Thursday, April 30, 2009

Post-Baby Book Boom

I was speaking to the poet David Morley yesterday at Warwick University; his wife recently gave birth, and he was telling me how he had been writing furiously ever since the event, poems shooting out of him.

I was reminded by his story of my own experience back in 2002 in North Cornwall when, having just given birth to twin boys, I found myself writing a novel some 100,000 words long. I wrote at night largely, in an annex of the renovated barn we were renting, with one ear open for any squeaks from the baby monitor.

This system worked well for about five or six weeks postnatally. The boys slept in Moses baskets in the living room and I tapped away most of the night. It was the summer holidays and my husband, a teacher, was not at work, so he was able to look after the babies during the daytime while I caught up on my sleep - though breastfeeding meant having to be at least vaguely awake some of the time - and I would take the night shift.

The oddest thing was how little sleep I seemed to require. I've always been able to survive on five or six hours a night for long periods of time without too much trouble, but during those six weeks after the birth of my twin boys, I was almost electric. I would plug myself into a couple of hours' nap to recharge, and then stay awake for the next twenty-two, not only functioning normally, but super-normally, writing thousands upon thousands of words as they just flew out of me.

That novel was never published; it remains one of those bottom drawer efforts that I still wonder about. But I do wonder now, far less electrically charged these days, what it was about the post-birth period - traditionally held to be so exhausting, particularly with twins! - that suddenly lit me up creatively in that bizarre, almost painful fashion, forcing me to write and write as though I were running out of time to do so.

It occurs to me that some kind of adrenalin must kick in at times following a birth - not for every birth, not for every person - that leaves you in that super-charged state. A natural reaction, perhaps, designed to allow you to cope with a three month period of such profound lack of sleep that it would knock most people sideways.

For creative people, it may also result in a period of the most astonishing fecundity.

At the time, I assumed it was because I had been dragging around for nine months with this double burden, this sense of gravity and vulnerability that can occasionally kick in when pregnant. I was certainly vast with the boys, and carried them full term, so wide towards the end that I had to shuffle sideways through doors. So when their birth finally released me, I was filled with such restless energy that I felt I could do anything. Super-human ...

So how to recapture that state of being super-charged, of being creatively electric and lit up from within - without having to produce twins beforehand?


Sorlil said...

I can only dream of such energy post-birth! Unfortunately I can only function on a reasonable amount of sleep at the best of times. Still, maybe it'll be different this time!

Andrew Philip said...

Interesting. I don't recall the same burst after my daughter was born, but here's hoping I'll have something more like your and David Morley's experience this summer!

Jane Holland said...

It's maybe more a happy collision of factors. (Astrologically speaking, at least, this is definitely the case whenever I get such bursts of energy.) After my second child was born, I was immensely restless and got back to playing snooker within the first week after not having wanted to play for several months. But after my fifth child was born, there was no such restlessness or increse of energy. In fact, rather the opposite.

But then, dear little Indigo cried and cried and cried for the first six months of her life, day and night, driving us all crazy and leaving me little energy for creative work.

Oddly, now aged five and a half, Indigo is remarkable for her blisteringly sunny charm and goody-two-shoes helpfulness. She's nothing like me, being a kind of Shirley Temple in the cute stakes. And her charm is growing stronger every day. Strangers admire her in the street, teachers swoon over her, other parents ask enviously what my secret is.

Of course, she was put on the gifted and talented register at the tender age of four. So I guess all those swelling brain cells must have made her nervous as a baby ... ;)


Hi Jane,
I had super energy after my last baba too - I wrote a novel in a year and took up a job in a writers' centre. No 3 is due in 2 wks and how I'd LOVE a spurt of creativity and energy aftewrwards! My writing pace has slowed to practical standstill but I blame that on all the creative side-work I do.
The pram in the hall is NOT the enemy of art, in my case. If anything it makes an urgency to create. Hope I can still say that ina few weeks!!
N x

The Editors said...

Walking round Coventry you often get told to go and procreate with yourself, but this is interesting. Clearly, the message here is that I should find someone to procreate with pronto if I want to get that f&%£$ng novel finished.

Also, I liked this sentence, Jane, in your comment: "She's nothing like me, being a kind of Shirley Temple in the cute stakes." There's almost enough ambiguity to imply that you're the Shirley Temple-cutey, which I find hilarious. Either way, I'm now going to heckle you on Tuesday night at the Nine Arches Shindig, by calling you Shirley.


GT x

Jane Holland said...

I'm so lucky to have you as a friend, George.

[Pats her curls]


Jane Holland said...

By the way, George, before I forget, if you get a chance, don't forget to tell your students and anyone else who might be interested that there's a poetry open mic at the Kozi Bar in Warwick on Thursday 7th, starting at about 7 - 7.30pm.

I'll give it a plug myself on Tuesday, as well.