If I was known for anything in school (um, probably not) it was for never being without a book. I read at recess. I read on the bus. I read any time I could get away with it. I racked up a ridiculous amount of extra credit based on reading for pleasure. Like a lot of people who didn’t fit into the environment in which they grew up, I feel that books saved me. It’s not surprising that being “a reader” became a part of my identity.
Last year, I found out that I was pregnant just before the first coronavirus closures. Alongside all of the regular pregnancy worries (and the extra ones that came from being pregnant during a global pandemic), I also worried about what would become of my reading life. I felt as ready as one could feel to become a mom, but what about my books?
Who do you think you are?
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way: I am still new at this. I have one child and he is five months old. I do not claim to be an expert on parenting. My son was born in late 2020, which means that we didn’t have visitors during his newborn days. I have an involved partner, which is what I hope for everyone who chooses to parent with another person, but I know that isn’t always the case. Babies are individuals, so what worked for me may not work for others.
I am writing this because I saw a lot of parenting articles and memes that presented the idea that if you want to be a good mother you will never have time to do the things you love again as fact. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t see anything suggesting that dads should give up their hobbies in order to raise their children. (I also recognize that there are all kinds of families and some may not include people who identify as “moms” or “dads” but this content is almost always specifically about “moms,” however one chooses to define the role.)
I also want to say that if you have a new baby and you just don’t feel like reading right now, that’s OK! Maybe you’d rather spend your precious free time some other way. (Sleeping, perhaps?) There are no gatekeepers. You can still consider yourself a reader. Books will always be there when you’re ready to return to them.
OK, OK…But What About Reading?
I have been able to read with an infant. I can tell you that your reading life will certainly be different, but it will not completely disappear. Newborns sleep a lot, and at the beginning they will likely spend a good amount of time sleeping on you, so there’s some built-in book time. If you are chest or breastfeeding, you may become one of those wizards who can multitask while feeding your child. When I was on maternity leave, my son had daily play gym time in which I snuck in a few pages, which was good for both of us.
Quality reading time is still within your grasp. The quantity of your reading time may no longer be within your control but, unless you’re trying to finish something before it auto-returns to the library, it isn’t a race. I renewed a couple of things three or four times and it bugged me that it bugged me, so no one needs to hear this more than I do right now. It is not a race.
The Good News
In some ways, my reading life has actually improved since I became a parent. I have found that I am more intentional with what I choose to read since my time is limited. I’m more likely to stop reading something I no longer care about. I’d like to say that I’ve gotten better at choosing reading in small spaces of time over scrolling through Twitter. I’m still working on that.
I have given up my attempt at a Bookstagram account for now, but finally got to Vita Nostra, which is not a particularly easy read. I’m not doing a reading challenge this year but I participated in virtual Stephen King trivia with my library. Thanks to the pandemic that made literally everything else about having a baby that much harder, I can still attend literary events online.
It also helped to reread. It just felt good to revisit Tamora Pierce. Tortall was still there even if everything about my life and my body felt different. It was also easier to jump back in if I was away from my book for a day or two. Right now, I can read basically anything I want to the baby because he doesn’t have opinions yet. I’ve rediscovered a bunch of old favorites. It’s not the 24 Hour Readathon, but it’s something.
Your Supply List
Ebooks are easier to read one-handed, and a phone is more comfortable to hold in one hand than a Kindle or tablet. However, your phone also has social media, so that makes it a bit of a double-edged sword. I’d also be very honest with myself about my TBR list. This might not be the time to tackle War and Peace or anything else with a huge cast of characters. I have read mostly comedic essays and young adult books over the last few months.
Consider trying an audiobook if you haven’t listened to one before. I highly recommend Barack Obama’s A Promised Land for pacing your house with a baby. His voice was familiar and therefore soothing in those first weeks at home when everything else was new.
Having a baby is an adjustment to every part of one’s life, but it was reassuring to have a constant to return to. For me, as in any other transitional phase of my life so far, it was reading. Being a new mom during a pandemic was hard. Books saved me once again.