Weaning was hard. We started when Giles was nine months old. It was slow, and difficult, and most of all, emotionally exhausting. The guilt, the ups and downs of my moods, the crying and feeling all the things. It took us so long just to choose which formula to get. I held Giles in my arms, giving him a bottle of formula for the first time, tears pouring out of my eyes and a beer in my hand.
The hardest part was one week after I nursed for the last time. Suddenly my emotions hit me. Hard. Every half hour or so I sobbed uncontrollably. Nothing specific would set off the crying jags, and I couldn’t stop them. It was almost like I was immediately postpartum again, with roller coaster emotions and hormones.
Apparently there is a thing called “Post Weaning Depression.” Once I figured this out (through a mixture of online research, texts with Berkshire Nursing Families, and a friend), I felt a lot better, just knowing it was normal. After a couple weeks my hormones leveled out.
But there was a period of time when I felt so awful and didn’t understand it.
It takes our bodies and minds a very long time to balance out after giving birth. I don’t know how long because after a year things are still changing. Maybe I will be living in a transitional state for the rest of my life. Maybe we are always in a transitional state.
And we never get out bodies “back.” That is not a thing. We only move forward.
Seeing my tulips come up– the floppy green leaves and thick stems which have survived several frosts since that warm week in February when they started poking up through the ground– I think of Mama in her garden. My dad has always been a gardener too, they worked together to create the combination of flowers and herbs that surround their house. There are early spring flowers which flow into summer ones, then late summer, then fall. Except for winter, there are always flowers. The mint overtakes one area, a mix of spearmint and chocolate mint which Phoebe chomps on every time she passes it. Garlic. Basil. Soft oregano which the sweet cat Dulcinea sleeps in on a sunny day.
These tulips are really the first thing I have grown myself. I’ve had herb gardens, but never started any plants from scratch before now. My dad and I planted the bulbs last fall, digging up a couple small flower beds by my front walk.
I’ve never really been much of a green thumb, the only one in my family who wasn’t really interested. I didn’t like to cook either. But those loves have grown in me over time. In the cookbook she and my dad made for my sister and me, Mama wrote, “One of you is already a cook and the other promises (without knowing it) to be one someday.”
Every time I walk out my front door or come back inside I say hi to the tulips, checking in on how they are. I say to Giles, “Look at our tulips!”
In six days it will be four years since Mama died.
In 24 days Giles will be one year old.
Things are growing, I am getting stronger, my broken heart breaks and breaks and heals in new ways. Nothing is the same.
The words, “my mom, my mom, my mom” repeat in my head. “I want my mom.”
My scanner is currently out of order, so here is a photo of this comic I made recently about Giles getting sick a couple weeks ago:
I have worked a lot of jobs. At age eighteen I went to college to study theater, writing, comics, and dance, with the dream that I’d make it work somehow– I’d find a way to make a living at this crazy thing called Art. So I never committed myself to a full-time job. I worked multiple part-time jobs at once, scrounging for any little bit of time to draw and write. I drew comics in the box office and the projection booth at move theaters. I wrote short stories in emails to myself at receptionist desks. I sketched on the subway, worked on story ideas at babysitting gigs after the kids went to bed, wrote in diners at 6am. I lived close to the bone, making just enough money to survive.
While living in New York City I walked around to comic book shops asking them to sell my little self-published mini comics, and got feedback from store owners about how to make them look more professional. I modeled for life drawing classes. I submitted to short story competitions. I volunteered at MoCCA Fest in exchange for a couple hours of table time selling my comics. Any small way to make a tiny amount of dough from my art.
March 1st marks my one year anniversary of being “self-employed.” I quit my job to be a full-time artist and stay-at-home mom (we need a better term for this). So, how do I make money?
The short answer is that I don’t make very much. I am fortunate to have a partner who believes in me, believes in my work as an artist, and takes on the responsibility of supporting our family financially. This is the first time I have not supported myself completely since college. It’s hard sometimes, to reconcile this fact in my head, that my husband supports me financially.
But the truth is, if I were to go work at a job I wouldn’t make enough to pay for daycare or to make it worth it to not be home with my baby. And I would likely be sad and unfulfilled. So instead, I stay home and take care of Giles, which is a very important contribution to our family. And twice a week my mother-in-law takes care of him at her house so I can do my artwork.
Art Work. It is really, really wonderful that my only work (besides being a mom) is making art. It is also really hard. In the first couple months of Full-Time Artist Life I made just as much money as I did at my previous job. I taught a comics workshop, sold a few commission portraits, sold some drawings from an exhibit. Art income often comes in windfalls like that– for a few months I will sell a bunch of things, and then there will be long dry spells.
These are the ways I make money:
Teaching: this is relatively new to me. Last year I taught a five week Autobiographical Comics workshop for adults at a local art school. I am about to start teaching another workshop with the same school. This is a really nice way to make some money, the highest hourly wage I have ever been paid in my life– about $25/hour. It’s also inspiring, working with students and seeing their ideas and growth. A great way to make money in my field that is truly connected to what I love. It’s also a lot of work, and takes time and energy away from making my own things.
Commissioned Portraits: this is something I’ve been doing for a while. I don’t get a lot of commissions. Most art from people I know, friends and family. On my Etsy site I offer portraits, holiday cards, and invitations. Commission work can be tricky– early on I learned to be very clear with customers about what I do, what my style is, and that I will not copy the work or style of other artists. I change my prices pretty often, never sure of how much to charge, balancing how much I value my time with how much someone will realistically pay me.
Exhibits: these can be great or not so great. It’s a lot of work (and often expense) to put up a show and there’s no guarantee that I’ll sell anything. It can be fun, and it sure feels good to sell work off the wall. It can also be disappointing, and exhausting to smile and make small talk at openings, to hang and rehang work, to sell myself. My favorite part about doing exhibits is when someone I don’t know responds to a piece I made, and especially when they buy it.
Selling Other Stuff: I also make and sell t-shirts, tote bags, cards, etc. This is more intermittent, for example, when I have a specific idea for a shirt design and enough money to make a bunch of them up front. Then I sell them on my Etsy site until they run out. Shirts are hard because I never know how many of each size to print ahead of time, and often end up with leftover sizes that no one wants. Because of this, sometimes I will wait to actually print the shirts until I have several pre-orders. Cards are the easiest because they are cost-effective (they aren’t expensive to make, so I can charge less and still make a small profit. I’m a big believer in affordable art).
My ultimate goal is to get an agent and a publisher and have my comic books and short story collections published and for sale at stores. To contribute financially to my family and have lots of people read my work. The way that I am making this happen is by putting my work out into the world any way I can. Posting my comics on my blog, selling at indie comic conventions, submitting stories to magazines– just putting it out there and putting it out there. I am a big believer in doing things myself. I don’t like to rely on other people’s approval. If I can’t find someone else to publish my comics, I make them into books myself and find a way to sell them. I just keep going, keep making the work, keep sharing it, and things will happen.
Other artists make their livings in different ways, have different methods and different measures of success. This is how I work.
I’d like to give a special shout out here, to my dad. I often write about my mom on this blog, and how she is part of my artistic life. But my dad has always supported me– emotionally and creatively, even financially when I’ve found myself in a tough spot. He is the BEST exhibit hanging partner, audience member, and starred in an early short film I made. He may claim to be the non-creative person in our family, but he is an artist in life, in his own work, and in being a dad. I owe him a lot. So, thanks Pops. I love you.
Why is there such pressure on mothers to exclusively breastfeed? I would never judge another mom for how she feeds her baby. It wouldn’t even cross my mind to do so. But somehow, feelings of guilt get into my brain about transitioning from nursing to formula. Most of the time I feel fine about it, and I know it’s the right decision for us. But then there are moments when emotion overwhelms me and I start crying in the shower, or while making dinner. I feel guilty. Guilty for what?
Guilt is a familiar feeling. Am I a good daughter? Sister? Friend? Wife? Mother? Am I taking care of everyone enough? Doing enough? Working hard enough? Do I eat enough vegetables? Watch too much tv? Am I too demanding? Too bossy? Was my mom mad at me when she died? Am I too selfish, wanting time to myself? Am I ignoring all my friends while I figure out how to be a mom? Did I pass on this mutated gene to Giles? Will having more kids be bad, because I might pass the gene on to them? Do I call my grandma enough? Is it awful that I still haven’t mailed our holiday gifts? And I’m really late on those thank you notes…Do I do enough housework? When was the last time I cleaned the litter box? Was that thing I said yesterday too bitchy? Am I not bitchy enough? UUUGGGHHHHH
How do we let go of guilt? How do we know that we are enough? How do we help others know that they are enough?
I know it’s my choice. To start weaning now and get the mammo and MRI as soon as possible (which will be about a year or so from now) or nurse Giles as long as he needs/wants and delay the screenings? I hadn’t realized how long it takes to wean a baby. It’s a slow, gradual process. If I start now it may take months until he is completely weaned. And it’s at that point that the nine month clock starts. So much waiting.
There’s emotions. And hormones. Breastfeeding is such a hormonal thing. At the very thought of stopping I start to cry, and I run over to Greg and Giles on the couch, where Giles is happily taking a bottle. I cuddle against them, my eyes big puddles of tears, Giles looks up at me.
And then there are moments when I feel ready, and know that everything will be fine.
Except everything isn’t fine. I’m afraid of what will happen to healthcare, to women’s healthcare specifically, to the idea of pre-existing conditions. I’m worried for my body, for my mind, for my future second pregnancy that will happen sometime during the Trump administration.
So many things to worry about– both big picture and very personal. I don’t really know what I’m going to do. But I am going to do things, one tiny thing at a time. Ask for help, seek out other moms who can reassure me or give me mother-led-weaning tips. Get back into some kind of therapy. Talk to my husband a LOT. Walk. Do yoga. Snuggle my baby. Cook something new. Buy local produce/meat/cheese. Get my son his first library card. Read to him. Dance with him. Sing. Draw. Write. Take a hot shower. Say “I love you” a lot. Keep my own medical records. Slowly shorten nursing sessions. Check my breasts for lumps. Call my doctors and ask questions. Pay attention to my body.
And after a lot of months, after a year, after an undetermined amount of time, get a mammogram and a breast MRI and get prescribed Lorazapam for these procedures to help calm me down.
Because I have health insurance, I was able to get a free electric breast pump at the hospital after giving birth. Because I have a breast pump I am able to pump milk into a bottle so someone besides me can feed the baby. Because someone else can feed the baby I have a small amount of freedom to not be tied to an every-two-hours schedule of latching a baby to my boobs so he can suck nourishment out of my body.
Because I have health insurance I have mental health coverage. Which means I can go to therapy. Which means I don’t have to suffer alone and quietly while my hormones rage around and cause crazy feelings and exhaustion settles over my whole self and who am I now anyway besides a mom and human milk machine?
Because I have choice over what happens to my own body I was able to grow a baby and give birth to him at a time when I was ready to do this, and wanted to do this. Because of that I am a good mom, and my baby has a healthy, happy, safe home to grow up in.
Ever since being pregnant, and birthing a baby, and being a mom, there’s a lot of extra hormones raging around inside my body. I cry a lot. I’ve always cried– like at the movies or on the NYC Subway. But now I cry more, and from the faintest hint of any commercial involving babies (the first time Giles successfully put Cheerios in his mouth I cried retroactively at every Cheerios commercial I’ve ever seen). When we first brought Giles home I cried every evening at 5:00 sharp. For two months.
Sometimes I am crying about more than what it appears I am crying about.
Luckily, Greg often seems to understand exactly what it is I’m really upset about. Sometimes he doesn’t know, so he asks. Sometimes he puts a bowl of cereal in front of me because he knows I am actually just hungry.