We did end up addicted to the hideous swing, and we still call the video monitor “the show” and watch it obsessively. And we lucked out with the birth, which took place in our bed just like it does on Call The Midwife. Overall, the initial outlay associated with the new roommate who lives with us rent-free was much less appalling than I’d thought it might be, especially because our generous friends and relatives gave us a lot of the big-ticket items as gifts and hand-me-downs. But while we didn’t end up ruined by the immediate expense of diapers and burp cloths, I vastly underestimated what becoming a mother would do to something I’d taken for granted: the ability to turn my thoughts into words, and to turn those words into a livelihood.
Nine months in, I'm only just now realizing the many ways I set myself up to fail.
Before I start describing the pitfalls I encountered when trying to combine the kind of work I’m best at with the exalted, but financially unrewarding, work of taking care of a baby, I have to say up front that I know I’m fortunate to have choices that many women don’t. I’m incredibly lucky to have a freelancer’s somewhat flexible schedule and workload, to have a supportive partner who can also move his schedule around to accommodate mine, and to have found a babysitting arrangement we can afford that allows us both to work and to spend time with our baby. In a country where the law doesn’t protect women who are still, in my friend Lydia’s memorable words, bleeding into the giant maxi pads that you have to wear for a month postpartum, I feel bad complaining at all. But.
If, after a few months of paid or unpaid leave, I’d gone back to work at a full-time job — and by “a full-time job” I mean the kinds of jobs I’ve actually held, at media organizations or publishing-adjacent startups, not in an ER or a five-star restaurant — I probably could have gotten away with phoning it in slightly. As long as I was physically at my desk and responding to emails and performing my duties with baseline competence, no one would have noticed that I wasn’t giving 100%. Writing doesn’t work like that. If you haven’t slept, or if your mind is irretrievably elsewhere, you’re pretty much just screwed.
While I got back to some forms of work — answering emails, editing, maintaining the status quo — within weeks of Raffi’s birth, it has taken me so much longer than I’d expected to begin having worthwhile thoughts and ideas again. Back when I had the luxury of entire uninterrupted work days, I never realized that it takes a lot of non-writing time to be able to generate thoughts that are useful during writing time. It recently took me three months to get through two drafts of a long book review, which in prepartum life might have taken a couple of weeks.
And though lots of people have told me anecdotes about the brilliant women writers who’ve cranked out drafts of their novels while their infants napped, I did not find myself to be one of those women. Instead, I threw out 30,000 words of a draft I wrote at top speed when I was pregnant and worried I wouldn’t be able to focus once the baby came. It turns out panic mode is not, for me, conducive to my best work either.
it has taken me so much longer than I’d expected to begin having worthwhile thoughts and ideas again.
I don’t regret my choice to breastfeed, but I often feel that I didn’t have enough information when I made it. I even thought of it as a way to save money; breast milk, after all, is free, and formula is very expensive. But besides the indignity and inconvenience of having a plastic device suckle at my teat, often in a public bathroom, there’s the fact that my boobs’ schedule often interrupts my brain’s. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been just getting into a groove, thoughts flowing and typing fingers flying, only to be interrupted by the unignorable ache that means I’m going to have to spend the next 15 minutes hoping that whoever is in the stall beside mine isn’t too creeped out by the mysterious rhythmic suction happening next door. The costs of those lost moments are hard to quantify, as are all the costs I’m mentioning here. But that doesn’t mean they’re not real, or not important.
I don’t regret my choice to breastfeed, but I often feel that I didn’t have enough information when I made it.
I still hope for the best with my writing; I’ve surprised myself before, and maybe I will again. If I don’t get back on track, I’ll give up and work in some other way, because of course I will. I’ll do whatever it takes to help my family. On my best days, I manage successfully to trick myself into believing that the sacrifices I’ve made — and the ones I’ve been lucky, so far, to avoid having to make — will add up to something I can’t assess or foresee right now. Being around my son, having so much of my brain taken up by thoughts of him every day, isn’t making me richer, except that it is, in ways that money can never match. But money, not love, is what makes the world go round.