by Monica Ripley
After struggling with infertility for five years, this last February I gave birth to my daughter, Isabella. She is beautiful and perfect and by far the greatest thing I have ever made. My days are now spent watching numerous smiles cross her lovely little face and noticing all the subtle differences taking place in both her body and mind. We play, dance, sing, feed, and sleep, and it is all wonderful and fulfilling.
After wanting to get to this point for so long, I thought I was prepared and I believe that for the most part I have been. I understand that the human body really doesn’t need 8 hours of sleep a night or 6 or even 5 hours which has led me to my newfound appreciation of naps, both the ones where I can finally get some basic housework done and the ones where I also get some sleep. I have read up on poop and was prepared to be excited by her first bowel movement (yah everything is working!) and to be pleasantly surprised that the smell is not nearly as bad as movies and TV make it out to be. I have read numerous books on infant brain development so that I could understand and empathize with what she is going through and as a result I am enjoying watching her cognitive development.
I can go on and on but the point is what I did not except. I did not expect the mental mush I would become and the drain on my creative energy not to mention the emotional upheaval and isolation during the immediate postpartum months. Maybe other artists around me were having these conversations but if they were I somehow missed them. Granted I was so focused on having a baby that I may have tuned everything else out. I don’t know. What I do know is how all of this has caught me off guard.
I did not foresee that any time spent away from my precious Little Miss would result in a mental fog so thick that I could not focus on anything else except getting back to her. As time has passed, this fog has somewhat lifted. She is now 7 months old and I can spend about 6 hours until this intense need to be with her again takes over. As for the emotional upheaval, I had of course heard about postpartum depression but thought, as I believe many do, that it is rare and happens to other people. What I now understand is that the majority of women go through a postpartum blues period and it is more or less a matter of degree.
I am extremely lucky in that my Little Miss is a good sleeper but nonetheless by the time I can get to the studio to do my own work I am exhausted and drained and yet creating in the studio is where I have found rejuvenation and the energy to propel me forward. Even if I manage to push through the tiredness, my mind is unfocused and cloudy. I look forward to my time away from my darling Miss Izzy but yet once I am away all I can think of is her.
I look back on other artist friends I have known who have had children and I now wish I had been more supportive of them. It just never truly dawned on me what an obstacle to create it can be when you are a new mother. And as for the female professors and mentors I have had, I have not given them nearly the respect that they deserve for continuing on despite these issues. Of course I do not mean to ignore the numerous fathers out there that have chosen to be the primary caregiver and are thus spending sleep deprived days changing diapers, attempting to get their child to eat the food rather than decorate the floor with it, and doing all the other necessary childcare work. They also have value in their experience and triumph in their path to create.
I now realize all the conversations I never had with these artists and all the information I could have mined from their wisdom. I also now realize all the opportunities to be supportive and appreciative of their hard work and perseverance that I have missed or taken for granted. And lastly I have come to appreciate my own struggle to create because let me tell you, when it comes to the struggle versus the outcome the struggle is all I have at the current moment.