Being Mama: Emma Brockes
Mother of two, journalist and author of An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy On My Solo Path To Motherhood, Emma Brockes, opens up about her decision to have children on her own at 37 and how their arrival was like hitting the Refresh button on her life.
Image by: Sophia Spring/The Guardian
Image by: Sophia Spring/The Guardian
Emma Brockes is intelligent, witty and pretty much everything when it comes to Mom Goals. She’s funny, frank and brutally honest about her life as a single mother. As a British born writer living in New York City, Emma has interviewed women like Sheryl Sandberg, written award-winning books and recently chronicled her decision to become a mother in An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy on My Solo Path To Motherhood. Garnering praise from around the world, Emma’s new book gives us a glimpse into her world as a 37-year-old woman in the early stages of a same sex relationship and her journey into the land of sperm donors, artificial insemination and life with twins.
When Emma was growing up in the UK, her mother taught her that women should be educated and work for a living. However, her mother also fundamentally believed that the thing that made people truly happy is having kids. Her parents had been happily married for 30 years – up until her mother’s death, but Emma never aspired to be the happily married mother. It seemed antiquated in some ways to her and she could see the drawbacks. Mostly – she couldn’t identify with it. As a twenty-something, Emma felt that it was desirable and alternative to not have kids and went through periodic phases of defending her free thinking and avant-garde choices to stay child-free and gallivant around the world. But as a 37-year-old woman living in New York City, suddenly the possibility of not getting to have kids seemed catastrophic and she knew that she would try pretty much anything to make it happen.
Ultimately, Emma’s decision to have kids with or without a partner was dictated by wanting to replicate her wonderful experiences as a child. Following months of exploring nearly every avenue, Emma decided to try IUI (intrauterine insemination) and after numerous rounds with fertility drugs and the unexpected news that having multiples was “highly likely,” Emma was officially pregnant with twins.
“I was absolutely thrilled once I got over the shock of finding out that I was having twins. I felt that being a single parent and having done it this way (through an unconventional pregnancy,) twin siblings would get an enormous amount of consolation from having each other.”
With nine months to prepare for life with twins, Emma first had to overcome two miscarriage scares in the first trimester. The second scare resulted in numerous blood clots and significant blood loss. At one point, she believed her pregnancy was going to end. Even though her doctor prepared her for complications that are associated with twins, it hadn’t really sunk in.
Emma is refreshingly honest when she explains, “The entire getting pregnant and pregnancy enterprise is dominated by magical thinking. You think you’re a rational person and then you go into it and you go slightly bonkers. And you’re suddenly someone who believes in percentages. In every other area of your life you’d never go around saying 12% of people who become accountants are miserable so I shouldn’t be an accountant. But when you’re pregnant percentages are real and the stress can be out of control. I like to think that I didn’t go too far off the deep end. I avoided the banned food list, but kept drinking coffee. I didn’t do any special pregnancy workouts, but since I live in New York City, I walked all the time. Plus there are stairs everywhere. When I was five and a half months, I moved house and moved loads of boxes, which kept me fit.”
When asked about taking birth classes, Emma was actually shocked that her OBGYN never mentioned that she might want to go take a birth class.
“Three months before I was due, I freaked out and signed up for a 10 week course with a calm birth life coach who I absolutely loved. She subscribed to no particular ideology, was skeptical of everything, and she taught us why we shouldn’t panic.”
It’s lucky Emma did take that course because at her 34-week check up, her OBGYN discovered that one of the twin’s placentas was on the fritz and she would need a caesarean in the very near future. Since it was only a semi-emergency, her doctor gave her the option of a scheduled caesarean on either New Years Eve or New Years Day. Since New Years Day seemed like literally the worst day to have surgery, she went for (in her words,) “the pre hangover day.”
When asked what her c-section was like, Emma jovially answers, “It was brilliant and straightforward! The most painful thing was the spinal tap, but it was over extremely quickly. The huge irrational fear I had was the anesthetic not working, but once I realized they’d done the first cut and I hadn’t felt it, I just really enjoyed it and found it all completely fascinating. Just like clock work – twenty minutes and out they came. The nurses showed me the girls and then whisked them off to the NICU because the second one’s heart rate was a bit dodgy in the first few minutes. Thankfully, it was resolved quickly. After I was taken to recovery and I swear I was high as a kite. Perhaps it was that huge hormone surge where you’re fresh on the other side and you just can’t believe that you did it, but it was the happiest moment of my life. But the next day, I had a huge emotional crash. I was like, I don’t know what I’ve done, this is disastrous.”
Emma explains that in a funny way it was a blessing that her girls were in the NICU for two weeks because she doesn’t know how she would have coped with two newborns on her own post surgery. By the time they came home, she was healed and somewhat rested and newborn life became hard in a normal way instead of a traumatic way. Because the girls were so small and not latching well, the littlest being only 3 lbs, 11 oz, Emma pumped a lot of breast milk and bottled fed them.
“I never really mastered feeding them at the same time. In order for me to not have to be constantly breastfeeding, I pumped from day one, which allowed me to sit on the floor and feed them at the same time.” Emma laments, “There was something quite soothing about the white noise of the breast pump running in the background while I was watching Pride and Prejudice.”
As a single mom in New York City, Emma admits that most of her friends are somewhere in their 40s, still single and trying to decide if they wanted to have kids or not. She also admits she didn’t go to Mother’s Group because she simply couldn’t figure out how to get out of the house. Luckily, Emma’s partner, who she lovingly refers to as L in her book, was also a mother and able to offer support and advice.
“After the twins were born, I took a month off and then from month two went back to my desk three days a week. I had done a significant amount of writing when I was pregnant and sold a book in advance so I could have extra padding during that first year. When the girls were six months, I got a full time nanny.”
Emma admits that she has to actively focus on conserving enough energy for her girls at the end of each working day. She is adamant about not giving them the worst part of her because it’s so easy to lose your patience and temper when you’re exhausted.
“My mother had a short temper. It was funny actually – she had patience for huge things, but if you were eating an ice cream in the car and it fell – there was an explosion. I see it in myself a tiny bit. I’m stretched very thin with twins. But I will try to gradually lessen the amount of work I do as they get older.”
Self-described as a little forty-year-old when she was seven, Emma also focuses on making sure her children get to be children.
“I see a difference with my girls versus my childhood as an only child. They’re the children, but I was a mini adult. When you’re outnumbered, you become an adult. I was my mother’s confidant. As a pre-teen, I was brilliant at being middle aged.”
When asked about her parenting style, Emma says, “I’m not a Time Out mom, but I’m a shouter. (Like my mother!) I yell at them and then they burst into tears and then I feel terrible and I try and claw back some dignity by saying, ‘the reason mommy got cross was…’ but the minute you lose it, you’ve lost the moral high ground, haven’t you?” “I know this is really common, but I find myself screaming at them to stop screaming! It’s ridiculous, I know.”
Emma adds jokingly, “Before I had the girls I actually thought I was a reasonable, rational person. Obviously, I understand that not to be the case now.”
Emma’s refreshing honesty about the ups and downs of parenting is exactly what the world needs and her girls are incredibly blessed to have her guiding them. It may not be the conventional way, but it’s a story Emma is proud to share. From the get go, Emma has tried to integrate the details of their conception into their daily life. Obviously she has started out quite broadly by talking about different shapes of family. Two dads, two moms, one variety of variants. As they continue to get older, she tries to get technical and talk about their donor, but Emma says her girls couldn’t be less interested at the moment and in a sweet almost four year old voice say, “Let’s talk about it later” and then run off to play.
With so much love and wisdom on offer, we asked Emma what advice her parents gave her that really resonated.
“When I was growing up, my parents used to always say, ‘You can only do your best. And if you’ve done your best you have nothing to be ashamed of.’ Which I think is code for ‘whatever you do I will love.’ I want my own children to grow up feeling that same way. I also want them to know that the worst reason to make a decision is because you are worried about what people will say about you.”
By the time Emma was 38, she confesses that she was incredibly jaded.
“Having my girls rebooted my engagement and interest in everything. It’s not just about teaching them massive life lessons. I’m excited to show them really basic things. Change of the seasons. Going to London. Everything becomes interesting again because it becomes hard again. It was like hitting refresh on one’s life.”
Fast Five With Emma Brockes
1. How to you treat yourself to “me” time?
I love napping and watching tons of TV. I’m currently obsessed with Sharp Objects on HBO and Unreal on Lifetime.
2. What’s the most surprising thing about motherhood?
That the novelty has never worn off. My girls are only three and a half and still everyday I think, “That’s amazing that happened!” Don’t think I will ever get over it. The miracle never lessens.
3. What are your greatest personal and professional achievements?
Personally: Having twins.
Professionally: Getting my latest book, An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy On My Solo Path To Motherhood written in first two years of twin’s life while holding down a day job.
4. What’s your favorite weekend family activity?
Swimming! Love it! Makes the kiddos tired and hungry. We love to go on Friday and Sunday nights to my gym for family sessions.
5. What is your most important family tradition?
I take Christmas quite seriously. This year we’re doing Christmas in London, which I’m really excited about. I also love a Sunday lunch with friends and family. I will probably start doing this more when they’re a bit older. There’s just something so lovely about a Sunday roast dinner where the adults get to eat and talk and the kids get to play.
Get a copy of An Excellent Choice: Panic and Joy On My Solo Path To Motherhood HERE.
Follow Emma on Twitter @emmabrockes
Like Emma on Facebook @EmmaBrockesAuthor