By Jennifer Weedon Green
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When in doubt, Google it. That’s always been my motto. I’m big on research, both online and off. When my husband and I were expecting our first child, I searched the term “pregnant actress.” What did I expect to find? I don’t know… an article by a successful actor or casting director entitled something along the lines of “Helpful Tips for Pursuing Your Acting Career While Raising Children”? What I found instead was page after page of silly paparazzi photographs of pregnant celebrities but no real resource. Of all the actor friends I had, none had children. All of our college acting buddies who had started families had abandoned acting long ago for more stable careers. I wondered if I was making a terrible mistake. Did I really have to choose between being an actor and being a mother?
Now that my son is 14 months old, I understand why there seems to be a lack of actor-parents out there. Because—don’t kid yourself—it’s damn difficult. But as I’ve stumbled through over the last couple of years, working pregnant, nursing, and mommy-ing, I’ve learned a few things. I hope you arrived at this column after searching for the very article I was never able to find.
While the Bun Is Still in the Oven
I’ve had several people ask me if there’s a lot of acting work or special agencies for preggo mamas. Sadly, there is less work than you’d expect because producers would rather make someone look pregnant than cast an actual pregnant women for many reasons. It would severely limit their pool of talent to audition only pregnant women. If a project shoots over a long period of time, the look of the pregnant woman will change as her belly grows. Some producers are nervous about the reliability of a pregnant woman. Will she have the stamina for long days on set? What if she hurls in the middle of a take? And they also have insurance concerns. They don’t want to be held responsible if anything should go wrong with the pregnancy on the job.
But once in a while, someone DOES want a real pregnant woman. And while there is one agency that specializes in pregnant and nursing mothers, most of the work goes through your regular channels. Once you are ready to make your big news public, postcard all of your industry contacts so that if such a role comes up, you’ll be fresh in their minds. I used my regular headshot postcards with a small maternity photo on the back. You should also talk to your team about what kind of work you want to pursue during pregnancy. Mine continued submitting me for roles that weren’t specifically for pregnant women. For example, there’s no reason the bank teller with one line on Law & Order can’t be expecting.
If you do score a job while cookin’ a baby, don’t be shy about asking for a chair or bathroom break. Most ADs are more than accommodating. But don’t be a diva either. There are a hundred other actors who would kill to have your job. So be happy to have the gig and try your best to keep up with everyone.
If you are going stir-crazy with your lack of acting while pregnant, maybe you’ll find it to be a great time to catch up on some classes. I was in improv class at UCB until two weeks before the birth of my son, jumping around like an idiot.
Now is a good time to start looking at your childcare options. Try to find a babysitter in the business or at least someone that understands it. Most people don’t get that we don’t know our call times until the night before, that call time can be before the sun is up, and that we have NO idea when we will wrap.
When Your Baby Is Brand New
Take some time to just be. No one expects you to jump out of your hospital bed and start auditioning. When you are ready, let your team know. And then break out those postcards again, this time with a photo of you and the baby on the back (if you are comfortable with that).
Be realistic. Being a mom is your primary occupation, at least for a while now. Your career might have lost some momentum while you were pregnant. I found this incredibly frustrating. In order to keep it in perspective, I asked myself, “When you are on your deathbed, would you rather be mourning a couple of jobs you didn’t book or the fact that you have no children there with you?”
Don’t rush into getting new headshots too quickly. Your appearance is bound to change over the next year. I had some new headshots taken three months after my son was born and now I weigh 15 pounds less, so they’re useless.
Speaking of weight, once your doctor gives you the okay, you can start exercising again. It’s tough to find time to do so with a baby around. Even if you have the time, most babies aren’t content to sit and watch their moms workout. And it might be difficult to find a sitter to go to a gym (or to afford a gym) what with all those diapers you are buying. I was never a runner until I found that my son was the best trainer around! I’d put him in his stroller, go outside, and he’d squeal with delight the faster we went. When I slowed down, he’d fuss. Now we run every morning. On days you can’t make it outside, put the baby in a baby carrier, and do squats and lunges. Instant added weight! As long as you keep moving, the baby should remain happy. He’ll think this is all a lovely game!
Nursing on the Job
(If you find boob talk TMI, skip this section!)
If you are working while nursing, a double electric pump is essential. It’s the only kind that is fast enough to pump on quick breaks. You’ve got to get over the embarrassment of telling a (usually male) AD that you’ll be in the bathroom pumping if they need you. You won’t always have access to a sink to rinse the pump, but you can buy special disinfecting wipes.
Nursing pads are a must at first, until your body learns to regulate itself. I was rushing to get to rehearsal, called home, and heard my son crying over the phone. Instant letdown, shirt soaked. I desperately tried to hide it once I got to the theatre but the glances from some of the other actors told me I was freaking them out.
As Time Goes By
Only take your kid to an audition as a very, very last resort. I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, every audition is a job interview and who takes their kid on a job interview? On the other hand, as actors, we are going to several job interviews a week. It’s difficult to justify paying a babysitter for a chance at a job. I err on the side of being as professional as possible. You might learn that certain casting directors are cool with babies in the waiting room, but until you know, try to leave the baby at home.
My husband is also an actor. Sometimes we both get auditions for the same project, on very little notice, and are given the same time slot. This happened last week and we learned a valuable lesson. We weren’t able to find a sitter in time, so we took our son with us, thinking we’d trade off while each of us went in the room. We signed in one after the other. And then learned the casting director was taking actors in in groups! She called us both in at the same time. We couldn’t very well leave our kid outside. Now we know to have one of us sign in and the other wait to do so until the first is finished auditioning.
It’s difficult to find time to prepare for auditions when you are the primary caregiver of a little one. I’m sure my neighbors think I’m nuts, because I often work on my sides, pen in hand, muttering to myself, while pushing the stroller around the neighborhood. Whatever works.
You don’t have to do everything perfectly. You can’t possibly take care of a baby full time, nurse, keep a clean house, AND keep up with all of your acting biz marketing and auditioning. I vote to forgo the clean house. My reasoning is that the people who hire me will notice if I haven’t had time to prepare my sides but they’ll have no idea what my house looks like.
I’m still figuring all of this stuff out. Being an actor has been my dream ever since I was a child. It’s sometimes frustrating that it can’t be my first priority anymore. But I knew I would deeply regret it if I never had children. And being a mom has only taught me how to be more present in the moment, weed out time-wasters and distractions, and access my emotions more easily. Not to mention that I am more infatuated with my son than any other human on the planet.
Welcome to your most fabulous role yet. It’s going to be an amazing ride!
Jennifer Weedon Palazzo is the creator/writer/and producer of MomCaveTV.com, an online network of comedy shows for moms including Slummy Mummy, Double Leche, Blabbermom, and MomCave LIVE. When she’s not writing about the funny side of being a mom for sites like Scary Mommy and Mamalode, Jennifer can be found eating Reese’s Cups while furiously bidding on vintage clothing on eBay. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, Evan, bandleader of The Hot Sardines and their son. Follow her on Twitter @MomCaveTV and visit https://www.youtube.com/MomCave.