Balancing act: How to bring up baby while giving birth to a book
Though it’s never easy, it is possible to pursue your dreams and be a mother
Novelist Alison Jameson at Poolbeg Lighthouse on the Great South Wall in Dublin. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Shortly after my son, Arthur, was born I had a visit from a female doctor in Holles Street. She was a nice, calm woman in scrubs until she spotted a book, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, which had been tossed on to a window sill.
“Well, the first thing you can do is get rid of that,” she said.
“What?” I asked, looking at her blankly.
“That,” she said staring.
You’d think there was a penny-farthing bicycle parked at the wall.
“What you need now is Hello! magazine or OK! or . . . ” and here she mentioned another female author who would not thank me for naming her here, “a book like that – one that doesn’t require any thinking at all.” She was only warming up.
“You can put away your Filofax and your laptop. You won’t be needing them either.”
I didn’t own a Filofax and my laptop was at home, closed on my desk, ready to wake when the baby slept because that’s how I was going to do it. I had read Anne Enright’s Making Babies and got as far as the part where she described writing in one room while her husband read the newspaper in another and rocked the baby with his foot. And I stopped there – that was all I needed to know.
But according to Dr Strangelove it was all over for me. Apparently as a new mother I was to lie in a corner somewhere reading magazines while the baby drank off all those extra calories and put them on his own tiny backside instead – followed by a good bowl of brain cells for dessert. I would not be able to operate any heavy machinery, electronic devices, read a half-decent book – and as for writing one? Well, ha ha ha.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this but maybe it should be with the presumption that it’s somehow okay to lecture a new mother as to how she should spend her time, that being a mother somehow makes you fair game.
I may have been horizontal and a bit dazed but my brain was still there. My work was nowhere on the radar. All I knew was that the baby was lovely and that whenever he looked even close to hungry a nurse would pitch his head at me like a bowling ball.
Writing for the Guardian recently, Viv Gostrop asked the question: “How do you do the things you really want to do, the things that require you to be selfish and absent, and still live with yourself as a person?” Well, Viv, it depends what you mean by “selfish and absent”. It is hard to reconcile the concept of motherhood with selfishness, full stop.
They just don’t go.
An important interruption
In the middle of writing this piece my son had something very important to tell me: “One day, a dinosaur flushed a pirate down the toilet.” Okay, thanks for that. Yes, to a four-year-old that’s very important and I had to stop and acknowledge it.
Even if you think you’re entitled to do the particular thing that is so very important to you, there is a fair chance a little voice will tell you otherwise – or even the little voice inside your head that’s saying, “but he’ll be grown up in no time at all and I’ll have missed it”. Nature’s way, blaggard that it is.