This is an excerpt from my book: Sex, Lies and Creativity (2014, Difference Press) about how childbirth effects a woman’s brain, and strategies and quotes from two great American writers – who are also mothers. If you’re a mom – at any stage of the process, consider how the mommy veil might have had (or is having) an impact on your creativity.
After childbirth, a mother’s identity and physical definition of “self” expands to include the baby. The needs of her child will become in many instances even more compelling than her own needs, as she feels the onset of Mommy Brain.
This need to find your identity anew is territory I experienced, researched and wrote about in my self-help book, Motherhood to Otherhood.
[Author, artist and Caldecott award winner] Faith Ringgold remembers this loss of identity, saying “It is a struggle, a constant day-to-day struggle for one’s autonomy, one’s own identity, as far as I can see, it never really resolves itself, unless you totally separate yourself from them – and I think that’s also a mistake.”
Mommy Brain is a hormonal and neurological system designed to keep mom on the job – protecting, nurturing, deferring her needs, and sustaining the relationship with the father. These are the priorities of her life’s mission at this stage of the game. And carving out time and privacy to work can take a strong will.
[Author and Guggenheim fellowship winner] Mary Gordon tells a story of vacationing in Cape Cod, where her routine was to write every morning from 5:30 to 9:30 am. This timing was of course chosen to be available to her kids for most of the vacation day, but often they couldn’t leave her alone in her attic office even for those early morning hours. She tells a story in which her son calls up to her, “Are you busy?”
“Are you too busy to be interrupted?”
“But do you know that I’m crying?”
Mommy Brain lightens as close physical contact with the children lessens and then lifts like a veil. This lifting of the Mommy Veil varies from woman to woman, it can be once the children are adolescent and keep their distance, or once they leave the house, and/or when the woman enters peri-menopause. In some cases, it is mitigated in women because they work, and are separated from their children, much of each day.
Ringgold talks of beginning her career at 32, after her two children were school-aged. Even better, Ringgold’s mother offered to come and care for the children, and Faith took a cottage where she could work alone. She describes the lifting of the mommy veil perfectly: “I had the first summer of my whole life where I could wake up in the morning and I didn’t have to please anybody.”
When the mommy veil lifts, the woman’s personality re-emerges. Who she thought she was, who her family thought she was, could be no longer a reality. The seismic hormonal shift in her brain, once again can create a new/old personality, a return to herself pre-child-rearing. Her second youth.
To know more about the biological, neurological and developmental differences between men and women, and their impact on creativity – read Sex, Lies & Creativity