I have a pre-show ritual, and an exercise I give all my students and mentees, that involves falling. Basically, it’s about cultivating the experience of losing balance in the body, but catching yourself before you actually hit the ground. I do it, and teach it, to remind myself and others that the audience likes to see us off-balance, but also, we have all the skill we need to keep ourselves safe.
If everything goes the way it’s supposed to, I’m going to have a baby next week. I have spent a long time (WAY longer than most first time parents!) being childless, and now that I’m about to be child-having, and, indeed, while I still have a mind that can form complete sentences, I wanted to reflect a little bit about being an artist with a uterus that’s been both chronically empty and, now, pretty fucking full.
I can’t speak for other artists with uteruses, but I found the dilemma of having/not having a child butted up against my artistic life in challenging ways, for years. When my body was most capable of procreating, I watched friends of mine whom I considered artists have babies and, one by one, kinda give up their art. I swore that wouldn’t be me. I was searching, I needed time, I needed space, I was still learning what my art was, how best to give it to the world. If I had stopped the process and had a baby when I was “supposed” to, I couldn’t have found Butt Kapinski, or my teaching/directing practice, or done all the touring–I don’t think any of it would’ve happened for me. Nonetheless...
NOT HAVING A KID WAS REALLY HARD. Especially if you have a uterus—I mean, maybe this has changed, or is changing, but the pressure (from within and without) to procreate was no joke. I think a lot of people assume that either you have a kid, want to, or totally don’t, and it’s all super clear. And that just wasn’t the case for me at all. I spent so many years being conflicted about it—first, decrying the social pressure and choosing to focus on my artistic path, and then, when that was more established, suddenly losing a life partner I thought I’d maybe have a kid with, then, experiencing the grief about what felt like a lack that I couldn’t figure out how to solve… slowly unfollowing Facebook friends with babies, declining baby shower invites, finding myself with tears in my eyes just hanging out with someone else’s cute kid or watching people be parents on TV. The pain was intense and isolating, for years.
And then when I got a (much better) life partner and started trying again, the process of having it not work was horribly depressing, and overwhelming. The tests, the results, the biological realities of what it’s like trying to get pregnant in your 40’s—which you tell yourself maybe you’ll be the exception, maybe your biology is special, but, you know, turns out it’s not—the choices available to you in the fertility industry, the promises dangled—gauzy photos of babies in grateful arms—the lack of real guidance available, the price tags you couldn’t have predicted.
Ultimately, I found it pretty hard not to have a kid, and I know it’s hard for many others, too, whether they’re ambivalent, or whether it hasn’t worked yet, or didn’t work. I bet it’s hard to have a kid, too, but I can’t speak to that part yet.
PEOPLE LIKE YOU MORE WHEN YOU PROCREATE AND THAT’S WEIRD.
People smile at you more when you’re obviously pregnant, they’re way nicer to you, which, frankly, I find a little annoying. Why are you being nicer to me than you should just be anyway? Shouldn’t you be as nice to me whether I look pregnant or not? Who knows what someone’s going through who doesn’t look like a giant butterball? Why save your kindness for the turkey?
It feels like there’s a way that being pregnant makes sense to people, people of all ages and walks of life, in the way that just being a childless grownup wandering around in the world just doesn’t. I realize that a lot more people-on-the-street are going to find me relatable, which on one hand is nice—it isn’t always fun to be a freaky artist in a normal’s world—but on the other hand, just makes me mad. Why is this the thing that’s going to make me a relatable human?
ALSO, GENDER IS WEIRD.
In case you haven’t heard, gender is weird, and our culture is obsessed with it. So many people ask me What are you having? as if there’s a question what species my child belongs to. When I tell them my child is afab (but obviously I say, “girl” because anyone who asks what are you having may not effortlessly roll with afab), they squeal with glee as if that was absolutely the right answer. What were they going to do if I said “boy,” rend their garments and wail? Probably just squeal with glee also, right? So what fricking difference does it make? I imagine that gender identity just makes the baby more real to people, like, okay, now it’s a person I can envision. But, again, that just goes to show how weird we are. Pregnancy, too, is pretty annoyingly gendered. I had a good time being a little liminal in my child-free state, but now that I’m very obviously pregnant, suddenly I’m getting called Mom and Mama all over town. Early in my pregnancy I was especially pissed about these gummy candies I saw advertised that were supposed to help with nausea: they were pink and had some cutesy-ass name like Mommy Tummy or Cunty Tummy Drops and I was just like, oh shit, is this what I’m reduced to? Some pink-frock-wearing gummy-guzzling cutesy-ass fembot? Is this the life I’ve chosen?
ALSO, IS MY CAREER OVER?
I’m not sure how working artists stay working artists when they have kids unless they have family wealth or a partner that supports them financially, or they make way more money than I do with their art. In fact, I’m not sure I know any working artists who have stayed working artists without at least one of those things. Or I don’t know many. So I’m not sure how it’s going to go for me.
My artistic life has been my greatest joy, my catharsis, my journey, my thing. My students, the people I’ve directed, the audiences, their faces shine in front of me in the glowing tapestry I’ve been so lucky to be swaddled by, for years. What’s going to happen to me now? Will all my gigs dry up because everyone’ll be like oh she’s a breeder now leave her alone? Will having a kid make me irrelevant? Will I even have time, space or energy to create the way I did? My art has been my identity, for a really long time. It’s scary to contemplate what’s there when that isn’t.
I tend to soothe myself with affirmations like how creativity doesn’t die, it just changes forms. And that my own creative path will find a way. And that we really don’t know what the future holds, and we can stay open to the possibility that it will be OK. All that.
But, yeah, I don’t know.
I have worked a long time toward being a parent. The fact that it is (most likely) about to happen is amazing, and humbling, and overwhelming. But it doesn’t change who I’ve been for years, what I’ve done, and how much that still really matters to me. It’s hard to say goodbye to a life that I've loved, that I’ve been almost totally-fulfilled by, in favor of such an unknown.
And so I practice falling, in my heart. I play with the balance and lack of balance, the endings and beginnings, the deaths, and now, the births, all of it, that make up this dumb clown act we apparently call life.
Wishing myself, and you, reading this, resilience in the face of transformation.
See you on the other side.