Material Whirl: Why I can’t give up writing to be a mother

writing and motherhood - material whirl

Nicola Greenbrook, author of Material Whirl blog and music journalist for publications including RockShot, discusses her new role as a mother, how she combines it with a writing career and why she’s determined to make the two work in unison…

Women discover they’re expecting in all sorts of ways and my experience was one to remember.

After detecting a lump in my right breast, I was referred to a specialist and two anxious weeks of waiting stared us in the face. The night before the appointment my husband did what you should never, ever do but what everyone always does. He Googled. “One of the symptoms of pregnancy can be lumpy boobs?” he offered hopefully. So first thing in the morning we did a half-hearted test, not really believing it could happen after many negative results and a devastating miscarriage.

Yet, happen it did and ‘Pregnant’ it was. We went ahead with the ultrasound just to be cautious and thankfully all was OK. Telling our family the outcome as we walked out of the hospital was a huge relief, but sharing our other big news was something else. Big sister: “Prosecco tonight!”. Me: “Erm, maybe not…”.

Thankfully the pregnancy went fairly well and I got used to waddling about, going from girl-about-town to girl-in-PJs. I discovered some great pregnancy apps to guide me through and learnt that at 16 weeks, the baby was the size of an avocado and 17 weeks they weighed as much as a turnip. A turnip!

As the little vegetable grew inside me and the need for high waisted trousers become essential (I felt like a matador at work, sadly without the embellished bolero which was a bit much for meetings I thought) so did all the expectations about what it would feel like to be a parent. It kept me awake at night with excitement and anticipation, but sometimes with another sensation that was a little less easy to manage.

I hated myself for thinking it on the cusp of something so monumental, but one of my 3.00 am fears about becoming a mum was how life might drastically change. Whether I would be able to combine being a parent with all the things that make up my DNA – running, festivals, travelling, fashion to name a few. Principally, I wondered if I would have time to write.

Writing is good for my wellbeing, my sanity and my brain cells

Outside of my full time job in HR, I blog about my interests, Material Whirl, and I’m also a contributing writer for music magazine RockShot – interviewing, reviewing festivals and introducing new artists. All of which I simply love. I’m never more content than sat at my laptop pretending to be Carrie Bradshaw in a retro way (my photo does not currently appear on the 257 bus to Leytonstone, as far as I know).

So I would often wake with a funny feeling in the pit of my oversized stomach which I eventually realised was guilt. Much is written about the physical changes that pregnancy brings, but what about life changes? I suspect many women feel this way but (like me) are too frightened to confess in fear of being portrayed as shallow or selfish especially when (like me) having children is not easy or sadly, not possible for some.

writing and motherhood - material whirl

I had wanted children for so long and it was finally happening, but sometimes my thoughts would race. What would I do if I couldn’t be ‘me’ and would I be able to write? Where would all the words go that bump around in my head, the blog posts that form as I’m out walking? Would I feel fulfilled? Would I lose my identity? Did it really matter? Was I was the worst parent-to-be in the world?

It is 10 months since our precious Evan arrived and I’ve surprised myself with the answers. I’m facing my fears head on, one sentence at a time. It’s just about possible to keep up the writing but I have to work hard and smart. Time is limited and I try not to let frustration get the better of me. In a recent issue of Australian magazine Mama Disrupt, Melbourne-based Natasha and Rachel Wells of lifestyle brand The Hood talk about getting stuff done with a little one to raise explaining “it’s amazing how productive you become when you’re a mum and you have all these windows of time to get things done”. I’m trying to make use of my own windows so to speak and it’s the small things that have helped. Such as:

– Snatching the odd half an hour here and there instead of blissful uninterrupted chunks of time to write and perfect a piece. As soon as Evan goes down for a power nap (15 minutes enough, mum?) it’s all systems go – laptop on, water sloshed into a glass and writing as if my life depended on it before the Evan-bomb explodes.

– Being focused. When it’s 11.00 pm and BEDTIME ROUTINE is a distant memory, dinner has been gobbled and cleared away, when finally there is nothing else to puree, wash or pick up, that’s MY time. I thank my husband for his patience as I become Tasmanian Devil with one eye on the monitor and GET SH*T DONE before the next feed.

– Using the Notes App while feeding to cleanse my brain of random ideas that pop up during the day and lugging my MacBook Air around with me in addition to the huge mass of mum paraphernalia on the off-chance Evan will drop off in a café and I can get stuff done (THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED YET).

– Finding creative ways to achieve an Evan-blog balance. Pubs can be a good place to take a baby (in the daytime!) as I learnt when interviewing musician Luke Carey in one of our locals. Admittedly it was scary; Evan wriggled and cooed and burped incessantly and inwardly I prayed he wouldn’t need a feed while outwardly interrogating Luke about his musical ambitions. To this day I still wonder if I had my shirt on inside out but we got through it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. The image I’d like to project is me in chic room and DAY Birger Et Mikkelsen dress, suitably hygge-d and Skandinavisk candle flickering. With perfect posture I would churn out cracking blogs while Evan naps soundly for hours – but that’s Instagram, not real life. The reality is far different. I recently had a phone meeting about my blog and for the duration of the call, with hands free and calmest professional voice activated I fed, changed and cuddled Evan. He repaid me by doing a spectacular pee in my face which I had no choice but to accept silently and keep on talking. I decided against uploading that image to Instagram, thinking it probably wouldn’t make my best nine.

Being a mum and a writer is no breeze and I don’t think I’ve cracked it yet. I’m permanently pooped. I’ve aged about ten years in eight months which is emblematic of a packed schedule; running to baby classes and appointments with speeding pram and limbs flailing, heart beating and grabbing food in between maintaining the house just so I can wedge in some writing / answering emails / keeping up social media platforms. One of my mum friends asked me how I fit it all in when Senior Baby Raiser is a full time job in itself. It made me pause for thought. Why on earth am I’m putting myself through it and wouldn’t it be easier just to let it all go and concentrate solely on bringing up my beautiful son?

After much deliberation, this is why – I think it makes me a better mum.

Writing is good for my wellbeing, my sanity and my brain cells – I like to think I’m warming them up before I return to work. Raising Evan is by far the best thing I have ever done and I wouldn’t change a thing (OK, that’s a lie. I would definitely change being woken up on average three times a night) but I’ve realised I need just a little bit more. To be true to my identity – the one that was there before I added mum to my repertoire.

When Evan was eight weeks old, I reviewed Jazz FM’s Love Supreme Festival on assignment for RockShot

One of my favourite interviews was with British Saxophonist YolanDa Brown, a mum who juggles parenthood with a successful music career and philanthropy. It took me weeks to write up my feature and the minute I pressed send, it was straight back to singing “I’m a Little Teapot” for the ninety-eighth time and giving Evan all my love and attention. I felt a glow of satisfaction on completing something tangible and a little time off had done the world of good, but I couldn’t wait to get back to being a mum.

Interviewed for The Huffington Post, YolanDa talked about the numerous roles women juggle and how much she loves being a mum as much (if not more) than all her other roles, but realised with all the balancing she had forgotten to take care of the one role that binds it all together, herself. So, I guess the writing and blogging is my way of taking care of me.

I’ve been lucky to experience things I never thought possible after having a baby. When Evan was eight weeks old, I reviewed Jazz FM’s Love Supreme Festival on assignment for RockShot. After a few hours, I missed Evan so much the drive back to London felt like days rather than hours. I felt incomplete. Yet it was a relief to rediscover the ‘old’ Nicola who had been lurking shyly in the sidelines for a while. Ambling about with beer and camera in hand; checking out new bands and thumbing through vintage clothes rails in between acts was bliss, just as returning to my son was.

I cherish being a mum to Evan, it is the most amazing and rewarding thing I have ever done, but I also like being a mum that writes. Hopefully one day when I’m being an embarrassing parent and Evan is rolling his eyes to heaven, behaving petulantly and saying ‘MUM!’ sulkily, I can recount the time when he was a baby and accompanied me to the pub – arguably the youngest intern there was – to interview an up-and-coming musician and he might feel proud, even if just for a moment.

Photo credit: Rachel Lipsitz