different. My identity wasn’t dissolving, it was expanding.

And now that my baby has grown into a toddler, I’m realizing that I’ve grown too. When I thought I was shrinking, I was actually growing. When I thought I was becoming less myself, I was actually becoming more myself. When I thought I was losing time for my art, I was actually gaining a deep well of inspiration and experience to draw from. When I thought I wasn’t working enough, I was actually learning important lessons about what truly matters in life.

I wasn’t able to have this perspective until I accepted and submitted myself to the changes that motherhood demanded. For too long, I desperately held onto my old self. I was afraid of losing myself, my ambition, and my life. But once I gave in to the transformation and allowed myself to change, everything began to fall into place.

Becoming a mother broke my narrow 2-dimensional identity not into shattered pieces, but into a 3-dimensional multi-faceted surface. There’s not less of me now, there’s more.

And I’m getting better every day at balancing those different facets of myself—being both a mother and artist.

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