by Amy Van Norstrand
“OK, so I packed a change of clothes for Dean and put everything he will need for the day in his diaper bag. The stroller is in the car and ready for his walk. There is plenty of milk and his baby food inside the cooler. I laid out his sleeper and sleep sac, and his bath stuff is all ready for his tub. Bedtime is at 7pm. Please tell him I love him more than anything.”
Five days a week, that is the conversation I have with my mom, who watches my six-month-old son while I go to work.
Before I gave birth to my son, I got offered a job to head back to the stage when I was four-and-a-half months postpartum. I was thrilled. Dancing was where I received my greatest joy and sense of purpose and I already had a job lined up. I thought I would simply pick up with my career exactly where I left it, only this time with a baby. I said yes blissfully unaware to how my life, my career, and my relationship with myself was about to change.
After I had Dean, I dreaded every minute of going back to work. I almost didn’t go back to be honest. I hated every minute I was away from him. I actually couldn't imagine a time where I would feel any different. I was in a haze of changing diapers, trying to simply keep my tiny human alive, and in complete denial at how my life had been turned upside down.
It was around month three I felt a huge shift in my relationship with myself, as I am sure many new parents do. I didn't feel like me anymore. I was missing something and couldn't understand what it was. The love I had for my child was so overwhelming I was abandoning any time for me. I didn't feel like me, and I resented it. Thanks to many talks with family, friends, other moms and dads in the industry, and especially my husband, I decided I needed to go back to work as scheduled.
I’ll never forget my first day. I cried the entire train ride from Beacon to Grand Central. I felt like the worst mom on the planet. But the moment I stepped foot into the rehearsal studio, I knew I had made the right decision. When you have a baby, your life changes so dramatically that it’s easy to get caught up in all the change. I was lacking any sort of connection to who I was pre-baby. I knew finding it would make me a better and happier mother to my son.
Theater has brought that consistency back into my life in the most healthy way. Sure, it’s a crazy life. I am basically working 24 hours a day, but what parent isn't? It has opened my eyes to how many parents there are in the industry. In my show alone, there are six parents and one expecting in March!
Being a parent in show business is an instant equalizer between fellow cast members. I’ll never forget sitting down for a break with my good friend Jeff Kready, who has two daughters of his own, turned to me and said, “It’s amazing how tired you are now, but how much more tired you would be if you were home.” I laughed in complete understanding, knowing how right he was.
Being a dancer and ensemblist in a show is hard - but it is nothing like being a parent. In fact, I would say that being in my show is a vacation I get paid for compared to my work as a mom.
My cast, creative team, and theater have been the most supportive of my growing family and new life. Whether it be finding me a private place to pump or letting my baby visit the theater during tech, I have never felt more support in my life. I have also grown enough to truly ask for what I need to make it all work and stand my ground for the needs of my family life.
My body was a different story. I had no idea how different my post-baby body would feel in comparison to my pre-baby body. At first, I was really hard on myself. I was easily frustrated by extra baby weight. It was annoying how I couldn't simply jump back into what I could do before. I compared myself constantly to other moms who bounced back easier than me. I hated that I felt bad for myself.
Through some tough self love and perspective, I have come to acknowledge that I created a human being and need to give myself a break. Miraculously, being back to work helped with that too. My heart, my mind, and my spirit have never felt better knowing that I am truly doing the best my body has to offer on each day. The human body is amazing.
With all this joy comes a whole bag of other hardships. I have never felt more guilt in my life. MOM GUILT. The worst kind. Whether it be that Dean is having a hard day but I have to go to make half hour, or I miss some amazing milestone during the day because I had two shows. It never gets easier. I tell myself that he will grow up knowing that his mom followed her dreams and worked really hard and that is equally as important.
I am exhausted all the time. The kind of tired I never knew existed. I have to miss things like big auditions or callbacks, because I have one day off and need to spend it with my family. The sacrifices are endless, yet always end up being worth it. But I would be lying if I said they are not hard.
I’m sure to many people on the outside looking in it looks like I have it all. I am 28, I have a great family, a healthy and happy six-month old, and a job I love. I am doing it all with a smile on my face. I am a mom and a dancer. All those things are true. But what is equally as true is that most days I feel like I am operating all facets of my life at 20% and nothing at 100%. Something I am not used to. I am spread thin. I think what has changed the most for me is my need to be present at all times.
My appreciation for my family, my son, and my work has increased tenfold. When I am with Dean, I strive to be present and be the best mom I can be. Nothing can distract me from him. When I am at the theater, I never complain and I show up ready to work the best I can that day. I am overwhelmed with the joy and honor I feel to have a job and have the ability to call this my career. I have an appreciation for it I never had before.
Finding balance is what my biggest goal is these days. I am nowhere near perfect. But until then I'll just be the fifth girl from the left tapping her heart out. A mom who showed up at half hour with her son’s toy in her purse.