Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Postpartum Brain

Last time I had a baby, I was paid by my old job for three months while I stared at my newborn, watched all of Six Feet Under, attempted new workout DVDs and generally amended my entire life to revolve around the tiniest dictator.

Then I quit and slowly started to freelance.

This past year things picked up to a point where some of the things I dreamed about in journalism school (publishing essays, features in national consumer mags) were starting to happen and I did not feel comfortable taking a maternity leave.

Somehow I managed to eek out a few big pieces soon after my littlest one was born. Looking back, I am really not sure how I did it except that he slept a lot back then. Now? Not so much. And while I have promised myself a month or two to just be home, "stuff" keeps getting in the way (one project in particular which is probably my worst nightmare in terms of amount of people weighing in on tiny, pedantic matters; utter lack of creativity/soul and general hair pulling out-ness is particularly vexing right now). I have reached a point where I need to make some decisions.

We are currently paying about $1,000 a month for childcare. I adore Sam's teacher and I know Sam loves it, but I get almost no work done on the days she is there because I have Alan. Even when I have a babysitter come into the house, it is very difficult to work because I hear him, worry and go to him, particularly when he refuses a bottle, which is all the time (he has not taken a bottle of pumped milk in weeks). Basically we are wasting the money. I can't work and we can't afford to pay for childcare while I am bringing in very little income.

This is not even mentioning my poor, addled brain. It no function good. Let's just say that the work I have turned in in these past three months is not my finest work and while I have focused very hard on turning the pieces around and really giving it my all, work like the above mentioned project is stressful, upsetting and totally unnecessary. I want to reserve what tiny brain power I have for the work I love: the features, the essays, the column--the projects that allow me to be creative and play with words and talk to interesting people.

(and a little aside: men DO NOT GET THIS. I adore my husband, I really do. He is an amazing father, my best friend and a huge participant in our family life but oh man is he clueless when it comes to how hard all this is for me. He will take the kids for an afternoon and act like it was so easy--"why is this so hard for you?" he asks. Well... Hmmm.. Let me see: I am nursing round the clock, listening for my baby, totally sleep deprived, preoccupied with the 10 pounds I have yet to lose and utterly dismayed at the demise of my perfectly ordered life)

This ain't me. This person who is turning in less than the best work I can do, who is not pitching, who can barely form a sentence, let alone write an essay. I am scared, but putting my faith in the idea that this will become the new normal and I will be able to write again. But in the meantime, what do I do? Keep the childcare and waste the money? Try to be a stay at home mom for a year?

(another aside: how bored would I be? Very. I love my kids, but they are mind numbing a lot of the time.)

I feel like a shite mama, a shite writer and a shite freelancer. Mama lacks focus and brain cells. Why don't people talk about this more?

Something has to give. I am just not sure what it will be yet.


Lis Garrett said...


You know I understand!

As much as I love my children and couldn't imagine life without them, I plan on writing a best-selling hit on this very subject. Why doesn't anyone tell you exactly how hard being a parent is? Or, perhaps they do and we just refuse to listen?

In terms of husbands not understanding. Yes, I know. I'm still peeved at mine for suggesting I'm lazy for focusing on my work instead of mopping the kitchen floor and preparing gourmet dinners each night.

In terms of childcare, I flipped when my sister (who makes WELL above the national average) told me what she really takes home minus childcare costs. She has three - one who's in before and after school care, one who's in full-time preschool, and one who's in full-time daycare. She pays about $1700 a month. To me, it's not worth it to work outside the home (which is why we're going on 10 years having lived on one income). However, I totally hear you on the boredom point. Thank GAWD I have Root & Sprout and a few freelancing jobs to keep me busy. Even though I'm not earning a lot of money at this point, at least I'm happy.

Do what feels right for you. That's the only way you'll stay motivated.

jm said...

hey, i'm going through some of the same thought process and i only have ONE child! for me it's a little different. i'm disjointed the days i'm at work, and max's adjustment to daycare isn't stellar, and my earnings after subtracting for daycare, gas, etc. isn't exactly rock-star. i could probably make more freelancing right now, but i carry the benefits.
also, i think if i had to stay home with the baby all day i'd go nuts. i have no idea what the right answer is or how much it would hurt my career to take some time off. good luck with this.