Parenting & Playwriting

Preggers by Catherine Trieschmann

This post is the thirteenth column of a regular series on Parenting & Playwriting. Find the previous columns here. Here’s what my advice column will offer you: a place to ask questions and share grievances about juggling life as theatre artists and as parents. Here’s what my advice column will not offer you: much actual advice you can use. For those of you masochists longing for some truly crappy advice, email me at dctrieschmann@gmail.com or tweet me @ctrieschmann.

Dear Catherine, How does being pregnant affect your work as a writer? I'm thinking about everything from accepting productions/workshops that would open around your due date or after? Deadlines that may be pending in the coming nine months? Letting non-best-friend colleagues know or keeping it a professional secret? Should I clear my schedule/life/plate for a while? Or can I be business is usual... just really round?

Pregnancy advice is dicey territory. When my grandmother was pregnant in Arkansas in the 1940s and 1950s, she was told not to show her pregnant belly outside of the house, unless absolutely necessary. She sewed two jumpers, which she wore exclusively during her pregnancy, taking out the seams an inch at a time, as the baby demanded. As we all know, advice to women in the 1940s and 1950s was pretty shady; she was also instructed to feed her newborn baby a combination of condensed milk and syrup instead of breast milk. An obstetrician knocked out my other Grandmother cold and delivered her baby via c-section. She always said childbirth was easy: "they put you asleep and when you wake up, there's a baby!"

A lot of the shame and misinformation about pregnancy and childbirth has fortunately dissipated. Half your friends have probably posted pictures of themselves ripe as tomatoes wearing nothing but sports bras on Facebook and shared the intricate details of their non-medicated births on their blogs. I had one friend return to her teaching job twenty-four hours after giving birth. My sister, a neurologist, worked until her water broke for each of her three children, including during a grueling residency.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I agreed to a deadline that had me working until the day before my due date. My baby came a week early, and I remember lying in the hospital bed hollering, "somebody call my producer!" On the other hand, my sister-in-law was put on bed rest for six weeks and had to take a leave of absence from work. One of my best friends lay in a hospital bed on her back for a solid month because her placenta threatened to separate from her womb.
Fortunately, in both cases, the babies were fine. Sometimes, however, they are not. When my second baby was born, and I lay holding her in the early morning hours of the maternity ward, I listened to a young father in the hall grieve his stillborn child.

I know this is an advice/ humor column, but honestly, I would never dream of telling somebody how to handle her pregnancy. Whether or not you work, how soon, who you tell and how much baby/work juggling you can handle is truly only a question you can answer. Birthing babies is beautiful and harrowing, and how you carry that baby to term is dependent on an intricate matrix of swapped fluids, economics, inclination, luck, fate, and DNA.



I know this is an advice/ humor column, but honestly, I would never dream of telling somebody how to handle her pregnancy. Whether or not you work, how soon, who you tell and how much baby/work juggling you can handle is truly only a question you can answer. Birthing babies is beautiful and harrowing, and how you carry that baby to term is dependent on an intricate matrix of swapped fluids, economics, inclination, luck, fate, and DNA.

I can only tell you what choices I made and how I feel about them. I can say that doing that month long workshop for no money when Laura was two months old was not a good choice. Agreeing to a deadline the day before my due date was not a good choice. Informing a movie star while on location for an indie film that I was pregnant not fat was probably not a good choice either (nobody cares about the screenwriter's figure). Not exercising much during either pregnancy was a very bad choice, as was subsisting on caffeine-free Coke, mashed potatoes, and watermelon.
I'm glad I flew to my best friend's wedding though, when Lizzie was only three weeks old, and I'm glad I didn't work much for the first three months of her life. I'm also thankful that I had commissions and deadlines pending in the distance, because that made me structure my new life around both the babies and the writing from the beginning, so getting back into the work saddle was never as hard as it might have been. I'm grateful I never had to leave one of the babies overnight until they were nine months old, and I don't regret taking Laura to New York for three days when she was two months old, so I could hear a new play read aloud for the first time. I'm glad I had an epidural in a hospital where I felt cared for and safe with my sister on one side of me and my husband on the other, and I am equally glad that one of my best friends gave birth at home in a tub while her husband held her from behind and a midwife whispered gentle ministrations. I'm thrilled I didn't have to make my own maternity clothes; and although nursing, frankly, sucked (no pun intended), I'm glad I didn't feed my baby condensed milk and syrup.

You'd be hard pressed to find a maternity picture of me anywhere, much less online, but that's not out of shame; it's because, as my Mother pointed out, pregnancy didn't do me any favors. You should see my Mother's post-partum pictures. She looked like Uma Thurman. I, on the other hand, looked like a troll. A red-faced, acne ridden, bloated troll. This isn't self-hatred; I possess a reasonable share of self-confidence. It's an honest appraisal.

Telling my colleagues, however, was a non-issue. They all knew the second I turned down the first martini.

What choices did you make during your pregnancy? What do you regret? What do you savor?

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I ended up doing some really fun work both as a dramaturg and an actor during my pregnancy. (The role I was work shopping suddenly became a role for a pregnant lady because the writer was so enjoying my giant belly in the room!) I also left free the month around birth and the first months after. One thing to remember is you have a due month, not a due date. But I ditto the wise CT, trust your own instincts and follow them. They really are your best guide. Congrats!

As a woman and early-career dramaturg, may I just say how appreciative I am for this article and the comments? Thank you all for your perspectives and voices. I have always known that I want to parent, and honestly I have been nervous about what reactions I would be met with upon sharing this aspect of my aspirations. I do not want to give up neither my art nor my (future) motherhood. I am so encouraged to hear frank discussion on this topic, as well as a call for cultural change coming from such strong woman leaders in the field!

Thanks again!

My first child was born on the first preview of the world premiere of my first big play at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. I lived in North Carolina at the time but arranged midwives etc. in San Diego and was in rehearsal from week 36-41! The Old Globe put me up in company housing and even got a room next door for my mother so she could help me. I had to negotiate for the car explaining I couldn't be without one. I had a great healthy pregnancy but the baby had some issues and was in the hospital for a week afterwards in the NICU. I was using that crazy breast pump and was pretty unavailable to the theater for interviews etc. after the baby was born, but it was all cool and we went back to North Carolina when then baby was healthy -- at three weeks old. The Old Globe housed me and my mom the whole time. I am glad I did it that way and glad I asked for what I wanted/needed. I had comments from people (artistic directors, literary managers, friends) who said "why would even go to rehearsal and be there when you were having a baby" but it was what I wanted to do. With baby number #2 I stayed home and missed a production in Salt Lake City but it wasn't a world premiere and I was happy to miss it. I find it most hard to ask for what we need as parents from granting agencies, theaters, etc. Family friendly accommodations are not always available and it is hard to ask--but the more moms and dads that do ask, that list "childcare" under business expenses for a grant, the more it will be a common occurrence.

Thanks for this - there is also much to be said about the non-freelance/staff side of having a kid and working in theater. Most theaters comply only barebones with FMLA, and have little or no HR staff to help you navigate any of it. On top of low wages, crappy insurance plans often have criminally high deductibles. The hours, lack of support, lack of understanding, and the casual use of the term 'family' is maddening. The fear I felt about not being able to do my job, not being able to restructure my job, losing my job, and being a new parent was overwhelming.

There is fun and funny stuff, too - and, honestly, I think about those more and more. The night my son was born, his birth was welcomed by being slipped onto a projection during a show we'd written. He came to a run-through with me at 3 weeks old, and I had to assure everyone the it was not an editorial comment that he had slept through the whole thing. He went to all the parties (including Live Band Karaoke), met several old friends who came through for the play festival, and the looks I got from many management and staff members when I wore him to work or he was in the car seat in his Dad's sound office were hilariously priceless.

I'd love to see women theater artists - especially leadership - (guys too!) agitate for change. we should take care of each other better.

I love this column. Just love it.
I don't really have much to share in terms of regrets. I regret regretting so much. Second guessing so much. I had a hard time going with the flow and wasted a lot of energy resisting. I maybe shouldn't have eaten fries with almost every lunch in my last trimester. But they were really delicious.

I had a very healthy, very unpleasant pregnancy--I threw up every single day for 38 weeks and was dizzy all the time. But I, and the baby, were perfectly healthy. I was just miserable. I was hard-pressed to get through every day. I worked a day job for the health insurance and pretty much passed out at 7 p.m. every night. So, no, not a lot of writing got done, and if I'd had a deadline or production I don't know if I could have handled it. A 10-minute play of mine was at The Tens in Louisville, opening about 10 days after I gave birth. I wasn't there. I wish I could have been but it was physically impossible. That same play was produced in Miami in the summer. Because of financial pressures and lack of practical support, I decided not to go. Big regret. I should have done it. Ditto a 3rd production in Chicago. Looking back, I wish I had lined up some solid "how will I manage situation X, Y, Z?" in advance, because once I'd had the kid it was such a whirlwind I was more or less chasing my own ass for months. Lucky me, I got a big hormonal boost post-birth--it was like being shot out of a cannon. After months of bleariness I was running around and nursing round the clock. But organized? I was not organized. Organized really, really helps. My only "advice" then is Ask for Help Ask for Help Ask for Help. Whatever you need, figure out if you may need help, and ASK.

I kept the 2 weeks pre and post due date unscheduled, which worked because I had pretty standard pregnancies. I was in the rehearsal room 2 weeks after every kid, which is just the random nature of freelancing, there's no paid maternity leave, so I took time off when I had no work rather than right after the baby. On the whole that was fine too, with a couple of missteps like flying to AZ for a 3-day job, getting food poisoning and passing it through my breast milk to the baby, then spending the day in the hotel room tandem vomiting with no 2nd parent. During pregnancy I was flaky, I couldn't read Faulkner because his run-on sentences made me seasick, I lost 3 phones, one of them a land line, but interestingly the flakiness didn't affect my work, just my real life. I was still a writer, just not a super-functional adult. And make of all that what y'all will, like CT said, every pregnancy is different.