An artistic woman’s plight
My lease is up soon.
“Why not move in with me?” Brian asked a few weeks ago. He lives on the Upper West Side, has a two-story apartment, and a backyard. “There’s plenty of room for you and Mooshu.”
I was panicky; we’ve only known each other for six months. Plus, I haven’t lived with someone in four years (since my college boyfriend Mark in Queens, which ended quite messily).
But then I thought: Brian and I spend every day together anyways. We have fun. And he supports me as a writer
I officially move in at the end of July.
There is a school and playground across the street from “our” apartment. There are usually screaming children outside during the day. I was on my way to the gym Tuesday when a blue ball bounced over the fence and into the street (the kids got a little too zealous playing kickball). I retrieved it.
When I did, a mob of 6-year-olds pressed their faces against the chain.
“Over here!” some cried.
“No! Over here!”
I stood back and launched the ball up and over. It landed amongst a huddle of girls, who then mocked the boys.
“Thank you!” the girls cheered.
Then the entire group, “THANK YOUUU!”
A strange sensation filled me: utter joy. Making those children happy was the high point of my day.
I’m 28. And my mommy instincts have been hitting me hard. Not that I want children anytime soon. I don’t. But someday, once my writing has taken off. Say, 32? Thirty-three?
I often wonder: how many should I have? It’s a difficult decision for women, I think. Especially artistic women.
Some of my favorite female authors opted out of mommyhood altogether: Jane Austen, Emily and Anne Bronte, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Ivy Compton Burnett, Elizabeth Bowen, Iris Murdoch, Shirley Hazzard
For those who want to be a mother, journalist and author Lauren Sandler argues that women should restrict the size of their families if they want to avoid limiting their careers.
Writing in the Atlantic, Sandler – an only child and the mother of one – pointed to a remark from Alice Walker, another mother of one, that female artists “should have children – assuming this is of interest to them – but only one Because with one you can move. With more than one you’re a sitting duck.”
She references other women writers who only have one child: Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Hardwick, Margaret Atwood, Ellen Willis, Susan Sontag, Mary McCarthy, and Elizabeth Hardwick.
The prize-winning authors Zadie Smith and Jane Smiley – both of whom have more than one child – have hit back against Sandler’s claim.
“I have two children. Dickens had 10 – I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too father-ish to be writer-esque? Does the fact that Heidi Julavits, Nikita Lalwani, Nicole Krauss, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vendela Vida, Curtis Sittenfeld, Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison and so on and so forth (I could really go on all day with that list) have multiple children make them lesser writers?” said Smith. “Are four children a problem for the writer Michael Chabon – or just for his wife, the writer Ayelet Waldman?”
Smith believes that the real threat “to all women’s freedom is the issue of time, which is the same problem whether you are a writer, factory worker or nurse.” If women writers want multiple children, then there needs to be affordable public daycare services, “partners who do their share,” and a supportive community of friends and family.
It’s difficult for me to have an opinion – my time and money is still my own. But I think it’s a personal choice. Every woman’s needs and abilities and wants are different. Saying that a woman “should” do anything only diminishes her and her choices, whether she decides to have zero, one, or 10 children.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to