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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Utecht

Pandemic, Pregnancy, Parenthood: Becoming Creative Again After a Tumultuous Period

My heart thudded in my chest and my face flushed with heat. I turned the test the other way around, realizing only after I'd done so that two lines remains two lines no matter which way they're turned. Positive. And it wasn't Covid.

Alone in Svaneti
Alone on the normally packed Mestia-Ushguli trial.

It was January 2021, a year deep into the pandemic. Already time had begun to move like a garden snail. As I watched it, it crept slowly, almost imperceptibly, but when I'd look up again, it would be gone from sight. Days stretched on for weeks while months went by in a moment. I'd been lucky. The country of Georgia didn't get Covid for months after the rest of the world. The country had shut down to tourists, but since my husband and I were already within the borders, we got to travel and go to cafes and restaurants for half of 2020. However, being the lucky in a world on house arrest was still house arrest.

I wanted to be able to drink wine with friends that weekend, so I needed to take a pregnancy test to be sure. It was the first month that I hadn't felt hopeful. The other five had been negative. Why not this one? I wasn't about to miss out on the gorgeous bottle of Saperavi wine only to get my period the next day. "Did you feel it? Couldn't you just sense that you were pregnant?" Whenever someone asked me this I wanted to yes, but scoffs travel faster than lies.

Holding that stick in my hand with its two pink lines, I felt exhilarated and terrified at once. During the course of my pregnancy I was nauseous, proud, bloated, glowing, sore, starry-eyed — through it all though, I was scared. I was scared that in my happiest moment I could lose the pregnancy as so many women do. Scared that in a moment of complaining I might miscarry. I know not all women feel this way, but I was attached to that baby from the first moment I knew he was there.

Despite my comparatively easy pregnancy, it was hard in so many ways. I'd been warned about the physical and emotional tolls it would take, but I wasn't ready for the hit my motivation and, especially, creativity would take.

Pregnancy brain — which is really just a patronizing way of saying extreme fatigue due to lack of sleep and the rebellion of your body — left me in a constant fog. I couldn't read a book for more than a few minutes or write a journal entry, let alone create any sort of decent chapter for my novel. My consolation was that there was an end in sight. I wouldn't be pregnant forever, though it felt like I might be when my son decided to stay in the jacuzzi an extra two weeks.

But it wasn't easier once he was born. I needed a new end to look to; he wouldn't be a newborn forever. I Googled, "When do babies get easier?" and the internet provided a seemingly unanimous answer: babies get much easier after three months. Now, looking at my six-month-old, I am trying to find a way to piece together a Google search that conveys the feeling of, "No, like, easier than that."

It didn't strike me really how much time had passed until my birthday in February. Last February I was newly pregnant, not showing yet unless you count the seasick pallor and my refusal to drink in the heart of Georgia's wine country. It had been snowing then, fat, lazy snowflakes that had coated the clay and metal rooftops with a layer of white so thick you didn't know which roof was which. More than a year later, I was back in Kakheti, no longer pregnant, but with my son fast asleep in his car seat. A year had passed, and while I had gotten Covid, gotten pregnant, and now had a tiny human who depended on me, writing-wise I had only a couple thousand words to show for it. No matter how much I put myself into situations where I could previously write, it didn't work.

Since that realization, two months have passed. Only now do I feel like I can even say I am drafting my novel again. It took several realizations to even begin. If you find your in a similar position, I hope reading these will save you the time and grief that it took me to come to them.

It isn't laziness.

As easy as it is to tell myself that I just need to buck up, it isn't that I've had a lack of bucking-upness. This applies to any major life change, but especially parenthood, and especially new parenthood. It is not only the lack of sleep and the physical tolls of carrying this new person around and meeting their needs all day. It is also the emotional toll that this takes. It took nearly three months for my son to really smile at me. I thought, this is it! The emotional expenditure is being returned. But that didn't translate into enough energy to take a shower let alone enough energy to pen a novel. It was a sleepy contentedness that got me through the hardest moments.

It won't change overnight.

At three months I noticed a shift in my son's sleep. I could count on three naps. Now things will change. The same when I could count on him going to bed at eight. NOW things will change. And they did. But not consistently enough for me to establish a routine, which had been so essential to me finishing my last novel. Every day will be another step, and most of them will be in the direction of things getting easier, but not all of them.

While it won't ever be the same, I've gained something wonderful.

I adore my son. But if you're reading this it likely isn't to read a love letter to the best baby (objectively). So, I will focus my attention on what I have gained that impacts my life as a writer.

But seriously. Look at this freaking face.

Okay. I'm focused. While I may have lost the ability to detach from the world as I delve into the world of my novel or short story, there is something I have gained, creatively, that I would have otherwise lacked. New experiences and new perspectives. I've grown a human inside me. I've birthed him. I've met him and loved him in a way unlike any other love -- if you'll pardon the absolutely true cliché.

Elly, from my currently shelved novel Selective Suspension, was, at least in her mind, a mother to two young children. I'd loved my younger brothers in a fierce protective way that I drew on to inform Elly's choices. While I doubt this was the make or break for my novel, reliving these scenes, I now find them rather flat. If I were to write them now, I think they would feel more alive. In writing that sentence, I think forward to how much better informed they'd feel in a few months or years when my son's age mirrors Elly's children's ages. This is not to say I -- or you, dear reader --should put off writing as you wait for the perfect, most authentic and informed moment. No, this is only a reminder that through each experience we lose our old selves, but we gain a new self. Let's be kinder to these new selves as they come into existence and try to get their bearings. Let's encourage their efforts and celebrate their small victories.

Writing is writing. Planning is writing. Thinking is writing.

If we write something bad, great! We can write something better next time. If we can only get in a few paragraphs or lines in the moments we're given or we take, wonderful! They wouldn't have been written otherwise. If we can't write because we have our arms full of something more pressing, then let's take the time to plan and think and even rest out minds. Otherwise, we just beat ourselves up for moments we believe we could have been writing, without realizing the impossibility of it. If we could only celebrate those few words we got on a page or organized in our minds, then we would be encouraged to do more rather than discouraged because only a lengthy writing session with hundreds of words really counts.

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