The Mother Flippin’ Life

I’m going to ask a big favour of you all. I’m going to ask you to bear with me. And the reason is this: I’m going to talk about babies. Or more specifically, motherhood.

Parenting is the toughest gig around.
Parenting is the toughest gig around.
You knew I’d eventually get to talking about babies right? Being a first time Mum to a now 2 and a half year old daughter, I have learned a lot. Quickly. And slowly too. With surprises hitting me left, right and centre. Occasionally like a scary Jack-in-a-box. You love them more than you could ever imagine and you’d never change it, but being a parent is the toughest gig around. I think most parents would agree.

But please bear with me. This essay isn’t just for mums, or parents. It is for all or any of us who sometimes feel uninspired, lost, isolated, tired or fearful. Who feel they’ve lost their way, or who are feeling rundown or too busy to re-ignite their individual creative journeys. However, I’m going to explore this from the point of view of a mother, because that is the journey I am on and I think motherhood covers such a gamut of issues that most of us experience within our lives: mother, fur mother, or not.

I’m also not writing this to complain about how hard parenting is, but to explore how parenthood (and motherhood in particular) and working creatively or working in a creative field coexist. If they indeed do. Or can. And suitably, I am writing this while my daughter stands beside me, asking me to help her with a puzzle. So excuse me while I pause to undo a babushka doll set.

Right. Let’s go back to the start.

I’ll never forget sitting in a lecture while at WAAPA listening to an actor talk about his career. I can’t actually remember much at all about his actual career (I believe I can still claim ‘baby brain’, right?) but something he said really stuck with me. He said if you want kids, if you are thinking about it, know there is never a good time to have them. There is always a time for career and work, but there isn’t always a time for family.

It is a common fear we have, especially for women, that to ‘leave’ the industry to have a baby spells the end of our career, or our body will change, or we lose momentum or we are forgotten. And to some extent it is true. But a hiatus (for motherhood or other varying reasons) doesn’t mean a closure of our time in the industry, and nor should it mean a loss of our creative lives. And goodness, apart from a handful of actors we all live in a flood and drought world. And don’t they say a change is as good as a holiday? Let’s call it transformation; sounds magnificent right?

My body certainly changed and creatively, for a time, I came to a standstill. Maybe I could’ve made use of those long hours of breastfeeding to read, or write; but all I wanted or could manage to do at the time was to binge watch renovation shows and stare at this amazing little being in my arms. And ps, it takes time to recover from pregnancy and labour. And you have to recover while also being a full-time, new mum. It is a massive undertaking for your body and mind. And that’s ok. That’s how it probably should be. Children aren’t just a purchase on a whim – maybe sometimes an accident, but bringing a new human being into the world is an experience never to be undervalued or underestimated.

For me, it is the most profoundly wonderful thing that has ever happened and my expectation of my capacity to love was stretched to the point of bursting. But it is also the most gruelling job and sometimes it can feel like one of those “actor nightmares” where you are pushed out onto the stage to play a role, but you’re not sure what play you are in, which character you are, what your lines are, and oh, yes, you are naked. We are all feeling our way, none of us are experts and every parent’s journey is different. How wonderful! Many experiences to learn from!

So how – mothers in particular – how do we get back on the horse? How do we gift ourselves with those things we are passionate about without feeling like a neglectful parent? How do we find inspiration? Energy? Time? A job when the time is right?

The industry is evolving and, I think, so are it’s women. More and more we feel empowered to be working mums if that is our desire. There are many of us out there. In Les Miserables alone there are three of us in the cast (not mentioning the dads or other departments): Patrice Tipoki, Lisa Sontag, and myself. We had even claimed while in Sydney one of the crew’s backstage couches which was affectionately referred to as The Mum Couch, where we were often found in between scenes with our feet up and our eyes closed. Awake power naps. Let me tell you: they are excellent.

I auditioned and did castings while pregnant too. I may have even played a role in a Shakespeare play up until I was about 5 months pregnant. Maybe it was the hormones but I never felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t continue doing my job while I wanted to and was able. The castings were fun and hilarious, especially when they were asking for “real pregnant women”, however when you walk in they do a not so subtle double take when they realise what a “real pregnant woman” can actually look like. (Suffice to say I didn’t book a ‘pregnant’ ad.)

I also auditioned for Les Miserables while pregnant. I was 6 months at my first audition and a week before my due date on my final callback. The company were very supportive and put me through first so I didn’t have to stand for too long. (Or maybe it was because they were terrified I’d give birth there and then!) Either way, I never felt judged, never felt incapable, never felt inappropriate, and for the first time I didn’t worry about whether or not I might get the job.

Don’t get me wrong, I WANTED the job (really really), but I was at peace. Hormones. They can be a blessing. But also I think the transformation of motherhood can bring a bravery and a boldness that we should harness! And that perhaps any of us could take on board, hormonal pregnant lady or not!

It was an eye-opening experience for me, knowing that the industry can, does and will hopefully continue to improve in its ability to support women and parents working in the arts. It’s certainly not perfect but there is work being done and progress being made. And we don’t have to be afraid to ask for assistance when needed. We don’t need to be martyrs, we don’t need to be fearful of judgement and we don’t need to become isolated. And there are plenty of other parents out there in the field sharing their stories, their advice and I encourage you to seek them out and ask many questions!

But I guess the one I still tackle with is how to be a mum, an actor AND a creative worker. And for those who aren’t parents, how do we break out of a rut? Routine is always a great aid to a certain point, but art is fluid, living and needs a vibrancy that routine can’t always provide.

I spent a good year as a working mum not being very creative, I couldn’t work out how to and I wasn’t sure it was ‘time’ anyway. But I spent that year learning a lot about time. Time well spent, and time wasted. I watched and learnt from people who were super efficient with their time. Scarily efficient. I wasn’t striving to be that mad, but just a little bit mad. Just as I don’t want to underestimate the gift of motherhood, I also didn’t want to underestimate the gift of being me. Does that read as corny as it sounds? Ah, don’t care! The precious time I spend on me will always pay off for my daughter, and my husband. Because when I don’t, I become uninspired, depressed and tired. Creativity breeds patience, energy, empathy and innovation. And the whole family needs that. The world needs that.

So I find pockets of time. I work out how to work in short sections. It’s almost like having a compartment of my mind that I can pause on and off. As a mum you can’t expect to have a quiet, zen space to ponder, meditate and brainstorm (though this sometimes can happen!) so you work out how to still work (even if it’s dreadful or illegible) while your daughter is engaged in independent play, or on the train to work, or in the car, or while Peppa Pig is on (thank you ABC kids), or while on your dinner break. Take your restorative time when you need and binge on Netflix, but also take time to play, to work, to create. Your kids will thank you for it. So will our diverse industry. And you will surprise yourself!

So, if you have kids, or want kids, feel encouraged. Or even if you are just feeling rundown by life, don’t feel you are done! It is all about life chapters and time. It is an up and down journey, but we can foster and nourish our creativity, be parents, take time away from the industry, continue to waddle in to auditions at 8 months pregnant, or simply sit down to a GoT marathon. Take the time to match your time with your life chapters, we are all trying to do the same, so you are not alone.

Thanks for bearing with me. The transformation that is motherhood, (and all the little elements of it’s composition that we can all relate to) should reflect and live in a congruent partnership with the evolving transformation of our creative lives.

Now, for next time, how can I look like a “real pregnant woman” and not like a “real pregnant woman” and book that ad? Or maybe that’s not the real issue…  ah, we’ll leave that topic for another time.

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Naomi has written 5 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by