(Image Source: Bethia Santi Bridges)
In celebration of mother’s day, I wanted to open up a conversation about creativity and motherhood – the highs, lows and the in-between. Here's my story.
I have always considered myself a creative. That’s just how my brain works. I’m naturally quite introverted and liked the way I could become lost in art. Before having children I would happily sit for hours listening to Spotify playlists, intensely focused on drawing, painting or some other method of making. I wouldn’t take breaks and I’d stay up until the early hours drawing whatever came into my head, for as long as I wanted. When I worked in a pub, I’d draw on the blackboards and order pads, and after a late shift, I’d go home and draw. Anyone that’s worked in hospitality knows how hard it is to sleep with the fast paced memories of the previous 8 hours, listening to the same songs on repeat, counting money and pouring endless pints of beer. I probably seemed a bit weird to my colleagues who used to spent a lot of their free time drinking (don’t get me wrong, I love alcohol), but I would always need time to recharge. Creativity enabled me to do this, forcing my concentration away from people, time and life’s responsibilities.
Creativity made me feel successful – the jobs that earned me money didn’t. I wasn’t interested in working my way up in another industry, I just wanted to be left alone to make things!
Fast forward to now… I became a mother just over two years ago and have a toddler and a nearly 7 month old baby. I hadn’t really thought about the impact that the motherhood role would have on creativity, I guess you don’t really think about how motherhood will affect many things until it happens! When I was pregnant, I was so consumed with the excitement and unknown of having a baby, I didn’t feel like I had enough headspace to make anything at all. Then our daughter Soraya arrived and if I said it was a culture shock, that would be an understatement.
Recovering from an unexpected C-Section, breastfeeding and all the other trauma (& joy!) that having a baby can bring, I couldn’t believe what I had made and naturally invested all my time into being a mum. This was all I could do at the time because as all first time mums know, it’s a case of survival, winging it and being fully invested in the baby bubble. I craved time on my own, but when I got that time it never felt like enough to be creative because I was sleep deprived and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I was needed again. Before children no one needed me, so I had the freedom to spend as much time as I wanted on anything. That disruption was difficult to adjust to, and very much still is. Obviously children have to be the priority, and everything else has to come second. The music you used to listen to is replaced by endless nursery rhymes that seem to play in a continuous loop in your mind and everything takes three times as long with extra humans to look after. But when you have a creative brain, it doesn’t switch off – for me it didn’t anyway. My brain was constantly ticking and finding inspiration in everything, but I found it hard to find enough time to do anything about it.
I started working freelance again when Soraya was 4 months old where I ran family art workshops at a local gallery. My husband would meet me when I had finished so that I could feed Soraya in the carpark. I found it quite difficult being away from her (it felt a bit like I’d left my arm at home) but I enjoyed working with families and having a bit of a creative outlet for myself. When Soraya was around 6 months old I went back to University to finish my Interior Design/Illustration Master’s Degree. Juggling two part time jobs, an MA and a baby was a challenge but I had always been a busy person and was determined to work hard. I almost needed the pressure of education to force me out of parent mode and back into creative mode!
In January 2020, a couple of months before the pandemic went viral, I found out I was pregnant with Torin. So now I had two part time jobs, an MA, a 9 month old and a surprise pregnancy, which was daunting to say the least! Unfortunately I suffered with severe pregnancy related sciatica and had to call in sick one Saturday to my freelance workshop job. A few days later I received an email letting me know they were terminating my contract due to me not attending unpaid evening events which was apparently ‘understandable given my family commitments’ but nevertheless, after two years of consistent, reliable service, that was the end of my contract via email. I was hurt and frustrated to have had my family commitments being used against me as an excuse. I felt embarrassed and confused and pretty speechless! I was especially uncomfortable knowing that my male colleague wasn’t treated in the same way for calling in sick or not attending any of the same unpaid events because he too had a young family. It’s just unbelievable treatment from a company that prides itself on inclusivity and supporting families and artists.
I’m not one to dwell on negativity, but that was the first time I had felt like someone had really used motherhood against me (in addition to a few other thoughtless comments) and it completely destroyed my creative confidence for a really long time. That pain eventually turned into a fire that I was determined to grow something from. I found my focus with my MA after months of procrastinating and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, I spent time in nature, I juggled a baby and a pregnancy until I ended up bed bound and unable to walk for 3 months (thanks pelvis!).
That whole experience was terrible, but I felt it important to share as it made me realise that I would never let someone make me feel that motherhood is a disadvantage to me again. I succeeded in finishing my MA while recovering from a second emergency C Section, with a baby in the Neonatal Unit and a toddler jumping dangerously off any piece of furniture she could climb on (forever grateful to my tireless husband Jordan for taking care of us all)! It made me think about how I could do things differently than that organisation; how I wanted to make sure I never made anyone feel the way that I had felt, how I wanted to make parents and children and anyone else feel valued and able to find their creativity, how I wanted to genuinely champion artists, build creative confidence in all ages and use the benefits of nature as a focus for this. And then, after many deep conversations with my husband, and miles of walking as a family, Wild City Portsmouth was created!
Today, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – because everyone knows that trying to balance anything with parenting young children is really just a case of seeing how far you can stretch, with a pint of coffee and a sprinkling of mum guilt. The mum guilt of trying to carve any time for yourself because you always feel like everything else needs doing first before you remember that sometimes, you need things too. However, weirdly, I’m finding it easier to allow myself time for my creativity now I have two children (the desperate need for personal space probably helps). It is still frustrating when you get an idea that you don’t have time to bring to life, which all end up being added to the long list of sad iPhone notes labelled ‘ideas for another day’. But in the meantime, taking the time to express your creativity whenever you can, and absorbing inspiration from children’s books, conversations, poster paint, sticks and nature walks will have to do!
From research and personal experience I have noticed that being a mother is often seen as a weakness in women - something that people associate with being unreliable and over emotional, when it should be seen as a strength. Women are made to feel guilty for having to prioritise their role as a mother, when in fact they should be recognised for demonstrating resilience, commitment, multi-tasking, working under pressure, empathy, compassion and a lonnnnng list of other credible attributes*. Parenthood can easily become all consuming but I've realised how important it is to focus on the parts of your identity that makes you feel proud and successful as a person. For me, that means finding the balance between creativity and motherhood - my biggest achievement.
*This post is about motherhood, but it's important to clarify that all women, whether they have children or not should be appreciated and recognised for their own unique attributes, and have more than likely experienced discrimination of some kind.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers! I hope you've enjoyed my reflective ramble. I’m interested to hear about your experiences with creativity and motherhood and how you feel it has affected you. Do you find it hard to focus? Or easy? How do you find time for yourself? Something that I found interesting was this Ted Talk by ‘Workin’ Moms’ tv show creator Catherine Reitman. It’s a start in understanding creative confidence, self-belief, failure, and the way that mums can be viewed in creative industries: