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A flourishing of opportunities for pregnant women in the arts

by | Feb 27, 2013

By Andrew Bair

(Ken Howard/ Ken Howard ) - Soprano Erin Wall as Arabella and Mark Delavan as Mandryka in Santa Fe Opera's ‘Arabella.’ Wall hid her pregnancy under a fur-trimmed coat and loose-fitting gowns with elaborate details.

(Ken Howard/ Ken Howard ) – Soprano Erin Wall as Arabella and Mark Delavan as Mandryka in Santa Fe Opera’s ‘Arabella.’ Wall hid her pregnancy under a fur-trimmed coat and loose-fitting gowns with elaborate details.

As attitudes toward unborn children continue to evolve in a positive direction with greater scientific knowledge and new technologies, so too are expanding notions about what women who are pregnant can and ought to do. An article by Katherine Boyle published in the Washington Post several weeks ago noted a flourishing of opportunities for pregnant mothers in the arts.

At one time pregnancy was viewed as a stumbling block for female performers and many mothers were forced to decide between their unborn child and their career. Now, mothers are challenging those preconceived notions, and the oft-times not so subtle hint they must abort. Boyle writes

“Until a couple of decades ago, dancing while pregnant — or returning to a company after pregnancy — was a rare occurrence. Women feared pregnancy would ruin their careers, and the stigma often caused women to delay motherhood or retire after giving birth. Now, dancing while pregnant is relatively common, with some ballet dancers performing into their second trimester. In 2004, Irina Dvorovenko, a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, danced the pas de deux from ‘Swan Lake’  when she was four months pregnant.”

Recently at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, soprano Erin Wall singing with the Choral Arts Society “caused a stir” when she appeared on stage displaying a 32-week baby bump. “My first pregnancy, I didn’t know what to expect,” Wall told Boyle. “I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do my job. But once I learned how to cope with the sickness, it was fine.” She recently gave birth to her second child.

Pregnancy is anything but a cakewalk for these performers. In addition to the regular challenges of their craft, they have unique hurdles to overcome. “My daughter would always react to something particularly loud,” said NSO principal second violinist Marissa Regni, 44, of her now 9-year-old daughter Sofie. “She’d also inevitably start kicking and poking right when I’d start a solo.”

Boyle notes, “[O]pera singers sometimes struggle in their first trimesters: morning sickness and acid reflux can cause extra problems for a singer’s vocal chords. And in the final months of pregnancy, when many women have difficulty breathing, opera singers have to learn different breathing techniques.”

In addition to having their performances reviewed and critiqued by audiences, pregnant performers often get feedback from their unborn children. In the Washington Post article, Regni says her daughter “would react very violently to contemporary music.” She also noted “every time the sax played, she’d stop kicking and I could feel her calm down.”

The openness toward pregnancy in the arts is a remarkable change from decades ago when in most cases it could scuttle a career. One high-profile example is actress Judy Garland who was reportedly urged by her husband and MGM Studios to have an abortion in 1941 for fear of the negative impact on her career. She did, and Garland later said, “My marriage was never the same. Something was gone. It broke my heart.”

Despite the immense steps forward, not all in the arts are fully accepting of pregnant mothers. In Boyle’s article, Wall notes that a company asked her to drop out of a role over the summer because her character could not appear pregnant. In July however, Wall played the title role of the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’s “Arabella,” hiding her pregnancy under a fur-trimmed coat and loose-fitting gowns with elaborate details.

The efforts of the pro-life movement to protect unborn children are well known. However, efforts to advance respect for mothers and accommodate their needs are often unsung. Welcoming motherhood in our society as a gift instead of an obstacle is another important step toward creating a culture that truly respects every human life.

Read the full Washington Post article: “Pregnant Artists Continue to Perform With Precision” by Katherine Boyle.

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