No Mirth after a Birth

16 September 2016

I was working on a sketch comedy television show the first time I fell pregnant. Rather than do the smart thing and hightail it out of there and off the small screen before I became too huge to fit in the makeup chair, I chose to continue filming until I was eight and a half months pregnant. Apparently I had no intentions of letting something as trivial as growing a human being get in the way of my day to day life.

Working on a television show whilst enduring the plethora of physical and emotional turmoil pregnancy brings, proved to be a challenging task. For the first three months the six a.m. call times meant I would drive to the set bleary-eyed, salada biscuit in one hand and lucozade in the other, occasional pulling over for a quick spew. The make-up ladies first suspected something was up after a few weeks of me entering the makeup truck looking like Bela Lugosi and popping off to the toilet every five minutes. My lack of interest in coffee at such an ungodly hour of the morning was also incredibly suspicious.

The wardrobe department had their own problems with me.  Not only was my stomach continuously outgrowing the clothes they kept forking out good money for, but my bum, thighs and boobs had also decided to join the swelling party and were filling out at an alarming rate.  No matter how much black they put me in, there came a day when there was just no hiding the fact that I was beginning to resemble a contestant on The Biggest Loser.

The two days a week spent in the production office were significantly easier, although thanks to a dodgy coxic bone which prevented me from sitting in a chair like normal people, I needed two of my strongest male cast members to lower me down on to and pull me up from the office bean bag at least a dozen times a day.

So intent was I on proving that I was no different from the other cast members, that after a while people around me sometimes seemed to forget my delicate state. Like one of our directors who requested that for a particular sketch I run around a backyard chasing someone with a shovel.  This would have been a completely rational request had I not been eight and a half months pregnant at the time and barely able waddle on and off the set let alone strike up an athletic pace.  I gently reminded him of my condition and warned him that asking me to run could cause me to go into labour…or to whack him incredibly hard across the back of the head with said shovel.

When I finally reached the magical eight-and-a-half-months mark, shot my final scene and said a teary farewell to my beloved colleagues, I was excited at the prospect of having two weeks of doing absolutely nothing but lying on the couch watching season six of Buffy, the vampire slayer. Unfortunately, my impatient daughter had other plans and entered the world only a couple of days into my long-awaited recess.

After my baby was born I had three weeks at home with a gorgeous little girl whom I completely adored.  She was so placid that I was convinced that if it was this straightforward at home, surely doing a couple of days a week at work wouldn’t complicate matters too much.  Obviously I’d forgotten to factor in two very important bi-products of giving birth – breastfeeding and hormones.

My husband and I worked out a plan for the two days I’d be filming.  He’d bring her to set (obviously these would be the exact times when my boobs would be ready to produce milk and she would be ready to eat) and I would feed her between filming scenes.  Easy.

Well…not so much.

I cried when I left her in the morning.  I cried all the way to work.  I cried when my husband brought her to the set so I could feed her, and I cried when they left.  Expressing milk behind the curtain in the wardrobe bus every three hours was a pain in the pelvis and, as a result of going 5 to 8 hours without emptying my boobs, was on the verge of contracting mastitis several times.

Feeding my baby surrounded by male comedians who thought it was hilarious to make jokes about “Fiona getting her boobs out again” was never a peaceful experience. Although, they quietened down once I threatened to squirt milk in their eyes and blind them for life. There was also the time when the first assistant director informed me that she could see my breast pads outlined through my top on the monitor, and that the camera crew had asked what they were.

The glamour of awards ceremonies all but vanished when I attended the Logies and ended up expressing milk straight into the toilet bowl, while I listened to soapie stars having flattering contests over whose hair and make up looked better.  If only they’d had x-ray vision to see the thirty-three year old woman with the top of her Charlie Brown designer gown pulled down, hunched over a loo squeezing breast milk from her nipples.  Actually, my aim wasn’t that great. Most of it ended up all over the floor.

Following is a list of tips and coping mechanisms for new mums back in the workforce:

  • Never leave your breast pump lying around your work area. You will soon discover your male co-stars using it as a trumpet while playing dungeons and dragons.
  • Try to avoid speaking to anyone for the first half hour of the day if you are feeling particularly guilty and hormonal that day.  Just saying hello to someone could mean a straight four hours of sobbing.
  • Be discreet when expressing – or in my case that the curtain in the wardrobe bus is drawn all the way across to the other side while a dozen male extras are getting changed into hobbits for a “lord of the rings” sketch on the other side.
  • If you are not Victoria Beckham or Gwyneth Paltrow, be prepared for the fact that your body may take more than three days to stop resembling the “before” photo in a weight watchers ad and accept that this is OK.  (Unless you are filming with size six girls who are ten years younger than you. You then have the right to ball your eyes out in disgust and shame)
  • Try to avoid writing jokes at a time when your main train of thought is “How long does it take for infected stitches to heal?” There’s not much comedy in that and you will probably hear screams of horror when you read it out to your cast members.

I fell pregnant with my second daughter a few years later whilst filming on a completely different sketch comedy program; although this time I had the good sense to take my burgeoning frame off Australian television well before my due date.

I’m still good friends with some of the people I worked with when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and a lot of them, cast and crew, have had babies since then. All of those new mothers, and fathers, have at one time or another since having their baby grabbed my arm, eyes wide, head shaking back and forth, uttering the phrase “I’m so sorry! I had no idea what you were going through!” I smile and tell them to shut up. There’s no need to apologise. Of course they had no idea. No one does until it’s them walking into work and feeling like they are going to hurl their guts up just because one of their co-workers has just unwrapped a souvlaki, or until they are so tired that their eyes are beginning to close mid-conversation even though it’s only two o’clock in the afternoon. Despite all of the tears, tiredness and hormones, I wouldn’t trade my experience of having been a working pregnant woman for anything, although I have to admit that my second pregnancy felt like a holiday in Bali by comparison.

My daughter now seems completely unscarred by her mother abandoning her at such an early age. And what about me?  Do I regret my decision to go back to work and if I could do it all again would I change anything?  Not on your life.  Beggars can’t be choosers and an artist’s gotta take the work when it’s there.  I’m proud of myself for surviving it; we were able to pay the rent on time and I managed to get through those few months in a sleep-deprived hormonal daze, even if I can’t remember much about it to this day, which, let’s be honest, is probably for the best.

← Back to Blog