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by Katy Otto

I've had the privilege of knowing Meredith for many years through her music and art. She plays drums in Whore Paint, from Providence, Rhode Island, and our bands have toured together. Our new kiddos were born within 24 hours of one another, so we had a rich conversation about the beginning stages of this wild ride - and how to continue to create while we're on it.

Please tell us about both your creative life/practice and your experience with parenting.

In 2011 I left the realm of office work to focus full time on my artistic practice at home. My life involves maintaining a front and backyard garden, creating ceramic crocks for pickling vegetables, playing drums in a feminist rock band, creating linoleum block prints and collages, and being a member of the Justseeds Artists' Cooperative. I became pregnant in late summer of 2014 and continued to maintain my work throughout the entire pregnancy. We installed a greenhouse in our backyard and our band played two shows while I was 9 months pregnant. I gave birth in early June of 2015. I've decided to take a hiatus from most of the artwork for the first three months of his life, so I've been balancing maintaining the gardens while taking care of this beautiful new being. I'm a new parent, so figuring the balance of work and parenting is something that is new to me, and I imagine it will be something that evolves and changes as we learn about one another and grow together.

What were some of the fears you had (if any) about how becoming a parent would impact your creative life? Would you say now, in retrospect, that they were well founded?

I planned on breastfeeding, and my friends with kids had told me that can be an around the clock process for a newborn, so I spent the last two months of my pregnancy finishing up the projects I'd been working on and cleared my schedule for the three months following my due date. Once I actually had this little amazing life force in my arms though, even as I was prepared for taking a break from it, I do sometimes mourn for my lost studio time. There are mornings where I've been able to grab 30-60 minutes to work on collaging which have been so helpful. They are infrequent, and just when I get a rhythm going, I'm pulled away to feed the baby. I find peace and strength when I'm working, so not having that has been a hard adjustment. I've been focusing on reading since that is one of the activities that is easily done while breastfeeding. However, being prepared in theory to not being able to work hasn't made it any easier in practice.

"Stating The Obvious" collage by Meredith Stern.

What does your creative life look like currently? How is it different from before you were a parent?

Being a freelance artist I was accountable to my own schedule and occasional deadlines from commissions. I spent 10-12 hours every day in my studio. Now, my number one priority is to keep this young human alive, and he is captivating to be around. He's started smiling and cooing, and even starting to laugh and I find myself in rapt attention to him even at times when I might be able to grab a few minutes in the studio. Currently, I'm lucky if I get 30-60 minutes in my studio in a day. Most of my day is spent breastfeeding, or sitting down with a baby asleep on my lap. I'm able to read and type while breastfeeding, but I can't make art. Even though I'm not working in my studio much right now, I know these moments while he is a baby are also special and I actually can't imagine going back to life without him. It's amazing to watch him grow, and I know that there will be time again when I am able to go back to working in my studio for several hours, and I believe my creative life will be better with him being a part of it. Every week he changes, and we change together, and every morning I wake up and look forward to seeing what he will be doing that day.

How do you carve out time and space for your creative practice as a parent?

My sweetheart Peter also often works from home and on days when he can take care of our baby- which typically means him putting our baby in a cloth carrier and wearing him around the house between feedings- I am able to work in the garden or start to sketch out a collage.

What kinds of adjustments did you make to your creative practices when you became a parent?

The ceramics and printmaking is hard to schedule because I need longer stretches of time to accomplish them, so I have temporarily put those practices aside. I'm focusing on things which I can do in as little as ten minute segments, or that I can do while breastfeeding, which means reading, garden work, and typing. I may be able to sketch though I haven't tried yet.

What do you tell your children, if anything, about the role of creativity in your life?

At some point he will start to understand us before he can communicate with words. We don't know when that will be, so I have already started talking to him about the world around him. Since we work from home, there is lots to talk to him about- I show him the artwork on the walls that I've made and our friends have made; I show him the tiles on the floor that I made as I walk over them with him in my arms, I read to him from the books I read. I hold him as I water the garden and I talk to him about the plants around us- telling him their names, what they taste like, and what we do with them. I would love for him to grow up knowing that creative expression is part of the world around us, and also for him to find out for himself what makes him happy- whether it is in a creative field or something else like health care or engineering, etc.

In what ways do you think being an active artist/writer/musician/creator helps make your parenting stronger? In what ways do you think being a parent has made your artistic practice stronger?

Becoming a parent has been both harder and more rewarding than I ever imagined it would be. Most of the time, I feel the most joy and amazement being able to witness and take part in watching someone grow before our eyes. Every time he smiles at us, and coos, I feel like it's the best experience I've ever had. On the other hand, at the less frequent moments when he is crying and I can't figure out what is going on, I feel frustrated and a bit under water. Being pregnant my creative work was starting to change - I started drawing pregnant animals, and animals with children. I am certain that my work will continue to shift in ways that I can't even imagine yet.

Are there other people who inspired you in the ways they approached creative work as a parent?

Definitely! Many years ago when I had convinced myself that I never wanted kids, I was visiting Pittsburgh and met Alisa and Greg. Alisa runs Third Termite Press - which is a printing studio set up in their garage. I met them when their children were young, and I was inspired by how active they were - both individually and as a family. They went to music shows, zine readings, film screenings, and tons of other performances - and almost always had the whole family in tow. They also are the most generous, open, confident, and sweet people I know. They gave me the belief that you can balance a creative life with kids. Their children are now teenagers and are creative, fun, intelligent, and incredibly sweet. They continue to be an inspiration to me.

What do your children think of your creative work?

I just started reading books to our child, and it seems like he enjoys my dramatic interpretations of the texts. The weirder my voice, the more he stares at me with a huge smile. I never thought I'd be stepping into the world of theater, but look out world!

Do you think creative communities are friendly to children and parents and encourage their presence? Are there any ways these communities could improve? Feel free to be specific if you would like to.

My friends with children have talked to me for years about the ways in which creative communities often fail to be inclusive environments for parents and children, and also for people of older generations. So much of mainstream culture is geared towards youth - specifically college age people without kids. I find this to be especially true when it comes to what time events take place, and whether they start on time or not. So many events in Providence start after 9pm, and often even when they say they will start at 9, don't actually start until 11pm or later. I find this to be untenable for many people who have early morning jobs, busy schedules, for anyone with kids who go to sleep by 11pm, or for people who have to pay to hire a sitter for the evening, and can't afford to pay for several hours of waiting around for the event to start.

How did becoming a parent affect your creative partnerships with other people?

I play music in a band with two amazing people, Reba and Hilary, and we recorded an album early on in the pregnancy. Now that I have a baby we have been putting together the album art, and it's been harder to spend long periods of time uninterrupted. At both of our recent meetings, I spent a good chunk of time feeding the baby while we tried to work on the album. We haven't yet played music together. The baby is still a newborn - only 2 months old, and he is exclusively breastfed and that can mean feeding every couple hours, or every hour or even more. I mostly find that it's been really hard to find a chunk of time that is several hours long in which to work, so I have a hard time scheduling anything specific with anyone else. I have been told that will most likely change as the baby gets older.

Do you think that some of the challenges parenting presents for creative practice are impacted by your gender? Please share any thoughts you have about this.

Being the only one who can breastfeed the baby has been a physical and emotional experience that my partner doesn't share. There are days where I've been sick and still needed to breastfeed (I've had mastitis twice already during the first two months of being a parent) so there is no room for me to leave for 8 hours and just take a break. It's hard to be holding a baby and helping him breastfeed while I am rundown and tired. My partner has been able to be in work meetings for an 8-hour stretch which I can't do, so his work life hasn't been quite as dramatically altered as my own. On the other hand, he's been extremely supportive and amazing as a parent - he makes me food, manages baby diaper laundry, and wears the baby in a sling for several hours at a time. When he takes the baby, I am able to spend some time in my studio or answering emails.

Has your creative community been supportive of you as a parent?

My friends have been truly amazing. My sweetheart set up a meal train for the first month of the baby's life where every other day for two weeks one of our friends came and brought us some food (homemade or take out). It was so amazing to be able to see people for a few minutes, have them meet the baby, and not have to worry about cooking food that day. Everyone brought enough for leftovers too, so we had food for more than one meal. The first month was a blur which I barely remember, and not having to cook while learning how to manage having an infant was a huge help.

Do you have any more thoughts to share with other prospective or current parents about preserving and nurturing one's own creative efforts while raising children?

Before being a parent I had a very varied creative practice. I split my days between gardening, ceramics, printmaking, and music. Now there are so many things I won't be able to do for a few months, so I've had to change my whole work flow and my expectations of what I can get done in a day. It's been hard for me not to be disappointed in myself when I find that I haven't been able to do any work in a day or two or more. I'm struggling to not be hard on myself about my level of Òproductivity." If there is anyone else who is used to having a high level of productivity and is becoming a parent, I might suggest being loving to yourself rather than hard on yourself. It may be hard to meet your own standards of what you expect from yourself (or of what other people expect from you). But the first few months of parenting are also an incredible time where the baby changes on a weekly basis (and sometimes even daily). I have been trying to remind myself to enjoy these days, and replace some of my past drive for productivity with a love for slow days of holding a baby and learning about it's personality.

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