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Kate Baer
Mother Stories

Kate Baer, Beloved Poet & Mother Of 4

Kate Baer

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Jillian Guyette

They're like salve for a mama's soul—those brilliant, poignant words that come spilling out of Kate Baer's mind and onto the page (and often, onto her Instagram feed, with its nearly 200,000 adoring followers).

Did you always know you wanted to be a mother?

"Motherhood danced in front of me from a very young age. I was one of those girls who thought and hoped her dolls were alive. I always knew it was something I wanted. Of course being a mother is very different from the fantasy of it, but yes—I always knew it would be in my future one way or another."

Was a "big" family always in the cards?

"I come from a two-kid nuclear family and hoped to have a slightly bigger family. My husband is one of five and wanted to go smaller. Three felt right and they were all conceived with the help of fertility treatments. Our fourth was conceived after we’d given all the baby and maternity things away. We were two weeks from the vasectomy appointment when I held the positive test. I was drowning with three young children. It felt like treading water while trying to hold three sacks of flour. How could I possibly hold one more? His birth was a relief only because at least I wasn’t depressed and pregnant. I can hardly remember the transition now. It was a perpetual state of stress and overwhelm."

“We were 2 weeks from the vasectomy appointment when I held the positive test. I was drowning with 3 young children. It felt like treading water while trying to hold three sacks of flour. How could I possibly hold one more?”

You've talked publicly about the surprise, unwanted pregnancy that resulted in your 4th child. Can you describe the depression that came with it?

"I’ve struggled with depression for most of my adulthood, so the feeling wasn’t new but the timing was. I’d never been sad to be pregnant. Instead it was always something I was always desperate and then very grateful for. So that was difficult to reconcile. I felt a lot of shame. I felt a lot of failure and fear. I worried that we would be stigmatized as that family (the one with all those kids). The logistics baffled me too. People kept joking—what’s one more? and I thought, one more is quite a bit actually."

Were there any life-lines that you clung to during this difficult time?

"I never would have made it without a support system of women who let me sit in my feelings, listened without judgment, and then rallied behind me with excitement for this child. My husband was also extremely supportive both before and after the baby was born."

You've credited your 4th child with changing your life in a lot of ways.

"I have these little nicknames for my kids. Not ones I call them outloud, but ones I say to myself. My oldest is my heart outside my body. He’s so much like me in all the best and worst ways that I feel his struggles and happiness in a physical, visceral way. My daughter came second. I call her the love of my life. Not because I love her any more than the others, but because the love I have for her as mother to daughter feels very much like an ancient and holy bond. Next comes my third, the light of my life. The joy he brings to our family can power an entire room. Last comes Dax. Dax is my dreammaker. Not because he made my dreams come true, but because he made a much better dream. One with him in it. And one where I could be the most true version of myself."

"After he was born, I knew I could not survive in our current state. That fourth sack of flour sank me straight to the bottom of the ocean and I knew the only way up was to let go. So I picked up some side hustles, I scheduled more paid childcare than I ever had before, and then I began to write."

What excites you most about motherhood right now?

"We recently donated a giant box of pull-ups. I can’t think of anything more exciting than finishing over a decade of diapers! I’m also finally getting to the stage where I can leave some of my kids home alone. Or play grown-up games. My oldest and I have been teaming up against my husband in Settlers of Catan, which is delicious. Sixth grade boys get a bad rap, but they can also be very funny and insightful."

What makes you most nervous?

"I’m nervous for middle school. I’ve never been a middle school boy. I don’t have any brothers. There are times it feels like living with an alien from outer space. I try to proceed gently and ask a lot of questions. It’s hard for me not to make constant puberty jokes, although maybe that’s exactly where I should start."

What was your upbringing like?

"I grew up in the Philly suburbs and have one younger sister. We were raised Mennonite in that we went to a Mennonite church and attended Mennonite schools (my mom taught there so we attended for free). My parents are not ethnically Mennonite, but it was close enough to what they believed that we assimilated into that culture. It really wasn’t all that different from most kids’ experiences in '90s Christian culture. These weren’t the Mennonites wearing coverings and dresses, these were mainstream Mennonites wearing Abercrombie & Fitch with nice cars and generational farm wealth."

“Watching my mom take night classes to get her Master’s degree and see my dad juggle a real job and a dream job was invaluable to me and certainly helps suppress any ‘mom guilt’ when it comes to my own relationship with career and family.”

Are there things from your upbringing that you're consciously trying to incorporate (or not incorporate) into your kids' upbringing?

"I was a latchkey kid with two full-time working parents. Some might call this a burden on a child. For me it was a huge gift. My parents had to work to make money, yes. But they were also passionate in their careers. My mom was a middle school lit and social studies teacher and my dad worked a thankless job at a meatpacking plant until he could finally fulfill his dream and start a radio station when I was 13. Watching my mom take night classes to get her Master's degree and see my dad juggle a real job and a dream job was invaluable to me and certainly helps suppress any 'mom guilt' when it comes to my own relationship with career and family."

How would you describe your own personal parenting style?

"Have you ever noticed that when you ask a group of women which Sex and the City character they are, everyone will jump to say Carrie or Samantha when most are also very much Miranda and Charlotte, as well? It’s difficult to really see yourself as a parent. What I hope to emulate is simply that wonderful Maya Angelou quote, which is 'when you know better, do better.' I know my husband tries to do the same."

We know you recently moved from a 1,200-square-foot home into a larger house. How has the extra space changed things for you?

"I have my own office, which for a writer with four children is life changing. No longer do I need to schlep out to Panera or Starbucks and pay $15 for a mediocre sandwich in exchange for WiFi. I do miss the people watching. You would not believe how much family or workplace drama I’ve overheard in the last decade. You would also not believe how many people will fill their entire to-go cup with hibiscus iced tea and then drop it onto the ground. Truly amazing."

How would you describe the aesthetic of your space?

"Oh dear. I have no idea. I’m not very good at curating spaces for Instagram or magazine photoshoots. Most of my space is cluttered with books I haven’t read, papers I’ve yet to deal with, and empty cups I promise to take to the dishwasher at the end of the day. My husband is the plant guy. He’s much more responsible when it comes to domestic tasks, so yes—the plants do look nice. I’m also thankful for a big window with plenty of sunshine."

We love your vast collection of books at home. Any favorite titles you're loving for your kids right now?

"Right now I get to watch my third kid learn to read, which is always a thrill. My oldest is reading Percy Jackson. My daughter is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Ramona Quimby, Age 8. The younger two will read anything. We especially love Last Stop On Market Street, Zach’s Alligator, and Marcel The Shell."

What books did you love growing up?

"I grew up on all the '90s classics; The Babysitter’s Club, Boxcar Children, Judy Blume."

Looking back at your childhood—were you always a writer?

"As soon as I could write, I was writing all the time. Poems, plays, stories. None of them good. All of them about cats or Renaissance women engaging in illicit romances or dramatic escapes. I’ve always loved to read. I’ve always loved storytelling. In high school, I took every single literature course available. In college, I did the same. It wasn’t because it was easy but because it was the only thing that held my interest. The rest of school was just part of the grind."

What were you doing professionally leading up to publishing your first book?

"I graduated with honors and a degree in English Literature, which is the perfect segue into a life of secretarial work. I sat at all sorts of desks post-grad; an IT help counter desk at my university, a back desk at a dentist’s office, a large important desk in the administrative suite at a music academy. I wrote stories and poems and personal essays in each one of those adjustable chairs in between office work until I couldn’t take it anymore, which happened to coincide with two big life events—my new husband switching careers and a pregnancy."

"My first child was born in 2011, a few weeks before my husband began a 12-year career change into medicine and a few weeks after I officially declined a spot at the MFA program of my choice so he could focus on school. My second child was born two and half years later. Two more children came after that. I say this to express that it was very difficult to write in the pockets of time between morning sickness, sleep schedules, meal prep, playdates, preschool drop-offs, and with very little money for childcare."

"I did freelance work as much as I could to pay for childcare in order to work on essays and eventually a novel. What Kind Of Woman was the first time I was paid to write."

What would you consider your "big break" when it comes to your writing career?

"I’ll never forget the day my now agent, Joanna MacKenzie, emailed me and asked if I’d like representation. A Huffington Post piece I wrote about the heaviness of motherhood had gone viral and she asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and now we have both a valued friendship and partnership. Joanna stuck with me for four years while I wrote a novel that went nowhere. And when I wanted to pitch poetry next, she said yes, despite the risk of taking on a genre that is very hard to sell."

Can you detail any of those low moments of rejection and how you motivated yourself to keep pushing?

"I’ve been rejected from almost every lit magazine and online publication that publishes short stories or poetry. I’ve been rejected from publishers. From my local newspaper. I’ve even been rejected by my own agent who said 'this novel is not ready.' The good news about rejection is that it’s often a gift. An avenue to a new direction or a different voice. It can be quite painful, but I don’t know of any artist who hasn’t experienced loads of rejection. Hearing those stories helps too."

When you first started gaining popularity—and eventually having your first book becoming a New York Times best-seller—how did you feel your life and career shift?

"What Kind of Woman was the first time I was paid to write, so my life shifted in that I was able to afford consistent and reliable full-time childcare 3-4x a week. Everything else (dishes, laundry, marriage, friendship, parenting) stayed the same. The career changes were what one might expect; more book contracts, interviews, PR obligations. The things that haven’t changed are the usual demons. Writer’s block, fear of failure, feelings of inadequacy, etc."

Do you have regular hours that you try to work each day? A special place?

"I write in my office three to four days a week during the day when I have childcare. Of course, many of the ideas happen outside of that time. I’m constantly emailing myself concepts, repeating lines to myself, or even jotting down random words in my notes app. But the actual construction happens during office hours."

What about any creative habits or practices to get going?

"I write with a book open in my lap to get my head back in the clouds if I need it. I try not to pick something plot-driven or a book I’ve been wanting to read. Instead I’ll grab something like The Iliad and The Odyssey (rich in language, but I won’t get carried away reading all day) or Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies (excellent storytelling but I’ve read it many times and don’t need to know what happens next)."

Any advice you'd give to fellow moms/creatives about carving out time to work, taking the leap, etc.?

"None of my writing is possible without childcare. Weekly I hear from mothers who have always wanted to write (or paint or dance or start a business) asking how I’m able to be both mother and writer. Do you write at naptime? some will ask. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at such a question. On one hand, yes—there were many years I had to write at naptime. On the other hand, the assumption that naptime, the one break for a caregiver, should be used for any semblance of a career or passion is disheartening at best, a primal scream at my worst."

"As far as actual writing advice, the only thing I have to offer is this: No one cares if you’re a writer. This goes for most venturers, but especially artists. No one cares if you write or not. No one is going to take away your phone, force you to sit down, and stand over your shoulder while you work it out. You have to care. You have to start and continue the forward motion. It’s entirely up to you."

You have a significant social media following. Do you have any rules or boundaries when it comes to social media or screen-time?

"I would love to give a cool girl answer here, but the truth is that I live as chronically online as the next millennial. Of course, my relationship with social media has changed, but that’s because both social media and our relationship to it is always evolving."

"On this day in the year of lord 2023, I will say that I use my phone as much as ever, but less on social media apps like Instagram and more on private messaging platforms like Marco Polo and Voxer. It’s so much more life-giving to hear my friend Bethany describe her turkey club lunch in detail than it is to see a stranger hashtagging one online."

"As far as rules, I don’t share much about my children online. That one is pretty easy to stick to. Once I took them off the Internet, I never went back."

Any big goals or happenings—professionally or personally—that you're excited about for the year ahead?

"I try not to make too many predictions when it comes to writing projects because I like to leave as many doors open as possible. I know there will be more poetry books. I would also love to get into screenwriting. That’s something I’ve always very much loved to do."

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Write a Comment

  1. John Hintz says...

    Very nice story

  2. Lexie says...

    I love this change in format! I also love the paint colors in Kate Baer’s home. Gorgeous!

  3. Anna says...

    So beautiful!!

  4. Anna says...

    Love this!

  5. Eileen says...

    As if I couldn’t love Kate Baer any more. Amazing work. And the site redesign looks beyond gorgeous. Bravo!!

  6. Taylor says...

    Thank you for this lovely interview with a writer and woman I admire.

  7. Carly says...

    Reading this while up at night breastfeeding my two month old, what an excellent feature! Kate is such an inspiration – honesty and joy and grit in motherhood and creativity <3

  8. Claire says...

    Love the profile! Any change you’d be willing to share where the planets/space art is from? Thank our!!

  9. MC says...

    Could that be film? Love Kate and these gorgeous photographs.

  10. Grace says...

    I respect so much Kate Baer always, always mentioning childcare. She is a super hero and hearing her emphasize that she cannot do her work without reliable, consistent childcare is such a gift.

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