Nursing while Working
In summer 2016, three weeks post-partum, I walked to my painting studio down the road from my flat in Edinburgh—pushing a gleaming new pram, disoriented yet proud of my recently aquired status. Mother. I still had jelly belly, was wearing maternity pads and healing from an episiotomy, yet with hormones swirling I felt intoxicated by my fresh peach of a baby. For about twenty minutes, I sat in the chair of my work space, nursing, staring at unfinished paintings. My creative control center was no longer hermetically sealed; myself and my activities were now in service to and prioritized around my son’s needs. However, ‘maternity leave’—this break from the 9-5—provides the artistic mind with its most vital nutrient: time to space out. Mothering is a doing, but contains a quality of being—simply laying, nursing, cradling, playing is not so much an action but an exisitance. I’ve found I could give my body (and love) to my baby and keep my mind to myself. In this way, motherhood and art making can be quite complementary (on the days I get some sleep).
Up until my baby began walking, he accompanied me to the studio. I made art, but not without instances of a guilt-laden cycle of frustration, snapping then crying (both of us). Amid my fractured attention—one eye on my work and the other on my ink splattered son—I’d apprehend, brush in hand, the precarious moment to catch a fall, or the scissors with in hand’s reach. I made it work for myself; I painted in ink which I could set down quickly; I made video art, filming at home, editing footage after bedtime. Looking back now I wonder if I proposed that exhibit at Patriot Hall Gallery just to prove something to myself? That I was still an artist, that I was not going to succumb to this one dimensional identity of mum. My son has certainly injected me with renewed ambition; I just hope its for the right reasons.
Nowadays, I am back to painting in oil, going to my studio on his nursery day, bewildered by the silence and space of an 8 hour stretch to work. Somehow in cognitive dissonance, I feel like I want to paint more, even though I am there doing it. That being said, family living is seeping into my imagery, as I flip through holiday photos farming painting sources, conveying a surreal version of mid-life angst.
JK Rowling famously said she didn't do housework for four years in order to write Harry Potter. I don't want to live in squalor, but I get it. I am ok with putting my 20 month old in front of CBeebies while I mess around on Photoshop in another room. I will let him walk to me, sit on my lap, pull down my shirt, and drink from the breast—all while I am typing away on grant proposals, blogging, or working on my website. I will raise eyebrows at his using a bottle to create milk art on our dark blue carpet, or sit amongst a heap of gaudy toys, all underneath the contents of his wardrobe and nappy cupboard he’s determinedly strewn across the flat.
I believe being an artist prepares you for the lack of control that children wreak on our lives. In making art, things rarely work according to plan. Similarly, children have a way of obstructing your day’s scheme. You want to go to the shop? Baby falls asleep. You want to make a sandwhich? Baby bumped their head. As maddening as it is, both art and motherhood teach one to live with acceptance, connection and flow of circmstances, which can only make you a better person. These days I have settled into some systems and routines, and as long as I am physically proximal, emotionally semi-present, with low standards of tidyness, a willingness to tickle or soothe every ten minutes, I can get some projects slightly closer to completion alongside my magical son. I aim to structure my life so that I can be less of a multi-tasker, however, right now I love our dance— the blending of maternal and creative passion.