Sonia Orchard is the mother of 3 girls, keeper of a menagerie of dogs, cats, fish and chooks, the writer of big novels, a scientist, pianist and more besides. To all this work she brings her ample cleverness, humour and curiosity. Sonia writes here on the nexus of motherhood and creativity from deep in the chaotic beautiful mess of a young family – complete with parasites, allergies, budding young singers and an imminent new work of fiction. I am amazed she agreed, incredulous and utterly delighted she found the time.
As much as I expected to glide effortlessly into it, motherhood arrived for me like an earthquake. My daughter was unwell and I was in a state of shock for about the first eight months. After I came to, it took me a long time to put together the debris of my old life – my relationship, my career, my friendships, my sense of identity – in a way that I felt might work and make sense. I have a memory, from around that time, of getting the opportunity to go out one night, and just staring at my wardrobe, feeling a complete disassociation with all of my clothes (not to mention the trouble I was going to have fitting into any of them…). I was no longer that person.
We live in a very individualistic culture, we’re encouraged to chase our dreams and look after Number One. Being an artist is, I believe, particularly egocentric, and for me, the transition from living quite a self-centered existence, to sublimating my needs to the needs of a family, made for a crunchy time. These days, almost eight years later, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to pursue two of the things I most love doing in life: parenting and writing. Many women can’t have children, and most women around the world are too busy trying to put food on the table to be able to contemplate being an artist. Being able to do both is a real privilege.
I now have three children, a dog, a cat, tadpoles and chickens, and despite the general state of chaos in which I live, and the very limited time I have ‘leftover’ in which to write, when I do find the time, I feel I’m much better equipped to approach issues around the human condition. In the last eight years my heart has swelled triple in size. What’s more, I believe a creative life is the perfect antidote for the ultra empathetic world of motherhood, and likewise, motherhood is the perfect antidote for the egocentricity of creative endeavour. Getting a telephone call to inform you you’ve won an award, while you’re scrubbing your sick child’s shit and vomit off the carpet is one of those perfect moments of human existence.
Mothers have an enormous amount to contribute to creative society. Like most bookworms, I grew up absorbed by stories that I only later in life realised were tales about the male journey. Literature about the woman’s journey are still horrendously scarce. For some reason (don’t get me started), a story about a bloke fishing or surfing is praised for teaching us about the human condition, yet a story about a woman growing, birthing, nourishing and caring for another human being is not. Stories of womanhood are not considered ‘serious’ literature and are usually given the condescending titles of ‘confessionals’, Chick Lit or even Domestic Lit. They’re also extremely unlikely to ever be read by a man.
Mothers in the Arts have a very big and important job on their hands!
Bravery is not being afraid of communicating what you feel and believe, no matter how unsavoury, contentious or taboo.
Imagination is at the heart of all great human endeavour, whether this be parenting, creating an art work, or addressing global issues.
Generosity is (for me) giving someone in need (usually my children) my time and undivided attention, the two things that are in the shortest supply. Generosity is also an awesome stress reliever.