When you have a small baby at home, somehow your smartphone becomes your perfect nemesis. Simultaneously seductive and devastating, it lies by your side even in your most private moments, ready to wreak havoc, and you’re powerless to resist. What happens is this: you put your baby down to sleep, turn off the lights, and doze off. Some time later the baby’s cries wake you. You reach for the baby, and then just as automatically you reach for your phone. You want to check the time, because you want to see how the baby has done. This is not The Right Thing To Do, because neither possible outcome is good. Perhaps you’ll see that the baby has been asleep for ages. Hurrah! This baby is really starting to get into a good rhythm. Now you’re elated. On the other hand, perhaps you’ll see that it’s barely a moment since the last waking. Boo! This baby is going backwards. Now you’re deflated. And elated or deflated, since your phone’s so handily there in your hand, your first instinct will be to go onto Facebook to either brag or complain to your friends about this awesome/wretched baby of yours. And thus you’re buggered. Because now you’re properly awake, and you get sucked into reading, and even when the baby drifts off and back to sleep you’re still up, overstimulated and bathing in that (allegedly) brain-frying backlight, and all is lost.
I can only hide behind the second-person pronoun for so long: clearly many people out there can be trusted with their own phones in the postpartum period, but I am not one of them. Not only did I tend to check the time obsessively, even when I knew it never ended well, I also used to read my email and text messages in the dead of night. That also had two outcomes, both undesirable. Usually I would read important messages and simply forget completely that I’d ever set eyes on them. I’d then be shocked when friends arrived ‘unannounced’ the next day, or the deadline expired on a possible freelance gig, or my parents phoned me shirtily to demand a response to something they’d asked politely days earlier. Sometimes, though, perhaps mindful of these perils, I’d allow my messages to wake me up properly, and then crash into a melted puddle of exhaustion the following day. That’s what happened with the email about the comic-book anthology.
You see, shortly before The Bird was born, I was trying to ‘break in’ to the world of comics writing. If you’re envisaging a sealed bank vault in a heist movie, you’re not far off: there seems sometimes to be more people interested in making comics than there are interested in reading comics, so it’s a cutthroat world to try to infiltrate. Still, I’d had some success through a project I worked on, which became Kickstarter’s then best-funded comics project (and fourth best funded overall), and which got us a lot of attention from DC (one of the two big American comics publishers). I’d been offered a chance to publish a comic in a follow-up project, and had found an excellent artist collaborator, then all had gone quiet from the editor for several months. Then, when The Bird was ten days old, the editor emailed asking if we could send her a treatment and character designs within a couple of days. I read this email in the wee small hours, on my phone, and saw the vault door crack open the slightest little bit. And so I put on the light, ignoring my sweet sleeping baby, and roughed out my comic. And scripted it. And polished it to a high sheen. And the next day, totally exhausted, I fell apart completely.
You sometimes get told that in India (you know, the whole of India, right? Pretty sure it’s a pretty homogeneous place, right?), new mothers stay in bed for forty days after the birth and are waited on hand and foot by their female relatives, while they recover and bond with the baby. Even if that’s not true, it’s inspired a certain sentiment that the early days are strictly for inward focus and for building up a bubble where it’s just you and your new child. Sometimes I love this idea, but sometimes I am unconvinced by it: if you want to do things that keep you feeling like your old self, if you want to get out into the world and engage, you should blooming well do it. But what I can say is that you should not try to write a comic in a panic. It will not be a good comic. You may be shocked to learn that when I get tired, I get weirdly verbose (hello blog), and that is not a very good trait in a comics writer. My script featured so many speech balloons the artist had to effectively draw the characters being squashed by them. And I thought it would be a great idea to try to impress the superhero comics world in which I so desperately wanted to work, and to interpret the series’s ‘space’ theme, by retelling an old Westcountry fable about country bumpkin smugglers? My original artist, and who could blame her, gracefully withdrew, and though the editor found a great replacement her schedule only allowed for a shorter comic than I’d written. So I then spent another feverish night abridging my already super-compressed comic, to the point of near illegibility. It still got published, thanks to the urgency of the hour, but suffice it to say I am not today working in comics. Though who’s to say that working in comics isn’t itself a Ridiculous Thing to do…
The other reason you should not get your phone out during night feeds is that you will, at some point, drop it on your baby’s head, and that will be a tough one to have to explain to your other half when the wailing starts.