Thursday, December 13, 2018

Motherhood and Career!

I’ve tried over and over again to write about what it was like to have a newborn. Two years ago, my husband and I brought our newborn daughter home from the hospital, and as that time slides further into the past it’s starting to acquire the glaze of nostalgia. When I look at photos it seems like a magical, simple time, when our little baby blob did nothing but eat, sleep and poop.

But at the time, it felt like the hardest thing I’d ever been through. The sleep deprivation, hormone changes, physical healing and massive life shift were a combo hit that left me reeling. My daughter and I were struggling to learn how to breastfeed, and as a result she was constantly eating but also constantly hungry, and therefore constantly attached to me.

My world had shrunk down to the area between my bed, the couch, and the diaper changing table. My day had shrunk down to struggling to meet me and my daughter’s basic needs of food, sleep and hygiene. I felt not so much like a person as a semi-mobile baby life support system. There was a day when I managed to get dressed, put my daughter in a carrier, walk to the cafe across the street, and order a chai latte. I considered this to be such a momentous achievement that I commemorated it with a blurry selfie.

Maybe some moms handle it all better than I did; I don’t know. But after those first six weeks, we figured out the breastfeeding thing, my husband and I learned some baby hacks, my daughter’s sleep started to improve and she started getting all chubby and smiley. I was starting to feel a little better. I even managed to get a little bit of personal drawing done.

That’s when news popped into my inbox: I had landed the job I had auditioned for months earlier: the “Real Stories From My Time” series with Scholastic! Woah!

The bad news was that they needed me to start right away. In fact, they needed two book covers in two weeks, a pace that would have been challenging even pre-baby.

I really didn’t know if I could do it. I had planned to take a few more weeks of maternity leave, but if I was going to take the job, I had to take it now. I spent a day going back and forth on it, doing a lot of soul searching. After a lot of encouragement from my husband and friends, I decided that if I turned the job down I would always look back and wonder if I could have made it work. So I accepted it. We went out for ice cream to celebrate, and took another blurry selfie.

I started working while my daughter napped and after she went to sleep at night. After rocking her to sleep and laying her in her little bassinet, I’d rush over to my computer, whipping out my stylus like a cowboy with his pistol. Her naps were usually about 45 minutes long, so while the baby slept I did nothing except draw, pausing only to make myself a cup of tea. Sometimes I wouldn’t even stop to use the toilet.

As I got back into drawing and listening to podcasts and audiobooks, I started to feel like myself again. Here was a small bubble of familiarity, of the Kelley I recognized. In motherhood I was an overwhelmed newbie; in illustration, I was skilled, experienced, connected. The publishing world had thrown me a lifeline, and I clung to it.

Surprisingly, despite the stress, sleep deprivation, and short deadlines, I produced some of my very best work. It was portfolio-worthy stuff, and I was receiving a lot of positive feedback from clients. I’m honestly not sure why this would be - perhaps it was because the work meant so much to me. (I should note that ultimately Scholastic gave me more than 2 weeks to finish the covers.) I went on that year to complete eleven book covers, five middle-grade books, and three editorial illustrations.

So that was two years ago. My daughter is now a toddler, a tiny blonde tornado of energy. I still work while she naps and after she goes to bed at night, but I also have a babysitter and occasional daycare. There’s no more falling asleep on the floor, or avoiding using the toilet because it would use up precious work time!

People ask me how I manage to “find a balance.” The answer is, I don’t so much “find a balance” as I do “manage to get through the day.” Taking care of my daughter absorbs most of my day; otherwise, I spend almost every spare minute working. If I get my work done early, I spend the evening cleaning the house, watching Star Trek with my husband, or maybe writing a blog post. (Now you know why I don’t update this blog as much as I used to!)

My Dad often asks me how I can possibly work at the end of a long day of toddler-wrangling. It’s true that, as much as I adore my baby tornado, spending an entire day with her is really draining. I sometimes wish I could just spend the evenings relaxing and the afternoons pursuing a hobby or playing video games. But most of the time, I feel grateful that I’m able to do what I do.

I love illustration. I love it. At the end of a long day, drawing centers me, calms me, makes me feel like a fully-dimensional person again. Being able to illustrate books is a gift, and I cherish it. And I will do everything that I can - working nights, working weekends, working through a bout of the stomach flu (true story) - to keep it in my life.

As long as I can continue to do this, I’m grateful.

Just to round things out, here's another blurry selfie.


  1. I am so happy that you wrote this! You're definitely not alone, and the more info like this on the internet, the better!

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I'm seven months pregnant and totally terrified, I don't know how I'm going to do it all. I really needed to read this - especially the last part, since I feel I am myself when I draw, I can totally understand how you felt getting back to illustration in the middle of it all. Is it maybe that simple? Stop overthinking when you're scared, be the best mom you can and don't forget to make the things that make you happy.

    1. Natalia - Yeah, you put it pretty well! Don't overthink it, be the best mom you can, and try to make time to make things that make you happy! Congrats on your upcoming bundle of joy. Feel free to email me if you ever need encouragement.


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