Buying an Expensive Painting Made Me Feel Less Scared of Becoming a Mom
"Owning art...was the thing I associated with adulthood."
How I Bought That takes a peek inside the process of making a major purchase, whether your budget is big, small, all your own, or supplemented by family and/or financial institutions. In this series, we look at many different spending situations, from how people afforded big purchases like first homes to electric vehicles to splurge-worthy bags.
On a sunny spring afternoon in 2017, I walked out of a neighborhood gallery using my pregnant belly as a shelf for a huge abstract painting. When I got home, I climbed on the back of the sofa and hung the enormous canvas above it using push pins. Out of breath, I stepped back to enjoy the first work of art I’d ever owned, the embodiment of the $1200 that had parted with my bank account forever.
Here’s how I got here: Everyone tells you about pregnancy cravings, but the one thing I wish someone told me is how badly I’d crave feeling a separate identity from motherhood and its perception. I’ve always planned to have children. I got pregnant fairly quickly. This was—on paper—what I wanted. And yet, soon after seeing the positive home test, all I could feel was panic. I was no longer the master of my hormones and insides, and I didn’t know what would happen next. Being trapped in a changing, unpredictable body filled me with endless anxiety.
Another thing no one tells you is that pregnancy can become difficult in so many ways. The internet is full of women discovering their body’s “magic” after giving birth and “getting in touch” with their long-buried femininity, excavating it from under layers of career noise. However, I have yet to see a woman on Instagram, or in real life, telling the world that throughout her pregnancy, she was deeply disgusted, alienated, and scared by her body. I have yet to hear someone admit they were terrified at the prospect of giving birth and mortified about the changes their body endured.
And yet these were exactly the thoughts that surrounded me for months. They mingled in my head along with financial worries and doubts about raising the child without family support. (It never seems like the right time to increase your expenses significantly.) Having moved to the U.S. from Israel five years prior, the only family I had in the area was my partner. And while back home, the support of parents—would-be grandparents—is a built-in part of having children. I’ve always wanted to have children, but I wanted nothing of this.
I’ve also always wanted, in another compartment of my brain and heart, to own real art.
Not a framed poster and not a reproduction of Matisse or Van Gogh’s "Sunflowers"—a staple of students' apartments in Tel Aviv and maybe everywhere else—but a painting. It was the thing I associated with adulthood, both its cool aspects and pompous ones. Owning art meant having a permanent residence, a place that grounds you. I could never afford it and never stayed in one place for long enough to commit to a statement piece. And I certainly couldn’t afford it when I had a baby on the way.
Then, three months before my due date, I walked by an art gallery in my neighborhood. A new exhibition by Topanga, CA-based artist Nicole Buffett had just rolled out, where I saw huge canvases with smudged indigo mountains and moons. I imagined a canvas like this hanging in my living room, signaling that despite the fact that most of my family is far away, the U.S. is now my home. I walked in, and, an hour later, I purchased my first real painting. It was only 36 by 48 inches, but it was so much bigger in its essence.
“This is crazy,” my partner said when he learned about the splurge. I could have told him that buying the painting, as irrational as it was, helped me regain agency and selfhood. That it was the next best “grown-up thing to do” when I wasn’t fully ready to face a much more permanent, taxing step of adulthood. I could have told him that I couldn’t control my own body and my future, but by buying a work of art, I was now less afraid to tackle becoming a mother. Instead, I let the painting’s size and serene indigo color speak for themselves.
Now that my daughter is three years old, I realize that motherhood is a push and pull of giving, reclaiming, and immersing yourself in another being while reinstating the importance of your own existence, passions, and dreams.
Being her mother is much more joyful than anticipating motherhood was, but it still isn’t easy. Worrying about the future has been replaced by the present, which is often consumed by her. Negotiations are held constantly around her needs and mine. I now know that it’s possible to parent without losing yourself, to love endlessly while setting boundaries to care for yourself. The painting, always hovering above us when we play, was just the first step of learning this tricky balancing act.