My husband and I are having a baby (due Feburary 4th) and have been attending a 12-week-long Bradley childbirth class. We have one more class, and at this point we’re feeling as prepared as possible for labor.
At the suggestion of our teacher, I went the other day to a meeting of La Leche League, a nonprofit organization in which mothers support other mothers with issues about breastfeeding and parenting in general.
Up until this point I hadn’t been thinking too much about breastfeeding other than I want to do it. I wasn’t sure it made sense to attend the meeting. What was I supposed to do there? I don’t have any breastfeeding problems yet.
But, always the diligent student, I went.
I was the first to arrive. The rest of the mothers straggled in ten, fifteen, thirty minutes late. They carried diaper bags and pushed strollers. As we sat around in a circle to chat, babies cried and needed to be nursed. Toddlers squirmed on their mother’s laps, threw toys on the floor, took off running around the room. All around the room were the sounds of Cheerio-crunching and the plastic being stripped off of fruit leathers and string cheeses. (Okay, okay, so one of those string cheeses was mine, but at least I ate my cheese and didn’t throw it, half gummed with saliva, onto the floor.)
This is going to be my life soon, I thought. I’m going to be the one chasing a sticky-fingered toddler around the room.
Being there, listening to moms ask about weaning and co-sleeping and pediatricians made me realize: Paul and I have been preparing so much for labor and birth — this one single day (or two) — when maybe we need to spend more time preparing for everything that comes afterwards.
I recently taught a workshop at The Bethesda Writers Center on “How to Land a Literary Agent.” It was a great class, and I think the students learned a lot about how to research agents and write query letters. But I also think many writers (myself included) put too much emphasis on this one part of the becoming-a-writer process.
For years I thought, essentially, that if I could just get an agent, then I would be a Real Writer and everything else would fall into place. But the truth is, landing an agent is just a first step in the long journey of becoming a professional writer.
So many writers, it seems, focus on getting an agent. They attend query-writing workshops and go to agent panels at conferences. And these are good things to do, don’t get me wrong. But don’t lose sight of what’s to come, which is, hopefully, a long career in writing.
Once you get an agent for your manuscript, what will you do then? Have you started writing another book? Do you have a platform so you can spread the word about your book? Do you have more to learn about your craft? Have you made connections with other writers who can write blurbs for you? What will you do if your agent doesn’t pan out or your book doesn’t sell? How will you refill your creative well and continue to make time for your writing?
Perhaps, in addition to preparing for the agent-hunt, writers should be preparing for the many writing years they have ahead – for everything that comes after an agent says yes.
And part of that preparation, I think, is psychological.
I’ve had to adjust my expectations of both myself and the publishing industry. I’ve had to accept that this is a marathon, not a race. I’ve had to realize that I still have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do on my craft. I’ve also had to figure out how to make writing a part of my life in a way that is healthy and doesn’t makes me feel anxious or self-doubting.
Going back to my upcoming status as a parent… It’s not that I haven’t given any thought to what happens after the baby comes out. I’ve listened to some parenting podcasts and read part of The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears. The other day, Paul and I went over to a friend’s house and forced her to give us a cloth diaper demo. Yesterday we bought a used changing table for $35. So we’re slowly getting prepared for our upcoming career as parents.
But we also need to prepare psychologically. We need to adjust our expectations of what we can accomplish professionally, especially in the first six months. (I hope to be writing again by the time the baby is six months old, but if I’m not, I need to find a way to be okay with that.) We need adjust to our new lifestyle in a way that is healthy for our marriage as well as healthy for all three of us individually. We also need to accept that we’re not going to be perfect parents and things aren’t always going to go the way we’d like. All we can do is love our baby, get advice, trust our instincts, and try our best.
Come to think of it, that’s probably good advice for my writing career, too: love my writing, get advice, trust my instincts, and try my best.
And goodness knows, all the preparation in the world will never truly prepare me for the real thing. Experience is always the best teacher, and I’m ready to learn.