January 13th, 2012 / 11:42 am
Haut or not

Baby Bump

Yesterday I was walking around Brooklyn on my cell phone and I walked so far I ended up in Big Sur. Who knew Big Sur is so close to Brooklyn? I was like, This has to be the shittiest Big Sur it is so shitty.

I was on the phone with my Aunt Shira and she felt deprived of information as to why I don’t have a baby. I was like, Do you want to know why? There is an Ann Lauterbach poem that might help you understand. It helps me understand maybe a little. She was like, Is Ann Lauterbach Jewish?

The poem I’m talking about is called “Indictment Without Subject” and it doesn’t really help me understand why I don’t have a baby, but it’s a neat poem.

In it Ann Lauterbach uses repetition to convey reproduction in machinelike, rather than biological terms. She writes:

The bourgeoisie tribe makes babies.
The babies cry I want.
The babies cry more.
This is how it learns to count.

Lauterbach’s language suggests that the tribe’s baby-making is a capitalist action: a product of and for conspicuous consumption, rather than a biological urge. They “make” babies like a factory makes a widget. The babies’ first words in the poem are not Mommy or Daddy, but “want” and “more.” Rather than establishing a dynamic of a parent teaching a child, the tribe instead consumes its children by “learning to count” them. 

When I think about Lauterbach as a female poet, I wonder how her consumerist portrayal of reproduction reflects upon women as childbearers and mothers? Nowhere in the stanza do we see any natural imagery, conveying childbirth as a biological action. The act of birthing and child-rearing are not described as women’s work, nor is there any joy in the process. Rather, it’s the collective “it” that churns out babies. Any reproductive ineluctability in this poem arrives out of an industrial, rather than a biological basis. The act of making babies—and the paradigm that encourages this as indispensable—is rendered a manufactured social signifier.

Can making art be as satisfying as making babies?
Is it selfish to deny your Aunt a niece?
Is there pressure on female artists to have it all?
Is there pressure on male artists to have it all?
Would you rather feel the pressure to have it all than the pressure to have only one thing?
Do you talk to your family?
Howz your biological clock doing?

43 Comments

  1. Sarafmc

      All classes have babies. There’s nothing mechanical about it, and only a childless or clinically depressed person could imagine otherwise – birth tells you what an animal you are more than any other life experience.

      Nobody should have babies unless they truly want them. Raising small children is stressful and blissful, dulling and inspiring, but no matter your philosophies, you are on call 24/7. If you can’t be on call full time, you have to find and pay and trust other people to do it. The first few years will be less productive, either way, though if you get lucky and do it right, vast amounts of love and insight are the payoff. You know yourself. You know your material and emotional situation. Ignore all pressure, pro or con, it is your life.

      Art is nowhere near as satisfying as happy healthy confident loving children. But if you screw up art, there is much less hell to pay. Art can’t die on you, or develop a chronic illness. What is your attitude toward long term love? What are you willing to commit? And risk? What’s worth what to you? You can absolutely make art, and have children, and do both well. It’s been done many times. But you are you.

      Grace Paley wrote a relevant poem, ostensibly about pie. But the art and children are in the room.

  2. elizabeth ellen

      nothing matters. you could write a similar poem about love affairs/friendship/men/women. you can be cynical about anything, about getting up in the morning, about washing your face, wiping your ass. what’s the point? who gives a fuck. the first four years of my daughter’s life were the most contented of mine. i didn’t plan it out. weigh the consequences. consider my artistic freedom. it’s life. live it however you want to. it doesn’t matter either way. no one gives a shit about your biological clock except maybe your aunt. that poem seems outdated.

  3. Roxane

      I cannot imagine considering art when I think about making a baby. I love writing and all but I love having a life more. It will be frustrating at times, I’m sure, to have less time for writing but pretty excited, someday, to have someone who shits their pants on the regular.

  4. La Petite Zine

      can i call you? :)

  5. John Minichillo

      I think our generation, as a generation of writers, is having more babies than our forebears did. Even just a generation ago, the men who wrote had (a series of) wives, and the women who wrote mostly didn’t have children.

      I think this is maybe because we can almost never make a living at writing and so it’s always writing plus some other career. We can’t vagabond in Paris or live in hotels. It costs more to be us, and we settle down. We need health insurance. And then we have babies.

      It is difficult. It does get in the way. But it is an enormous life experience that will change the way one makes art. Art becomes more and less important.

      I think the choice is so personal it is probably better left unrationalized, but I also think it’s something people should leave you alone about.

  6. La Petite Zine

      oops! sorry, this is melissa (post author)

  7. Helen

      ‘I cannot imagine considering art when I think about making a baby”  – But doesn’t that scare you? The loss of grip on the need for making art? It scares the hell out of me, as much as I like the possibility of the little monsters.

  8. Leigh Stein

      Who are you thinking of? (The women who wrote who mostly didn’t have children.) 

  9. Roxane

      I don’t think my need to create art will disappear, My time to create art will be diminished. I used to be scared of the prospect of children, totally terrified really but then oops, I had to face the prospect down and well, shit happens, but it all re-oriented my thinking on this matter. 

  10. Helen

      Think I need to get to the calm stage. Need to carve a little space out like you seem to have. Right now all the hints, questions, statements and looks are starting to make my palms sweat.

  11. Rob

      “I think this is maybe because we can almost never make a living at
      writing and so it’s always writing plus some other career. We can’t
      vagabond in Paris or live in hotels. It costs more to be us, and we
      settle down. We need health insurance. And then we have babies.”

      Uh, I think the 1st part of what you’re saying ismore the result of a stronger urge (for whatever reason) to have children, not the cause. Does anyone actually want a have a baby because they “need” health insurance?

  12. Rob

      I do think that this generation (by which I mean, I guess, like people aged 20-40 or something) do feel both more pressure and more entitlement to “have it all” than previous generations. I think by and large we don’t really get it the way previous artists did, that making meaningful art will almost certainly require significant sacrifice in other areas.

  13. joe

      Hiromi Itō.

  14. M. Kitchell

      art > babies

      also, fwiw; my first word actually was “more” according to my parents

  15. Darby Larson

      this feels along the lines of anti-oedipus by deleuze and gattari, or maybe it just seems that ways since i’m reading it now, but i like these ideas also, that everything is a machine whos results are the input to a different machine and so on. babies and art both do things to society (capitalism), is one’s potential greater than another? i don’t think the question is ‘are they are comparable?’ it’s more that they are wound up in the same process, when a baby is old enough to see art and desires to make more of it, or when art changes a persons mind about how they will live their life and to perhaps make some babies. it’s all a thing, it’s all nothing.

  16. Roxane

      Yeah, my family is pretty intense with the hints and such. I mostly don’t let it bug me or accelerate my timetable, or make me anxious because last I checked, they won’t be involved in the production process and as such, they don’t get a say.

  17. Melissa Broder

      Oh, btw, I don’t have an Aunt Shira. I was talking to myself.

  18. lorian long

      my first word was ‘squirt’

  19. lorian long

      there should be a ‘what was yr first word’ post. seems like a good idea.

  20. John Minichillo

      I was speaking in general, but I think there’s a history there that can be extended until very recently. It’s probably the same for other demanding careers, for ‘career women.’ It might also be true of lawyers, but I don’t know.

      If we go back as far as when women didn’t write under pen names, when they were involved in editorships, when they were also shaping the culture through literature, at the beginning of the twentieth century and on – this is maybe what’s so important about “a room of one’s own.” Men have often had that, and if the man was a writer, it was maybe taken for granted. The gendered division of labor and such.

      Can you be Joyce Carol Oates and have children? Can you be Stephen King and have children? It’s a truism, but there’s something to it.

      To postulate an arbitrary year, if you were born before 1965, you probably still felt a lot of that as a writer. If you look around at these writers, it seems fewer have children than the general population. And many of the women who did have children started writing later, or took longer between books, or the kids grew up to resent them. And not that this didn’t happen to male writers who had children; it just wasn’t part of the story of them as writers. So ten years between books for Lorrie Moore and she talks about having a kid. George Lucas stays home instead of making more movies and that’s seen as really unusual, really commendable, what a great guy.

      Maybe I feel this way because I’m more connected to the personal lives of other writers through FB, whether I want to be or not. I get a sense of a lot of writers under 50 struggling with the kid-time – and writing about it. And that feels newish to me.

  21. John Minichillo

      Obviously, health insurance doesn’t cause babies, but there is a need for a career and for health insurance, and that’s part of settling down. I see these things as simultaneous, not cause and effect.

  22. Brian M

      If you just have sex enough, even on birthcontrol, the numbers will even out and you’ll have a kid. Birth control is 93-99%, so say have sex regularly for a few years with your partner and you’ll have a kid. I am!

  23. John Dowland

      Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf.Get out as early as you can, And don’t have any kids yourself.

  24. lorian long

      i’ve never felt more like a machine than when i had my abortion and iud inserted. it’s interesting how trying to stop ‘production’ becomes its own kind of ‘stunted’ capitalism

  25. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      my vanity project comes from china. i make that bitch play piano. i send that to charter schools on scholarship. “kids suck.” stuck with me. 

  26. Sandra

      I have a toddler and I’m pregnant with my second child. My experience has been that my need to make art has not disappeared or diminished but, like Roxane, says, time does. However, I have learned to write drafts of poems very quickly. My model is now something like William Carlos Williams writing poems between patients (I also work full time).  Mostly, I don’t have the extended periods of time that I used to which is very difficult. But I wouldn’t say it’s impossible.

  27. Guilie Castillo

      Melissa, I’m with you.  Seems, in spite of vehement posts above, that nowadays more and more women are looking at the whole child-bearing and -rearing bit with a modicum of distaste.  Do we feel guilty for doing that?  Yep.  Does the guilt change anything?  For some, maybe.  I know enough women who got pressured into pregnancy (by mothers, husbands, peers, whoever) and, in moments of brutal–and possibly drunken–honesty, they regret it with a fervor that scares me.  So–yep, have a child when you really really REALLY want one.  If you ever do.  And if you never do, it’s perfectly all right :)

  28. mimi

      being pregnant is experiencing the creative powers of the universe firsthand in the depths of your belly  

      and all the risks inherent in an imperfect nature    not to mention the forces that take over once the baby is born (and ever more risks)  

  29. Edgar_rosenbloom

      What I’m most afraid

  30. Edgar_rosenbloom

      Susan Smith looking for pen pals

  31. Edgar_rosenbloom
  32. joe

      I’ll say it again.

      Hiromi Itō.

  33. Shamalamadinginton

      Women who have “made” babies have made great art. But if we want to set back women’s place in society by, oh, 200 years or so, we can take this line of conversation seriously, not interrogate it at all. Sure.

  34. Roxane

      I’m not speaking for all womankind. I’m speaking for me at the place I’m at in my life. Ten years ago, my thinking would have been radically different and I would have considered the impact a child would have on my art. The only thing that sets women back is when women are expected to function as a collective.

  35. Laura Page

      Women are always encountering a “language barriar” as it were. We look for something that consumer capitalism doesn’t provide, but what we want is inaccessible, because it is unpronounceable. Consumerism is not our native tongue, but we’ve all but forgotten what that language was. I believe that female artists are doing the work of rediscovering that lost language.

  36. Laura Page

      I can’t help but think that the term “artist” connotes a state of being. Once an artist, always an artist, even if your time is limited. I also think that making a baby is creating a work of art in a more spiritual sense. And having children, while certainly challenging in many respects, only adds to an artist’s repertoir of inspiring influences.

  37. Shamalamadinginton

      Love when you answer trolly comments all serious-like.

  38. NLY

      Speaking as a male artist, no. The question is so far removed from my context that it loses almost all of its meaning, when applied to me, and I couldn’t actually tell you what ‘pressure to have it all’ would look like for me.

      But I’m also not sure that it’s smart to assume that pressure is universally applicable to a female context. By which I mean, just because we’re finding our way into a world where women are not bound by their biology, does not mean we’re ever going to find a world where that biology refuses to enter into the equation. And I’m not sure that this pressure is the same as a ‘social’ pressure to ‘have it all’. It’s a personal pressure, brought about by unexplored social opportunity, to figure out what it means to not be bound by your biology, but still have it. The difference between the ideal and the reality.
      In the one formulation, society has dumped you with undue stressors. In the other, you’re brinksmen and pioneers.

  39. Necbromancer

      Hiromi ito writes about motherhood, bro. Are you saying ‘write about motherhood’ is the answer to these questions.’ Seems pathetic.

  40. Necbromancer

      no one ‘gives a shit’ about your contentment.

  41. joe

      Oh shit, you know, you’re right. She does write about motherhood and how motherhood may conflict yet contribute to yet burden yet enlighten one’s outlook on art, family, sexuality, time, general identity, etc… Completely off topic. I stand down.

  42. Profound Lover

      big news:  Seth Abramson is pregnant. With twins: a boy and a girl. They’re going to be Lawyers and Poets. And run, in their spare time, an MFA ratings business. His family’s going absolutely Ga-Ga.

  43. Roxane

      I AM HERE FOR YOU.