Hein Koh is not your average mom. Case in point, while many of us may need a little time adjusting after a baby, Koh didn’t waste time wondering if having children – excuse me, having twins — would impact her career as an artist or if becoming a mother would hold her back in any way.
Instead, Koh just got to work.
In a post she shared on Facebook that has now been deleted, Koh described the mixed emotions that motherhood brought, along with the conviction that parenting can be seen as a new challenge, not necessarily something that will hold women back.
And for that? Well, the world is kind of in love with her.
“Becoming a #mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better #artist – I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and #multitask like a champ. I learned to function (even if barely) on very little sleep, and out of the chaos, insanity and even torture at times, a flood of new emotions entered into my work, becoming more interesting & layered as a result. I’m also not saying that artist parents are better artists than non-parent artists, or that choosing not to be a parent will deny you access to these learning experiences. What I am saying is that parenting is like any other challenge in life – the biggest fucking challenge in my own life thus far – and if you embrace it and figure out creative solutions, you can emerge a better person. It’s important to think about the ways in which these challenges can help you move forward, rather than hold you back.”
Koh, a sculptor and artist from Brooklyn, NY and her husband, James Horowitz, a cardiologist, welcomed twin daughters Amelia (Ami) Beatrix Koh Horowitz and Oneida (Oni) Clementine Koh Horowitz, now 16.5 months, in May 2015.
Although Koh says she never dreamt of marriage and children, she says she felt conflicted about having kids after several years of marriage.
“I think most artists, particularly female artists, feel this way, because we are in a profession that is all-consuming so it is hard for us to imagine dividing that time and attention between work and family,” she explains.
Koh, who grew up with art and realized sometime after college that she “couldn’t live without it,” went off of birth control at the age of 32 and after not conceiving for a year, discovered that she and Horowitz had some medical obstacles to getting pregnant.
“It was a six-year struggle of trying to conceive, during which I kept changing my mind about whether or not I wanted to have kids,” she describes. “In the end, in 2014, we did IVF, which is why we have twins! It’s a miracle really, and we are doubly blessed.”
Despite the double blessing, however, Koh says she was still “terrified” about the prospect of juggling her passion and work as an artist with the demands of motherhood.
“The art world is not kind to mothers or ‘aging’ women,” she notes. “I was worried that if I didn’t get my career started before giving birth, because I am still at the emerging stage, I would never be able to pick up the momentum again.”
She also faced tremendous obstacles from leading women in the art field who have been very public with their belief that children are a detriment to a female artist’s career. Artist Marina Abramovic famously once said that women aren’t as successful as men in the art world because they have children. Koh, however, has found the opposite to be true.
“To my surprise, I’ve never been more busy in my career than I have been since giving birth,” she says.
Of course, the notion that mothers cannot be successful in their careers is not limited to the art world. It’s a deeply woven belief that affects almost every field — and is something Koh wholeheartedly disagrees with.
“It’s ridiculous and myopic to take one’s personal experience and make a generalization out of it,” she says. “It’s unfortunate when women make these kinds of statements that only perpetuate existing stereotypes that hinder our progress.”
She also points out the difference in how male and female artists are treated when it comes to having a family.
“Somehow as a man you are allowed to have kids and still be perceived as driven in your career, while if you are a woman who has a child, people think of it as a huge sacrifice,” she observes. “The new family models are changing — mothers don’t necessarily have to be the primary caretakers anymore. With a more even distribution of responsibilities, and a support system — support is key, and I recognize it is a privilege — women can still have children and be successful in their careers.”
Koh, who has an extensive support system herself, including a part-time nanny who comes every weekday morning and one full day a week, practices what she preaches. While some may read that and roll their eyes at her having “help,” we should be applauding women like Koh who are open and honest about what it takes to combine family, work, and a passion for life.
“I’ve pieced together a schedule that allows me to spend time with the kids for at least a few hours every day, but also have at least a few hours to myself to work in my studio or do other things that I need to do,” she notes. “Childcare is a privilege, and unfortunately many moms and artists don’t have that. That being said, I understand how fortunate I am and I don’t waste time.”
The other piece to her artistic puzzle? Her husband, whom despite working long hours as a doctor himself, Koh describes as a true partner. Together, they “evenly distribute household chores and cooking” as well as play time and errands.
“We have a good system of give and take,” Koh says. “He’s very encouraging of my career, and I couldn’t do it without his support. It really takes a village to raise a child, and with twins, you need a whole town.”
Koh says she has been shocked by the reaction that her husband’s candid photo of her has received (it now has over 4.7K likes and 1.7k shares) but she is grateful for the chance to share the message that motherhood is definitely not a dead end in any path in life.
She hopes that her picture can spark a bit of a change in how we treat mothers who are just trying to figure out this crazy world of work with other beings sometimes literally attached to our bodies.
“We all have to do what we think is best for ourselves and our families,” she continues. “I’m just trying to live my life, and I know I have limitations but I’m doing the best I can. People should just leave moms alone, and mind their own business. Especially other moms, who are always the first to judge. Regardless of our individual choices, women should support other women, and lead by example rather than attack. That’s the kind of culture I want to promote.”