Thoughts on self... childbearing & motherhood / by Mathew Heggem

The real challenge here, is that I think every new parent struggles with the life, work, parent balance. But I do believe there is something essentially different about this experience as an artist. Regardless of your craft or the level to which art and creation play a role in your life, your art and that creation/expression suddenly have to take a far lower priority, and it is easy to allow it to get so low that it drops off altogether. 

I think one of the most horrifying realizations I’ve had as a parent is that whilst you are told that “everything will change” and “you will never love anyone like your own child(ren)” (both totally true), what WASN’T explained (to me at least), was that you ALSO are still YOU. Lo and Behold you don’t all of the sudden become a selfless saint of a mother with no personal needs or aspirations beyond those of your offspring. So Shit. 

Suddenly, you find yourself one year into parenthood and you and your partner (good luck if you are BOTH artists) are at each other’s throats at the tiniest thing. Again, I generally get feedback from all types of humans that this is a normal part of the first year, but I HAVE to believe that a huge part of this very short fuse had to do with the fact that we both lost 100% contact with our art. Dance for me, music for him. I was trying to do 7 minute workouts during nap time, and crying over dance videos on YouTube, and my partner was channeling his loss of youth and identity by binge watching skateboard videos. In other words, we were not attacking the problem in a productive way.

I should also say here that I work a full time job, unrelated to dance or choreography, so any time that I spend working on dance projects is time in addition to the traditional work week, travelling to and from daycare, and having some significant amount of quality time with my child. This is a lot of stuff guys. A lot of stuff. 

So where does the need for self-care as a parent fit in with the other more obvious needs of maintaining a human life that is also full of learning, joy, love, and VERY importantly- a routine? In short, I don’t know- but I’m really trying to figure it out. 

What I do realize now however, is that I do still have some choices! and some control! Eureka! My relationship with dance and the way that I am able to psychologically and artistically approach my craft will never quite be the same. Babies get sick, babies have temper tantrums, Mommies get too burnt out to function. For the first year, these were all INSURMOUNTABLE obstacles to even CONSIDERING committing to any type of dance project. But as it turns out, all of those things could impede a rehearsal, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to be a dancer or choreographer. The complication of being a mother does not block my ability to adapt and assimilate my new life into the ever growing and changing force that is creative energy, it actually enhances it. And I am finally understanding that making art is about more than displaying your dedication, above everything else, at the holy altar that is “true” ART. And being a dancer isn’t actually dependent on the number of hours I spend in the studio or how physically stunning I am or am not. I actually can love my baby and my family MORE than I love dance and still have a legitimate and valuable voice in the community.

I realize as i think back, that women to some extent, perhaps just the unlucky ones, are taught to see childbearing and motherhood as the end of self. Certainly at some point, as a dancer, I got it deep down in my subconscious that once you get pregnant,  your body is going to turn into a useless puddle of flabby goo that you’ll never be able to get control of again..unless you are SUPER lucky and work REALLY hard.

Guess what? My body is actually fine.  I even am strong, and I even fit into my old clothes. And I even can still dance. And I only worked KINDA hard.

Of all the choices I have before me, the most important ones may be that I can choose how I engage in my craft, and with whom I explore dance and choreography with. This has quickly proved crucial to my ability to be relaxed and open enough to feel engaged and productive, but also just taken care of.