Mothers of Invention
WGAW women share the challenges, solutions and (sometimes) chaos of navigating the demands of motherhood and the writers room.

(June 2, 2015)

They pump at work, write scripts in the twilight hours when the baby’s asleep and sometimes hide (or try to, anyway) their baby bumps. For female scribes in TV, managing motherhood and the writers room requires a delicate balance that can collapse at any moment in a heap of frustration and chaos.

Even so, dozens of women in TV are doing it - usually with a hefty dose of humor - getting through staffing season, showrunner demands and morning sickness and still managing to produce terrific scripts and great kids.

The challenge of balancing motherhood and writing was the focus of “Motherhood and Your Career as a Writer in TV,” a recent WGAW panel moderated by Anne Kenney (Outlander, Switched at Birth). The panelists: Liz Benjamin (Bones, Unreal), Emily Cutler (The Odd Couple, Community), Nkechi Carroll (Bones, The Finder), Jessica O’Toole & Amy Rardin (Jane the Virgin, The Carrie Diaries) and Stacy Rukeyser (UnReal, The Lying Game).

A key issue for women in TV, the panelists agreed, is when to disclose a pregnancy. Pregnancy and maternity/paternity leave can be disruptive to a writers room, and all too often women worry about being closed out. But the panelists agreed that oftentimes showrunners are surprisingly supportive and will work around writing and shooting schedules to accommodate a mother (pregnant or otherwise) on their staff. Many do the same for male writers who have newborns at home.

Stacy Rukeyser’s showrunner gave her six weeks off for maternity leave, and when she came back to work she was still pumping several times a day. With her second child, Rukeyser was already showing when she was hired. She took seven weeks off and was invited to bring her baby to work (the showrunner was also a mother).

Liz Benjamin found out she was pregnant in 2003, the week she started her first staff writing job. She opted not to say anything until she was showing.

“I’m pregnant,” she finally confessed to her showrunner. “Yeah, no sh-t,” he replied with good humor.

In fact, Benjamin says that he turned out to be incredibly kind and shifted the writing schedule around to accommodate her due date and give her more than ample time to spend with her new baby.

As it is for all working mothers, good child care is essential for women writers with infants and school-age kids. While some writers hire nannies to help with childcare, others, like Emily Cutler, have husbands (hers is an actor) who can stay home with the baby. Nkechi Carroll got really lucky: her mother-in-law comes out to LA to help with the kids when she’s working.

“Support is the key,” said Anne Kenney, whose children are now grown and whose husband is also a working television writer. “And it isn’t always somebody taking care of the kids. It can be that person who will run errands or fix dinner. You need people to help you make your life run.”

For TV writing partners Jessica O’Toole & Amy Rardin, who came from the feature world, pregnancy, parenting and the writers room have required some finessing. A week after O’Toole gave birth, the team was hired on their first television staff job. What really helped, she says, is that the showrunner was a mother and generously shared advice for balancing work and children.

While the discussion predictably generated an abundance of hilarious anecdotes, the issue of how to manage a TV writing career and motherhood is serious business. All the women said they recognized over time that they couldn’t be great at everything, and that some part of their lives always took a hit.

More importantly, however, they agreed that motherhood – all the funny diaper and juggling stories aside – doesn’t diminish the drive or talent of women writers, who still want to write, direct and run their own shows. The challenge is convincing studios and agents of that.

”I am still so passionate about my projects,” said Rukeyser, “and I have no less ambition just because I’m a mother.”

Read about pregnancy and parenting leave and benefits

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