As told by June:
I’m pretty sure there’s a book, likely long decomposed somewhere, from around first grade stating that I was going to be an artist and a mommy…or maybe a teacher and a mommy. I’m proud to say I’ve taken on all three roles & while they’re all difficult in their own way, they are me.
I went to school for graphic design, did a few odd & some not so odd jobs in the 13 years since graduating. I mostly worked as a nanny & later as a preschool teacher, helping to raise other people’s children like they were family. Some of the kids I nannied for, early on, are out of college, which is beyond bonkers to me. They already have jobs making more money than I ever did, or probably would even want to.
It all feels like a lifetime ago, life before babies, because it was. My Calvin, as I remember, gave me a pretty chill pregnancy experience, minus the gas…oh man, I hope I always remember that.
His estimated due date was 6/11/2016 & I eventually started having contractions 6/16 around 4pm. I bounced on my medicine ball, watching a storm roll in. When it finally began to rain, I went outside. As the rain fell down my face, he slowly worked his way out. It was painful, it felt as though I was ripped in half from my asshole, but as soon as I held his warm, wet body against my chest at 2:55 AM, I would’ve happily done it all over again…and did 2 & a half years later.
I struggled when he was born with my identity as a mother, still do. I didn’t understand. It was everything I had always wanted, but I don’t get to turn a switch and shut off my responsibilities as I once could. I can’t just sit in a room and paint all day, like I often times wish I could. I’ve not resented my children or husband, but more of my (and so many other mama’s) lack of community and support. I hate that everything can feel so far away and lonely, but never being alone.
My husband takes the kids, but I am always mama. When they’re not in my eyesight, my mind creates nightmares of my children being torn from me as I read more and more about the children of asylum seeking mamas that are being separated from them each day, some younger than Daisy, unable to breastfeed, tormented.
When I became pregnant with Calvin, I told my husband that I would take a year off to be with the babe and to work on my art. I had grand plans to make dinner each night, keep the house tidier than ever before and to become this famous artist…or something. I was going to set up a way to make a passive income for myself that I could ride until he was in kindergarten. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, especially in the first year of motherhood.
If I was able to get out of pajamas and take a shower, I called it a success. I did go to play dates and made more friends than I had made in the 8+ years since I moving to NOVA from LA, but they weren’t the type of friendships I really craved. We talked about baby milestones and they drank or talked about drinking. Ooh wee, I could write a whole other blog on mommy wine culture and just might.
Even if it was not my ultimate desired company, I pushed for play dates and made things happen, because there are sometimes just too many hours between the moment my husband would leave for work and when he’d return.
Early on, Calvin slept a lot, so I would paint. I dove into abstract work, and was pretty terrible at it. It was so cathartic to put onto canvas what I was unable to say in words. I had been doing these colorful animals for years, but felt super drawn to make abstracts with him at my side. They were easier as I didn’t have to adhere to any set rules. I kept at it. Literally hundreds of paintings later & finally I had my breakthrough piece, the first abstract that I actually liked. I want to keep it, but also feel that if someone feels a true connection with it that they should have it in their home. Before that, I was just doing it as therapy, not really showing them & often painting over them.
The abstract work still dominates my painting time, but I have branched out a bit. When I was pregnant with Daisy, my identity as a woman and mother felt a little more grounded, I was obviously already a mother, but really spent time and energy thinking about what motherhood meant to me.
Toward the end of July last year, I was having strong nursing aversions with Calvin during my pregnancy. I considered weaning before baby came, but really enjoyed breastfeeding overall. I knew that August was Breastfeeding Awareness Month and challenged myself to paint a nursing mother everyday for the month of August.
It was hot. I was nauseous. I was tired, so I took a jar of gouache that I’ve had since college, 1 paint brush, & one piece of watercolor paper to the couch each day. I let Calvin watch TV for an hour & painted during that time. I sometimes had 3 done, sometimes I’d work one into oblivion and given up.
I hadn’t painted people since high school and it was not something I was especially confident in doing, but I didn’t feel obligated to share them all. I wanted to, though. I think I did over 50 & then explored painting baby wearing & pregnant mothers, painting snuggle time and babies by themselves in the following months. I did maybe one or two in color & on canvas by the time Daisy was born in January, and a few more within her first few sleepy months. I called her my muse, I still think she is, Calvin too. He wishes I would paint more animals. I think he’s right.
Daisy was a rough pregnancy. I had all day nausea pretty much up until 7 months. I was just so uncomfortable the whole time. She has since made up for it being just about the most chill and happy baby I’ve met, which is saying a lot…but I may be a bit biased.
We had a rough couple months getting her paperwork in order, every bit of paperwork or file or whatever with Daisy’s name written on it had an issue. Every department, organization, agency, doctor, office, company, whatever gave me such shit over processing whatever. I stopped logging hours on the phone over 100 hours, many of which were spent on hold. I became so enraged by the whole ordeal, talking to faceless voice that never truly listened, never resolving things that needed to be resolved, so many broken promises.
She was/is such an awesome kid and yet she seems to have slipped through every crack imaginable. It’s such a shame that she had to live those first few months of life with mom in such a tizzy. I’m so bitter when I think of everything that went wrong. I need to clear my head and that’s when painting becomes so important to me. It’s a release, a necessity.
My art process is pretty intuitive, I sometimes do a rough sketch, but never pick colors ahead of time. The colors come to me as they can.
I’ve always loved green, but have been living for this color I’ve named “Emerald Jungle” green since I was pregnant with Calvin. It’s his color. It’s not his favorite color now, but it’s how I saw him inside me, a little sprout. Daisy was a pale, soft green, I named “Sage Mint”. I meditated on my babies & they presented themselves to me as these beams of color (I accidentally just typed beans & that’s pretty accurate, too), and I painted with their colors. It’s a beautiful feeling, a way of connecting them into my art.
I get into a zone when I paint ordinarily, but have to work it in while they play now, which can be extremely difficult and increasingly so as Daisy is now crawling everywhere and is caught daily with a (closed) tube of paint in her mouth. My couch heaps with tubes of paint, my rolling cart, which holds even more colors at the ready.
Calvin asks if I can do x,y, or z with him, and many times I do, but sometimes mommy is working. Mommy is working because she has to, not so much to make us money, but for her sanity.
I let go a bit of the drive to become a famous artist (…or something) and to even make any money. I paint what feels right and if someone else loves it, great. I’m pretty prolific, but haven’t yet had the luxury of making enough in a year to cover expenses.
My husband works his tail off so that I can stay at home with my kids and paint, and for that (and SO MUCH MORE), I am eternally grateful. He is supportive in his way, but is not the mind reader I once thought he was. After over 10 years of togetherness, I still struggle to ask my partner (or anyone for that matter) for what I truly want & need, mostly alone time.
I need time where I’m just an artist, so that I can focus on the tasks that seem impossible with 2 children adoringly dangling from my tired body.
If you see me out in the world with unapologetically unkempt hair, flip flops worn nearly to the ground, overstuffed, heavy backpack/purse, & likely paint somewhere on my person, be kind. Give me that “I’m in the same boat” nod that moms sometimes give each other when they’ve been there & done that. I’m just trying my best, my hardest. It’s not everyone’s ideal, but it’s all I’ve got in me & I’ve got two adorable & happy kids to show for it.
“She’s my mom. Her name is June and she is an artist.” Calvin once told a cashier unprovoked.
That’s me. He’s right. Always a mama, sometimes an artist.
_ _ _ _ _
More about the LIFE AFTER BIRTH PROJECT
Images by Bergen Howlett for Two Rivers Childbirth