Photo courtesy of Jessica Delfino

When Pregnancy Is Your Cue To Leave

By Jessica Delfino
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Having a baby was kind of a bucket-list thing for me, but as a performer, when I actually became pregnant I worried that it would somehow be the end of my career — my big closing routine. The concerns in the back of my mind only fueled the fire in my belly (which amazingly didn’t affect the baby!), and I began working on a one-woman show, “Before My Water Breaks.” It was essentially a love letter to my unborn child — a love letter full of dirty folk songs and comedy about a twisted minstrel who makes the leap into motherhood. The idea was that I’d perform the show 8 or 9 months pregnant for extra effect. I’d been brewing the idea for over a year, but then I experienced a lumpectomy and miscarriage within weeks of each other, and put it on hold.

When I got pregnant again and moved past the worrisome first trimester, my energy and excitement reignited. I wrote and practiced the show with a vigor I had formerly reserved for doing tequila shots at 2 a.m. I even hired Mike Birbiglia’s director to help me workshop and tighten it up. The show was a success. People came, they laughed, and I was on clouds one through nine. And then the thing I thought might happen, happened. The second I stepped off the stage, I felt a feeling of, “I’m done,” and not in a way of my own choosing. It felt like the show had been a going-away party. People were saying they’d miss me, and to “Please not quit comedy.” Quit? Where was I going? My suspicions felt confirmed, and my career appeared to be about to come to a screeching halt, with or without my permission. But there was another thing on the bubble that I wasn’t quite prepared for, and that was the loneliness and postpartum depression that would boldly, rudely invite themselves in, put their feet up and make themselves comfortable in the spot where my social life and career had been.

We celebrate women like Ali Wong, Amy Poehler, and Laurie Kilmartin who perform comedy while pregnant — it almost seems like a punchline itself: a woman, pregnant, on a stage?!? Doesn’t she have a Pottery Barn catalog to look through? Shouldn’t she be telling jokes in a delivery ward right about now?! — but the real magic trick comes after delivery when she, like women everywhere, seemingly disappears into motherhood. Whether you’re Ali Wong or my cousin working for a bank in Arkansas, pregnancy often feels like your cue to leave. To make things worse, as Laurie Kilmartin has joked, the comedy business is so cutthroat, comedians are relieved when they hear about people quitting, and that includes taking time off to go be a mom.

Ali Wong has performed two standup specials while pregnant. Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for One Kid One World

Being pregnant was one of the highlights of my life so far. I had an easy pregnancy with no morning sickness or complications, but don’t feel jealous; the dismount was less than stellar. A week before my end of summer due date, I was diagnosed with Oligohydramnios, or low amniotic fluid, probably brought on by dehydration from traipsing my big, sweaty, pregnant body all around the hot city in August, which resulted in a last minute c-section. The good news? I got to have a baby high on morphine, which is usually illegal. Plus, he was born healthy and beautiful, and I have a sweet battle scar.

A few pals visited to meet the baby, but most of my friends who I’d known for years from performing comedy in Manhattan and had shared stages with, week in and week out, were nowhere to be seen.

In the coming weeks and months, the feeling that I had gone through a door marked “no re-entry” only seemed to solidify, as friends and peers dropped off and lost touch. By the time the baby was born, it was as if they’d all but disappeared. The delivery wasn’t exactly Amazon-easy, as aforementioned, and a bad case of postpartum depression followed, lasting for weeks into months. A few pals visited to meet the baby, but most of my friends who I’d known for years from performing comedy in Manhattan and had shared stages with, week in and week out, were nowhere to be seen. It was like I’d never existed. Maybe some of them were trying to give me privacy and space while I adjusted to motherhood. Maybe others feared the idea of having to juggle comedy and motherhood and didn’t want to catch what I had! Still, I felt uninvited to the party.

My experience isn’t unique.

The author performing a one-man show while pregnant.

A British study of 2,000 parents by Action For Children found that 68 percent of new parents feel cut off from family and friends, as the Telegraph reported. Perhaps that was at least part of the impetus for Britain implementing a “Minister for Loneliness” in January 2018, as covered by the New Yorker. Elsewhere, Japan considers loneliness to be a dilemma and has started creating robots to help. So basically, the feelings of loneliness never end.

There’s even an app called Peanut, which is described as a “Tinder for moms,” designed to bring mothers together to help quell the feelings of being left out, uninvited and lonely.

Robots, apps, studies, and articles — these were confirmations that the feeling of being uninvited wasn’t something that was just being imagined in our many pregnant-mom heads.

Two years after moving to L.A., Lindsay Raffaele, holistic health coach and owner of FinelyNourished.com got pregnant. “Within that time, I had made some really great girlfriends. Once I announced I was pregnant, the party and dinner invites quickly became less and less,” she recalls. Hurt and upset by their actions, she thinks they perhaps “couldn’t understand that I could have fun around them without drinking.” Still, there was some wisdom to be gained in being uninvited. “I learned who my real friends are,” she explains, “and I’m grateful for that hard lesson.”

Photo copyright Mindy Tucker/No Reservations

Karen’s* story mirrors that of Raffaele. She moved across country shortly after learning she’d become a mother. “I remember going to a laser tag birthday party and they wouldn’t let me play because I was pregnant, so I had to just stand around awkwardly at an adult birthday party while everyone else had fun. That sucked.”

When I feel sad, I tend to get moving; I write, I create, I work, I work out. I go to events and I get extra extroverted. So, I did just that. I wrote a script. I wrote a book pitch. I started a writer’s group. I began penning essays and articles about parenting for various websites and even started my own blog, “One And Done Mom.” I created community and connection via mom boards on Facebook and through strangers who’d also had kids and were experiencing their own struggles. I realized I wasn’t alone. Other moms confided similar thoughts to me. One mom told me she had never felt so lonely. Another woman, who I’d probably never have been friends with before babies, became my bud, just because we happened to live near each other and both had kids that were about the same age. We were two sad peas in a lonely pod, but misery loves company, and having her to commiserate with really did help.

The good news is that those who feel uninvited can usually opt back in when they’re ready, as long as they don’t smash any bridges in a new mom rage.

Is loneliness and a feeling of being left out something every mom experiences? If so, why does everyone ditch their pregnant and new mom friends? Is it because they think pregnant lady stomachs are all big and weird? I admit it, they are. Is it because we throw up too often? I threw up plenty when I was single. Are there some jealousy issues? It turns out loneliness among the pregnant is pretty high.

Eventually, most moms report “getting their lives back” or feeling normal again, after starting a family. The recovery timeline is different for every mother, but the good news is that those who feel uninvited can usually opt back in when they’re ready, as long as they don’t smash any bridges in a new mom rage, and often, even if they do.

For me, it took about two years after the birth of my son. I was performing for a room full of new moms and their babies. I looked out over the crowd of tired mothers holding their infants and it hit me: I’m not one of them anymore.

It’s not that I’m not exhausted, or a little puffier in the tummy than I was in my heyday, or still a teeny bit anxious when I have to leave my little guy behind for the night. But I finally feel almost like the old me again; I can stay up past 8 p.m. without falling asleep standing up like a cow, I’m doing comedy again and I’m back to my old shenanigans. And all my old friends in the comedy world? They were right where I left them, and even pretended to be happy to welcome me back.