My husband was the first to seriously propose having kids. We had been married for several years and had always planned on it. Most of my cousins from back home had their kids in their early twenties. Some of them were already in high school. I made it a point of pride that I was going to wait to have children until the time was right. I wanted to go to college, build a career, and then have time to travel and enjoy the world before embarking on parenthood.
Evan and I had just returned from a trip to visit some of our oldest friends and meet their newborn son. I spent much of the trip playing with, holding, cuddling and feeding the new baby. I've always been good with kids. I had worked as a nanny for years. Our friends, and my husband, acted surprised to see how the baby took to me. On the first night back home, over a leisurely dinner, Evan suggested that maybe it was time for us to start a family.
Though being a mother was definitely a life-long goal/dream of mine, I hesitated. Were we ready for that sort of change? More honestly, was I ready to give up so much of myself? While I was proud of my education, our travels, and my attempts at an acting career, I felt like I had not accomplished nearly enough yet. So we agreed to think on it over the next several months.
Each morning, I played a mental game with myself. I thought about our schedule for the day ahead and asked, “How would today go if we had a baby?” Evan and I were both freelance actors. A great deal of our income came from a few real estate rentals we owned. As actors, we spent most of our time looking for work and auditioning. Auditions only take a few minutes at a time. We rarely booked a job where we both worked on the same day.
So the results of my mental game seemed to be, yeah… we could do this. Whoever wasn't working on any given day would stay home with the child. We'd have lots of time for the three of us to spend together. If we were ever lucky enough to BOTH book work for the same day, we could find one of our out-of-work actors friends to babysit.
Money was tight, but we were building a small nest egg. Other than student loans and mortgages covered by rental income, we weren't in debt. We qualified for health insurance through the Screen Actor's Guild. I was a wiz at bargain shopping and couponing.
And I wasn't getting any younger. I was approaching my mid-thirties. By the time she was my age, my mother had three children. So we decided to start trying.
A few months later, I became pregnant and things were fine. I was producing and in an off-Broadway show, Evan was working in commercials. In his spare time, he had a jazz band that did open mics at local bars. He'd be lucky if three people showed up and I was always there.
But six months in, we lost that child. That's a story for another time. Like many women who lose a baby, I felt the only thing that could bring me back from the brink of a deep vortex of depression would be to conceive again. Meanwhile, Evan started getting some paying music gigs.
Our family was gracious enough to give us the gift of a cruise getaway to regroup after the loss. Three days in, I crashed an ATV in the Dominican Republic. Another story for another time. The result was three surgeries, weeks at a time in the hospital, a lot of pain medication and two years of physical therapy. I worked so hard in physical therapy because my motivation was getting pregnant again and having an arm strong enough to hold my baby. I worked so hard, I broke my own arm one day, something both my orthopedic surgeon father-in-law and my own surgeon said was nearly impossible. But that's how determined I was to get through this phase of life and back on the road to motherhood.
Evan started getting more and more gigs. He met a wonderful vocalist and they formed The Hot Sardines. I was lucky enough to book a huge national commercial, arm in a cast and all, so I didn't have to work as often as before and could concentrate on healing.
I weaned myself off the pain meds. It wasn't easy. I can see why people get addicted to them. And finally, one New Year's Day, I saw that second little line on the pee stick again.
It had now been a few years since our decision to become parents. And so much had changed. After paying for hundreds of thousands of dollars of surgery, my health insurance ran out. Since I had been out of the audition loop for a while, work had dried up. The real estate market crashed. Evan and The Hot Sardines were getting some amazing gig but we quickly learned that the venues that are the most prestigious actually pay the least. His dreams of leading a retro jazz band were coming true and who was I to stand in the way during this “start up” phase?
On the night my son was born, I had a peculiar reaction, that I've admitted to very few people. I wasn't crying tears of joy. I was mourning my first baby. Pissed off that I had one child instead of two. At the same time, thrilled to hold the tiny being they eventually put into my arms.
An hour after the birth, Evan left the hospital and drove 300 miles to play three gigs in two days. We needed the money badly and my mom could stay at the hospital. He came back to pick us up two days later.
Our lives as a family are nothing like we envisioned them so long ago. Evan is a better father than I ever imagined, but he works constantly. The Hot Sardines have taken off, but that means they tour nationally and internationally for weeks at a time. It's great when my son and I get to tag along but that's an added expense. I am offered work less often than I used to be and often turn it down because once I pay for childcare, I'm breaking even.
While I'm often overwhelmed, stressed, and sometimes even resentful, in the big scheme of things, it's worth it. Our lives are exciting and unpredictable and we have the most wonderful little boy. I think about the brother he never met every day but am also looking forward to the siblings he WILL have in the future.
And I'll teach them all the lesson that while life never goes as you planned, that's okay. It's a beautiful ride.
Watch the premiere episode of “Slummy Mummy,” a comedic webseries based on Jen's experiences: