Four weeks after the birth of my first daughter, I returned to work performing in a television comedy show three days a week. At the time it seemed like a perfectly reasonable plan; in hindsight, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.
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 bawl 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.
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 what the hell I did during that period. Thank god there will always be reruns to remind me.
How did you cope with the return to every day life after the birth of your baby?
Fiona Harris has been working as a professional writer, director and actor in the Australian entertainment industry for over twelve years. You can follow her here