Motherhood and Creative Fire, Keeping the Flame Alive

I am the mother of seven children. This weekend, I hit publish on a dream come true. I’ve spent the last 11 weeks in a state of creative flow that I have not experienced since I became a Mama twelve and a half years ago.

Looking back, I remember the shock my body went through when my brain became so used up by anticipating the next need of my sweet newborn baby that I had nothing left to tend to my creative voice. There was just no space in my day to think about it. And if, while sitting on the couch, nursing the baby, there was a moment to think, my hands were always too full to turn those thoughts into ink on the page or paint on the canvas or a finished song… To me, this was, and has continued to be, the hardest part of being a mother.

I remember those early days of parenting now like a dream. They were amazing and beautiful. But my creative soul was so overwhelmed. There was no time for the part of me that felt the most like me. I barely knew how to live in the world without responding to it through writing in journals or music or making something with my hands. I had no time to process or respond. I barely had time to write in my journal. That was my bridge to peace. And the bridge was out.

Rosie’s birth was beautiful but soul-shaking. Nursing her was complicated and a real nightmare to walk through. Learning to live without sleeping was like learning to breathe underwater. She was wonderful and worth it, but I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that it was really, really hard. I desperately missed time and thought and the ability to make something with my hands, even though I didn’t have the mental capacity to even realize it at the time.

Six months after Rosie was born, I sat down at the table with a stack of cereal boxes and grocery bags and for about 30 minutes, sewed and pasted together a simple, handmade journal. The process sparked something inside me. It was like a memory of someone I used to know. Myself. I was reconnecting with that person through the act of taking the raw material of my life and turning it into something beautiful and useful: A journal, which would be a house for my creative ideas.

Something in me woke up. Like the first signs of spring after the starkness of winter. And I have never, ever taken the ability to express my creative soul for granted since that day.

I now have children ages 12, 11, 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1. That early experience of reconnecting with my creative self has been instrumental in my ability lean whole-heartedly into seasons of Motherhood. I know that there will be weeks, months, even years where my creative fire has to die down and maybe even appear to go out altogether. It takes so much creative energy to simply open up the room of your womb and let a little life come in and be welcome there. You are just trying to learn how to be yourself while feeling all those early trimester feelings, preparing for all the shifts that are about to happen internally and externally, nesting like crazy and using up all your brain-space playing tetris with the couches and cabinets and the chests of drawers. Add a toddler or two to this picture, and you also have the monumental creative challenge of how to sleep at all, how to make little people eat vegetables (Here comes the choo-choo! Open wide!), how to find time to look into your husband’s eyes. Not to mention the laundry, the dishes, the messes that are being made in one room while you are cleaning another…

It all takes a toll. And in my early years of parenting, even though I knew that being a Mother was worth it 100%, I feared that I had lost my connection to the real me. The inspired-me, the maker-me, the artist-me, the writer-me, the musician-me, the thinker-me, the dreamer-me.

But I was wrong.

I am 38 years old. I have been pregnant or nursing nonstop for the last 13 years of my life. I have given birth to seven living children and have been touched deeply by one quiet miscarriage. I have lived through my personal cycles of pregnancy, birth, recovery, postpartum, newborn days and nights, hormonal shifts with nursing and weaning, (etc.) enough times now to know that I am going to meet back up with this part of myself. Like an old friend that you only see once a year but you pick up where you left off and you have so much to share and so much new ground to cover in your conversation. I am still there. And the creative work that flows out of my life after a long season of dormancy is full-fruit. There is so much rich raw material to work with. Living with children is inspiration at its best.

Through motherhood, I have learned to be patient with my work. That things can take longer than they used to. I’ve learned to turn my ideas on and off quickly to accommodate the needs of my family. I’ve learned to get up early when a nursing baby will allow it. I’ve learned to listen to my body and the rhythms of being that make me feel tuned into my creative life. I’ve learned to be thankful for any little bit I get. To sift, with more urgent clarity, through the earth of ideas to uncover true gems that are worth the long and careful process of excavating.

And I’ve found there are surprises in every season. These past two and a half months, as I have been birthing the biggest creative project of my entire life, my two oldest daughters have come alongside me to help. They have made meals, taken care of babies, entertained siblings, and (along with my loving, supportive husband who has creative fire of his own) allowed me to lock a door and work for long, uninterrupted hours–even days. They see what it means to me. And they love me enough to give me the time. Nobody else could understand what it means to me to let my creative fires burn until the spark of an idea is given final form. These girls, themselves, are creative souls who need time and space and resources to express the ideas that are just beginning to burn. I want to model this way of life for them, because I know one day they will likely find themselves as wives and mothers with limited time and resources and so much fire within them.

Through these years of parenting small children, I have learned to approach the season of intense creative flow as a blessing and an opportunity that will not last forever. To welcome it whole-heartedly and to allow myself as much time as I can to enjoy the colors before the leaves fall and the quiet of winter settles in. It is just so much a part of me. I am a better Mother when, season by season, I tend to my creative fires and keep this flame alive.

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