I had fantasies about how hugely creative I would be while pregnant — my body’s creation of a new person would ignite unprecedented levels of inspired creativity for my brain. I never expected how appallingly far off that was. My brain had never before experienced such vacuous emptiness as it did during those early weeks of pregnancy. Not even in my early 20s when I smoked tons of marijuana every day.
Most days, sitting at work trying to think (my job is 90 percent thinking), I found myself staring vacantly at the wall, mouth agape, mind completely empty, with no hope of a single, useful thought forming ever again. It was terrifying. I asked people who’d been pregnant if it was normal. The expression on my face when asking must have been incredulous, and in response I received knowing smiles with a hint of pity and a slow nod.
“Your body is using up all your energy and resources to create a person,” my friend told me. “It’s no small job.”
“There’s nothing left over for my brain?”
“Only enough to keep you alive, which doesn’t require much beyond basic instincts.”
But it seemed that even those instincts were compromised. It was difficult to pay attention to anything, anywhere: I walked into streets with cars coming; I stumbled over familiar objects in my house; I laughed at jokes 30 seconds too late. But the worst incident by far, given that I do words for a living, was when I read an article online with the word ‘debut’ in it. I read it as ‘dee-butt’ and assumed it was a synonym of debunk. I read the entire article thinking that, and was utterly confused by the end. Then I recognized ‘debut’ for what it is. The relief of the article making sense was instantly washed away by shock and shame that I would have such a fatal brain fart as to not understand English. It was, I believed, both dangerous and scary.
But there was something lovely about it, too. A kind of active calm. I say ‘active’ because I was, at least physically, doing a lot, despite my fatigue. When I was breathless and swirling with activity, my mind was mostly empty — dealing only with what lay right before me, right in the moment. I wasn’t working out ideas, contemplating my existence, or even marveling at the new, fast, second heartbeat I had acquired (a topic that now leads to whole landscapes of multifarious thought pathways). I was equal parts vigor and serenity. I was an embodiment of the calm of a hundred birds taking flight at once.
Still, I missed my thinking apparatus. I missed the rapid-fire ideas. I missed drinking in words, coaxing them into concoctions, serving them to blank paper.
The day I flew out of town for the AWP Conference in Seattle to begin a 10-day book tour, I was one day shy of 11 weeks pregnant. I took a special trip to the midwife before my flight in hopes she could detect a heartbeat, which she’d been unable to find two weeks prior at my first prenatal appointment. I didn’t want to set out on a trip across the country without knowing that all was well with the baby.
As soon as I walked into the exam room with the midwife, I undid my pants and sat on the padded table. The strip of paper under my ass crinkled and tore. I scanned the room for the doppler device, anxious for her to get to it. Instead, she sat calmly in a chair and looked at my file.
“You’re 11 weeks tomorrow,” she said. She looked up at me. “It might still be too early to hear anything, but we can try.”
“I know,” I said, “I do want you to try, though.”
I’d been warned that it can sometimes take up to 13 weeks to detect a heartbeat with the doppler fetal monitor. She wiped some gel onto my lower abdomen and placed the probe (that looks like a small microphone) against it. We heard it right away, strong and clear: swish, swish, swish, swish…
A precious, rapid rhythm.
A thought — a real, solid thought! — came to me like a gift from that heartbeat: The creative force is completely autonomous. When it comes, it comes through us, not of us. I (the ‘I’ that thinks and schemes and speaks and acts; the conscious ‘I’) have little to do with ‘it’, this person growing inside my body with a heart that beats, and organs that function, and blood that flows. I merely had to conceive, first the idea and then the action. I didn’t have to tell my body how to do it or when to do it or what should happen next. I am merely a conduit: My part is to surrender to and cooperate with the creative force.
The process is similar to the creative force that possesses me when I write. It takes over and comes through me into the world. It changes me as it goes, reorganizing me, and creating me anew.
So it’s not actually true that pregnancy killed my creativity. Rather, pregnancy has been teaching me more about what creativity is and where it comes from. Or, at least, where it does not come from.