Giving birth is as creative an act as you can perform. It’s alchemical (yep, totally a real word, or else should be). I have had the experience twice. My body was ransacked by the sheer force of nature, and I was and am at once humbled by its power and fortified by becoming a vessel for nothing short of a miracle.
Then the babies appeared — real, fleshy, wailing babies. Those magazine images of relaxed, spit-up-free mothers were nowhere to be seen, least of all in the mirror. The expressions of my family members became streaked with concern and helplessness as they watched this woman shuffle around the house, dazed, tearful, and barely clothed.
Those magazine images of relaxed, spit-up-free mothers were nowhere to be seen.
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I reached the frays of depression. I met its cliff edge. My sense of finite time piqued. I gazed down at those dark waters. Then I grasped at survival, at the heart of the act that had spawned this new life: creation.
I escaped into my writing. While the babies slept, I snatched time. Not every day at first, but over time, like them, the practice became woven deep into the fabric of our lives.
In our household, we developed code “yellow mask,” a reference to the masks on planes — reminding one another to attend to ourselves before saving those nearby.
When our second baby was four months old, we were living in New York City, having packed up our life in London for my husband’s stint in a show on Broadway (it doesn’t take much to move me; at the mere whisper of possible relocation for work I launch into packing). I gazed into the buzz of city streets and decided to participate.
I enrolled in a writing workshop, which required a two-hour weekly commitment. I wrote my opening chapter for seven weeks. I attribute my confidence and courage to facing that tangle of words — until eight weeks later when they were cohesive at last — to my boys. Without the bludgeon of motherhood I would not have been fortified enough to accept my failings and grow as a writer.
My creative life stimulates the twists and turns of motherhood. It’s the place I can swim in the unknown, unchartered waters of a chapter, choppy and changeable. I develop this while working on a manuscript, permitting me to experience the brutality of a 10-year-old in meltdown, sending venomous tornados my way, and know that it will only feel like it’s breaking me. When a chapter is swerving out of direction, I know that after the panic and the disappointment come deconstruction and imaginative solutions.
I am indebted to my husband, who shares the childrearing straight down the middle. He and I now know that both my creative life and my children must be fed. I have discovered the immense power of flexibility. I’m not talking yogic asanas here — I mean that the idea of working for a full day on a project may not always happen.
Instead, I follow the lead of a toddler’s mindset: I focus with fierce determination on any one task, but only for a short period. Some days are more of a hot mess than others. And on those days when everything feels like it’s slipping out of my control (major human flaw right there, this obsession with control!) — I try to remind myself to be kind, both to myself and to those around me.
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I schedule daydreaming time. It may sound indulgent, but it’s a vital part of my writing process. One of the trappings of adulthood is the lure of business. Boredom during my childhood was the hotbed of ideas. I gift myself chunks of childlike wanderings now. I squeeze solitude in the gaps between acting and voiceover work, or, while the kids are at school, I cycle London to hatch ideas.
When I first started writing, however, we were traveling with my husband’s show, all over the States. We spent the days exploring, feeding ourselves on every physical, emotional and metaphysical plane possible, so that at night, filled with new experiences and real life, I could tap away into the night while our little boy was sleeping and my husband was on stage. During this time I shifted the focus away from my acting career in London and developed myself in other ways. To many, I was making a grave mistake. Yet it’s the healthiest thing I’ve ever done for myself — and our family.
We’ve bought ourselves the ultimate commodity in our fast-paced, modern world: time.
With two kids the challenge is doubled, on so many levels. Our ultimate act of flexibility was selling our apartment and moving into my parents’ home. We now live en masse (it’s loud), which means our bills (covered by my husband and my voiceover and acting work) are split in a much more cost-effective way. We’ve bought ourselves the ultimate commodity in our fast-paced, modern world: time. Time to pursue jobs not only for their financial value — because we’ve streamlined our outgoings and possessions — but also for their creative merit. Time to write so that when the kids get back from school, Mom isn’t a grouch. There’s no bigger luxury.
The ultimate challenge for this mother and creator is to be flexible enough to truly share the running of the household. To let myself off the hook. To not be the person who makes sure things are done day to day. Micro-managing my family wilts the very support I crave.
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If I can pass on only one message to our noisemakers, it would be that despite negative messages we might choose to receive from those around us, or the society in which we live, a creative life has immense value.
Sara Alexander graduated from Hampstead School in London and attended the University of Bristol, graduating with a BA in honors in theater, film and TV. She completed her postgraduate diploma in acting from Drama Studio London and has worked extensively in theater, film and television; she’s had roles in “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows,” “Dr. Who,” and Franco Zeffirelli’s “Sparrow.” Her debut novel, “Under a Sardinian Sky,” is out April 25.