Raising a toddler, writing, and teaching was hard enough. Adding two more little humans into the balancing act that was my life? I would not even entertain that thought. “Not funny,” I responded to my husband. “Don't even joke like that.”
“There’s the head,” my doctor said.
“See, I told you not to worry,” my husband said. “It’s not twins.”
“Wait,” the doctor said, still probing my uterus.
“What?” I asked.
She did not respond.
“What is it?” I began to panic. “What’s wrong?”
She took another moment to be sure, then said: “I see two.”
I looked at my husband. A giddy grin had swallowed his face.
At first, I felt a flicker of exhilaration. Two strong heartbeats. Two tiny bodies. Then a gut punch. I buried my face in my palms. How am I going do this?
“I’ll give you a minute,” the doctor said.
I did not mean “How will I nurture and keep them alive?” My husband would help with that. I meant: How would I manage three kids, even with an all-in partner, while also keeping up my journalistic life? I only had so much energy. I would have to divide it. What portion would each family member receive? What portion would that leave for my work? It was not just about energy. It was about divvying up love. I am a better mother, a happier mother, when I am also able to carve out time to write. I am a better writer, a happier writer, when I am also an involved mom.
I already felt nauseating guilt whenever I left my daughter (which is why she often traveled with me). There was one time I left for four days to report a story in Mexico City. She was 8 months old, and I had to store my pumped breast milk in the hotel restaurant’s kitchen fridge. I later carted all 50 ounces of it on ice across the border, feeling like a smuggler from the booby brigade. I Skyped with her from Mexico, knowing she was well cared for by both her father and grandmother. Still, when she saw my face on the screen, she cried so hard her nose bled.
Koh’s picture made me want to learn how to balance my computer while double-breastfeeding. It also made me wonder how on earth I ever would double-breastfeed, let alone work on my computer at home again. It made me feel guilty and naïve for thinking I could balance any of it. Someone would get shortchanged.
* * *
“That deep anxiety you felt looking at her picture is a product of your drive,” my friend Leslie Schwartz, another writer-mom, told me. “It isn’t just, ‘How am I going to do this?’ It is, ‘How am I going to live?’” The umbilical pull of a child is strong, she said. For many of us, so is the pull toward creative work.
Leslie began writing her second novel while she was pregnant with her first (and only) child. During pregnancy, she told me, her sensory awareness intensified. “Food is better. Sex is better. Life is in Technicolor,” she said. “I couldn’t stop writing ... and then my baby came and I still had that creative bliss, but she was literally sucking me dry. The irony is you have this wealth of creativity, it’s like you’ve been plugged in, but you can’t really do the work because the child is there, taking from you.”