I have this memory that I can’t shake. It is from a time of rebellion. I was in university, a baby feminist, aspiring playwright and general know-it-all. I was listening to Tori Amos’s latest album, Scarlet’s Walk, written post-partum. It stank, I declared to my roommate. Tori had lost her edge. She was writing about domestic themes, instead of masturbation and hating God. I began cultivating a theory: babies killed the cool in female artists.
A few years later, I was in Montreal studying playwriting at The National Theatre School and Maureen Labonté was giving a class on this Canadian playwright none of us had ever heard of, Gwen Pharis Ringwood. Ringwood had written the award-winning Still Stands the House before getting married in 1939 and having four children. Although she continued to write, her main commitment, until the 1970s, was her family. A mother herself, Maureen raised her eyebrows at me. She knew it would plague me. The next few plays I wrote were explorations of why maternity and feminism were incompatible. I wrote one play about the contempt that ambitious, public women have for maternal, domestic women. I wrote another about how cool and sexually experimental Mary Shelley was before she accidentally had babies. And then, because I had tempted fate, I fell pregnant myself.
And then, because I had tempted fate, I fell pregnant myself.
What I knew of parenthood was that it is exhausting; I’d be harried with responsibilities but also full of joy. Though I wished this joy for myself and ultimately chose it, a fear began to grow alongside my fetus. I had learned that in order to write, a girl needs time, money and a room of her own. But I work for the federal Status of Women Critic, and I know the statistics. They show that the gender wage gap grows exponentially as soon as women become parents.
Even if I tried to ignore the socio-economic barriers, I couldn’t help but notice the interpersonal ones. Many of my childless friends stopped inviting me to hang out, just assuming I was never doing drugs or having hot sex again. The fact that these assumptions were largely correct for the time being didn’t make them less upsetting. I found community elsewhere, which is to say online. One third of the blogosphere is composed of mommy blogs. Many mommy bloggers are really good writers who are totally obsessed with the experience of motherhood. They made me feel less lonely and for that I am thankful. I’ll digress to note that there is no daddy blogosphere.
When I became a parent, I discovered that there is a fourth thing a girl needs in order to write. She needs something to write about. The greatest threat to my writing career was actually myself, or loss thereof. My plays usually discuss liberated feminine bodies, and they make my parents blush from their seats in the audience. Since having my son, I can’t even watch upsetting scenes from Game of Thrones without covering my eyes. I am not who I used to be.
The greatest threat to my writing career was actually myself, or loss thereof.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’ve changed. I’m not sure that I’m okay with it. But now, for the first time in two years, I have managed to get the time, money and space to write. I have a residency at a supportive theatre company, and my wonderful boss is willing to give me some time off to write. These opportunities are essential to writers like me, and are also so infrequent that I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. That’s three out of four. As for number four, it’s coming. I find myself faking it a little, but starting to feel glimpses of the real thing. Like learning to have an orgasm with a new partner, I must familiarize myself with a new body and for the first time, the new body is my own.
I have come to realize that there are women with small children working, writing. When I was at rehearsals for my play, The Apology, I had a nursing five-week-old in a sling. Joan MacLeod came up to me and welcomed me to the club. On Mother’s Day she sent me a section of Kim Collier’s Siminovitch Prize acceptance speech from 2010: “In a lot of ways I felt like a pioneer – creating ways for these two huge commitments to live together. And I believe one of the great gifts Jon and I gave to our theatre community was an example that it was possible, that family can be the centre of your life while your theatre work is too. To all women director/creators with children: bravo, be brave and break the mould – carry them in the hall, breastfeed between the seats, go on tour together, whisper about process and actors and what worked and what didn’t. Include your kids in your life, let them learn from your passion.”
And so this is where I am at: I have vowed not to confuse first words or breastfeeding with interesting material for plays, and this article is the closest I plan to come to mommy blogging myself. But I’m writing through my fears. And sometimes, I even write about the kid.
Darrah Teitel is a playright and graduate of the University of Toronto and the National Theatre School of Canada’s Playwriting program. Her plays have been produced across Canada and her journalism, fiction and poetry have appeared in various periodicals and journals throughout the country. Darrah’s play Corpus is the winner of the Calgary Peace Play Prize, the In The Beginning Playwriting Award and the 2011 Canadian Jewish Playwriting Award. Her play The Apology was nominated for the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Betty Mitchell Award for best new play. The Apology won the Calgary FFWD Audience Choice Award for 2013. She was a member of the Banff Playwrights Colony in 2007, 2011 and 2012, and was a 2010 MacDowell Colony Fellow. Darrah is currently the playwright-in-residence for the Great Canadian Theatre Company and is working for the NDP Status of Women Critic. Corpus will be produced by Teesri Duniya Theatre in November 2014 in Montreal.