Pregnancy and work as a self employed artist

I am currently 35 weeks pregnant, and just winding down my blacksmithing practice, so I wanted to write about my feelings around this and what might happen in the future. Throughout my pregnancy I realised just how much of my identity as a person is wrapped up in my career as an artist – achieving and creating, making things and earning, and engaging with my material. The first few months of pregnancy I found really difficult because I was so tired and ill that I couldn’t work as much as I would have liked to. This meant that I felt depressed and angry – at the situation, at myself for feeling weak and for having this need to be making in order to feel like a full person. My second trimester was the complete opposite, and I had a glorious four months of being able to do so much.

The last month or so I have found it very difficult to get work done again, the size I am means that it’s difficult to move around the space, and so much of the work needs to be done on the ground which it is impossible to reach. Since I am finding it difficult to do my own work at the moment, I have spent a lot of time asking myself what to do instead.

The questions that have been circling my head are – How do I get the feeling of achievement, of creating and accomplishing things, if I cannot work? Is achievement the only barometer of being an active member of society? Should I keep away from social media because it makes me feel like I’m missing out on everything? Why is my identity, my very character and self belief so tied up with achieving and working, maybe even more so than making, and how can I detach myself from that? And why do I have to give these parts of me up when my partner continues to work? I really have not come up with answers for these, so if anyone can give me any pointers, please let me know.

Something that I ask myself a lot within my work is “what do I want to achieve?” – it is built into every five year plan, every project, every idea I have. It’s hard to not think about, because it is something that must inform my work, otherwise I would feel cut adrift. It allows me to say yes or no to projects, and pushes me to apply to opportunities I wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, with this pregnancy, I have been asking myself –

What can I achieve when pregnant and when I have a baby? When do I have to stop working? When can I begin again? And then, as it is a big break in life too – when I start working again, how will that look and how will I get back to where I was? Do I want to or do I want to refocus on other things?

My partner has the statutory two weeks of paternity (a ridiculously small amount of time to spend with his new baby, and no real use to me as a mother) so the majority of the care work will fall to me. However, we are incredibly fortunate that he will be able to reduce his work to three days a week, leaving two days free to share the responsibility. This will mean time together as a family at first, and then will allow me to take some time to get back to my own career. Feeling like I have to fight for my right to have a career, and to not have to take a big break in it, is strange – it should go without saying that I have a right to work, to be my own person and to further my career as much as my partner, but at every turn we seem to come across barriers to my work being seen on the same level as his.

So, I will need to plan my time, deciding what will be my main focus.

This means I will recentre my practice on –

Exhibitions, my own work, and sculpture rather than commissioned gates and railings. I will try to spend time thinking about craft and its place in the world, rather than just solely making. I want to push things forward for steel, to encourage people to see it as an interesting material, outside the world of fabrication.

My masters in research looked into metal work in the street, how steel railings affect us, how to change the design and implementation to change the way we feel in our street environments. I found that railings do affect us. So I would like to look into how to move forward with this. I want to make metalwork work for us, to help to redesign streets. But I feel like my way to do that is by making people see that steel can be a beautiful, fluid and interesting material, then to bring it back to things like the design of railings.

I worry that when I manage to begin working again, it will be so rushed, I will be so unable to sit and think about what I want to achieve because I will be so rushed doing so much, trying to take time out of my mothering that I can’t take time to contemplate what needs to be done.

So, I hope I can take time to think beforehand. Where I should go with my practice, and if I don’t achieve as much as I want to, can I use that feeling to push forward in other ways. I’m sure my focus will change, and that something will be added as well as something being taken away. But since making and achieving is such a big part of my self identity, I hope that I can find a way to be both a mother and an artist.

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