• arekidsforme

Podcast Episode #3 - Joanne Ryan

In this episode, I speak with Joanne Ryan. Joanne is an actor and playwright, who wrote and performed a play called 'Eggistentialism', which was all about her process of trying to decide if she wanted to have a child or not. We discuss the experience of feeling overloaded with conflicting information and how she needed to stop searching for the 100% correct answer to this question. Joanne does now have a child and we discussed what this has been like too. Joanne is very open, honest and funny. You can follow Joanne's work at http://joanneryan.ie/



Episode Transcript:


Margaret O Connor

Welcome to the Are Kids For Me podcast. This podcast is for you if you have ever asked, or are currently asking yourself this question. It's a big question which can be hard to answer for lots of reasons. And I'm hoping to provide you with some information that can help. In each episode I will speak to people with personal and or professional experience in this area. My own name is Margaret O Connor. I'm a counselor and psychotherapist who offers a specialist counselling service on this topic. I conducted my master's research on how women in Ireland make the decision to become mothers or not. And I really really love talking about this topic. I hope you find it useful.


My guest today is Joanne Ryan. She's an award winning actor, voiceover artist and playwright from Limerick. I really wanted to talk to Joanne because she wrote and performed a one person show called 'Eggistentialism' in 2016. This was all about trying to find the right answers to the question of whether she wants to have a child or not. As we discussed, this is a very personal story set in Ireland, and yet it incorporates political and universal themes, which resonated with people all over the world, as she found out when she toured the show internationally. Unfortunately, the play didn't answer the question for her. She explains how she needed to take the pressure off the question and the pursuit of a 100% correct answer. This allowed her to realize that there would be meaning and purpose, joy and sorrow in her life, whatever she did, just in different ways. Joanne does now have an 18 month old son, and we discussed what this experience has been like. Joanne also spoke at the launch of the Are Kids For Me counseling service two years ago. She's really informative and articulate and I hope you enjoy listening to her as much as I enjoyed talking with her.


Okay, so hi, Joanne. Welcome and thank you so much. I was just trying to think, I suppose we would have met each other last in in 2018 when you came to the launch event, and before that, I think I stalked you on social media quite a lot because of your play, which I'm really looking forward to talking about here today. So it's great to catch up with you again.


Joanne Ryan

No problem, thank you very much.


Margaret O Connor

So I suppose the play is really important. So you wrote, produced, starred in... You didn't direct it?


Joanne Ryan

No, no, Veronica Coburn did.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, and the play called 'Eggistentialism' (egg), which was all about your kind of experience and decision making process around whether you wanted to have a child or not. That was in 2017?


Joanne Ryan

2016 was the first iteration


Margaret O Connor

Yeah. Okay. And so yeah, I suppose I'd really like to talk to you about.. if you can bring yourself back to those days of what was that like, I suppose where did it come from? Because I suppose for you probably I presume it started before...the kind of experience of trying to decide whether you wanted to have a child or not.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, so I wrote the play as a response to a dilemma I was having. And so I turned 35 and realized that I didn't have any idea whether or not I wanted to have kids, I'd never thought about it before actually, it just hadn't come up for me. And but I was also aware that if I continued to not think about it, that that would be a decision in itself, you know, just biologically, and I didn't want to regret not having given it any thought. And so the more I thought about it, the more fascinating the whole subject became for me. And I realized that it is..it's politically very fraught, for lots of reasons. And I also realized that I was part of like the first generation of humans in the world, kind of, definitely in Ireland who had a choice about it. Because when my mom got pregnant with me, say in 1979, and, you know, condoms were, contraception was illegal for unmarried people in Ireland. My grandmother definitely didn't have a choice. And so I thought, well, that's really interesting in itself, I'm part of kind of the first cohort of humans to have this choice. And then so how do I make it or how do we make it and and how do you make a decision when you don't know, you don't have a clear blueprint for the alternative? You know, so we all know what having kids looks like, but we are less familiar with what the alternative looks like and how do you have a successful you know, happy, fulfilled life without kids or you know, all of those.. professionally, what are the implications socially, politically, you know, all of those things, I found it to be a complete minefield, and, and worth documenting, you know, as a moment in our social history, I suppose, which is why I decided to write a play about the whole thing. And I also hoped on a personal selfish level, that writing a play would help me make a decision, which it absolutely didn't. But anyway, never mind (laughter), it was worth it!


Margaret O Connor

Oh dear (laughter). I suppose what I loved about the play was that you, I think you captured all those aspects, you looked at historical, political, social, and then it kind of moved between those and you and it's a one person play so it's you on stage kind of, you know, working through all those things. I just thought it was really powerful because I think that's how people feel or certainly people that have spoken to me feel very isolated and yes, kind of almost exposed to all these elements.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, and at the time nobody was really talking about it as well you know, or certainly not on stages anyway, so I thought, I hoped that it might help kind of start conversations around the subject as well. And theatre for me, one of the reasons I like to make it is to help people feel seen and understood and challenged as well.


Margaret O Connor

And I remember even just kind of saying, Oh, yeah, I'm going to this play and people would be like, what's it about.. and I really couldn't wait to get in the door because I was doing the Masters that year so it was really well timed for me. Thank you very much (laughter), but and paper would be like all right, you're gonna see play about that but like it was, it was really interesting. It was sad. It was happy. It was like the whole range, people laughing crying, it was like a real kind of roller coaster of emotion in a really good way to capture all those aspects again.. what was public reaction like, because you've turned this around Ireland and you've gone internationally.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, I mean huge. I never thought past an Irish audience, it's written for an Irish audience. It's framed in, like you said, in Irish history, and Irish politics. And I tell my story, and the story of my mother, also as the woman from the previous generation, and her experiences of getting pregnant in Ireland as an unmarried woman and having to leave the country and me being born in England and all of that. So our stories are sort of mirroring each other as women from the same family, but from different generations. And she plays herself in in the play, through audio recordings and has loads of the best lines and steals the whole show from me (laughter). But it also looks at the history of Irish sexual politics from the inception of the state in 1916, right up to the present day, and, and yeah, sorry, what was the question... (laughter) oh public reaction.. Yeah, so all that is to say that I had written it very much with an Irish audience in mind. And so I was amazed by the international reaction, you know. So it did really well in Ireland, it premiered in Limerick and at the Dublin fringe later that year that you saw it, and then I then I got the team back together and redeveloped it the following year actually, and made it, more embraced the politics of the piece more thoroughly. So I kind of use the politics, rather than probably when you saw it originally, it was a central hinge in the show, it became a superstructure. So the whole, the show starts in 1916. It's overtly political from the outset, you know, because it is, it's a political show, you know, and even though it's, it's about a human story, it's about the political and the personal and, and even though it's told through the medium of comedy, those are very serious subject matter, you know, at its heart, so I've kind of embraced that a bit more in the second iteration, and then I went on to Edinburgh with it the following year was part of Culture Ireland's Edinburgh showcase, and did really well. We had great amazing reviews and won a number of awards at Edinburgh. And then off the back of that, and I toured it afterwards to Cyprus. We had two runs in London, to Liverpool, Malaysia, we had an Australian tour. Yeah, that's amazing.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah. So to go from, and I think I remember you talking about it was a part of kind of a writing..I don't know what the word is..


Joanne Ryan

A writing development scheme in the beginning. Yeah.


Margaret O Connor

From the very beginning to go all that way. Yeah,


Joanne Ryan

I couldn't believe it. It just never had crossed my mind that that would happen. It was. It was very, it was amazing. And like you were asking about the response to the show, you know, people would ask, well, how are people responding ? I was wondering, how are people going to respond to this, what I felt was a very Irish show, in England or in America, in Australia or in Malaysia, but actually they are facing the exact same issues, you know, that we are here, and so it was very timely and relevant wherever I brought it, actually, which was amazing.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, that's great. In a way, I kind of find that like reassuring because I know I'm saying, Okay, I'm trying to do like a podcast in Ireland, so people can hear like, Irish people talking about these things, but I suppose I, in all the books and interviews and stuff that I've looked at, like this applies everywhere in the world.


Joanne Ryan

Oh totally, one hundred percent universal. 100%. Yeah. Yeah. And people asked the same questions and responded in the same ways. And, you know, and it's very, the subject matter turned out to be because I think it was so.. because it was so rooted in the person that it became universal.


Margaret O Connor

Okay yeah. And this was one of the things which maybe brings some of the humor to the play, is all the different places you went to for information. (laughter) Could you talk us through some of those?


Joanne Ryan

(laughter) Yes, in the course of my research, I went to doctors, fertility experts, social workers, sociologists, historians, friends and family, fortune tellers in one particularly desperate moment and yeah, there was and also the darkest deepest recesses of the internet, you know, and yeah, wherever I could find, look for answers I, I searched!


Margaret O Connor

Yeah..did anything help you


Joanne Ryan

In terms of making a decision one way or the other ultimately, no. I found a lot of the information very conflicting and false and, you know, rooted in sometimes, in cultural bias. And, and, not helpful to me, but I will say that what the process brought me was a sense of peace ultimately, So I realized early on and one of the difficulties I had with the whole question was, that I found that I could argue, I could make really, really convincing compelling arguments for either side, you know, I could think of a million billion brilliant reasons why I should have a child, and why that would be the best course of action, and 100 million brilliant reasons why I shouldn't. And so, so it was really hard. You know, what I mean? Like this kind of make a list of pros and cons, as one kind of person suggested, one so called expert suggested to me, with those kinds of, that kind of approach isn't helpful in a case like this, because there's loads of things that will be good about it. And there are things that will be bad about it necessarily. It isn't going to be.. that's just the reality of it. And that's the reality of having kids and of not having kids. And I suppose when I realized that, that brought me to a sense of peace around the whole question, because my fear from the outset and I think that other people might, who are going through this might relate, relate to it. That felt like this huge make or break decision in my life. It felt like if I got it wrong, that I would have gotten a major element of my life wrong, you know, that if I chose not to have children, and then I regretted that decision, that that would be devastating. And you know, and hard to come back from but equally if I had a child and regretted that, well, what an absolute, you know, horror show that would be as well. And so, but what I realized was that things were just going to be good and bad for different reasons. And so it brought me to a real sense of peace around the issue, I was able to shelve it entirely, I was able to develop the show further, make other work and then do all the international tours and national tours that I mentioned earlier, without the pressures of worrying about whether or not I should be having a kid or not,


Margaret O Connor

Ok, so was it almost that 'should' element moved for you?


Joanne Ryan

Yes. It moved.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, yeah. Okay..so when that pressure eased or was moved, you were this... what were you left with when you took that part off?


Joanne Ryan

A huge sense of relief. Yeah, a huge sense of relief. And, and a lot more free time, because it takes up so much of your time and your energy and your headspace and, and, you know, anybody battling with the decision, I think would know that, you know, it can become really consuming and obsessive. And so yeah,


Margaret O Connor

Because you're searching for the correct answer.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah. And also, under great, what I perceived to be a great time pressure. Okay, you know, we're constantly told as women, that we're on the clock, and that, that, you know, and I think there's, it's not a coincidence that I was around 35 when it suddenly occurred to me, because that's the age we're told constantly, by the internet, by media, by doctors, that our fertility is about to fall off a cliff, and it's now or never and if you don't make you know, so I think that that's kind of deep in our unconscious.


Margaret O Connor

And so by reducing pressure on yourself to find the perfect answer, you know, it kind of sounds like you were looking for the hundred percent, this would be the right thing to do, like the completely right thing to do. So by taking off the pressure,


Joanne Ryan

And when it became clear that that answer didn't exist, (laughter).


Margaret O Connor

(laughter) Right. Okay. And that's really interesting, and really hopefully useful to people to help with what they're going through and,


Joanne Ryan

And I suppose as well that it didn't matter. You know, it didn't.. the decision didn't matter as much as I thought it had. You know, that my my life would have meaning and purpose for different reasons regardless, and would be joyful and sad for different reasons. Yeah, you know what I mean? So it wasn't the make or break decision that I thought it was.


Margaret O Connor

So you were going to gain or lose things either way..but maybe


Joanne Ryan

It just wasn't the make or break thing that I needed to get right in my life to have gotten my life right, I realized.


Margaret O Connor

Ok, yeah. And I'm wondering, I mean, that's a very personal thing. I imagine maybe someone's kind of going, but it is, but like to get from that place to actually realizing well, to look at it differently, you're not saying it's not important. I'm just going to..reframing it without the very..its a very personal process, I guess..


Joanne Ryan

A journey yes, and it wasn't an easy journey. And it's easy for me to kind of summarize it now. On the other side, it wasn't easy at the time. It was horrendous.


Margaret O Connor

What kind of time frame did that take?


Joanne Ryan

Well, I probably was making the show for two years before you saw it. So it was roughly like in my mid 30's when I started and then the show yeah, so it was about a two year process. I would say.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah..And after that happened then, so you can came to that realization and it took the pressure off you,you carried on doing what you were doing.. and so that took the pressure off. And I suppose did you have a timeline after that? Did you still think, oh, well, I'll make a decision by a certain point or no,


Joanne Ryan

I had just genuinely shelved this for a while, for a couple of years anyway, I don't think it really came up again. And then..and then we started to talk, me and my boyfriend started to talk about it again. I'm trying to remember now what triggered that conversation. We were separate a lot. We were apart a lot. I was living in Limerick. I was had caring kind of responsibilities for my mom who wasn't well, and he was working in Dublin, so we were apart a lot. And so I think yeah, I think there was one time when I was ovulating and I knew I was ovulating and I called him and said should we just should we have sex? Should we give it a go or whatever? And he he said yeah, so I went to Dublin. I got a bus to Dublin, left my mother at the hospital. I think I told her that I had a meeting or something which I did you know, technically that is true. A meeting of destiny (laughter) and I got a bus to Dublin, the green bus..


Margaret O Connor

Oh I was hoping it was the green bus! (laughter) That's so romantic!


Joanne Ryan

It's so filmic, the whole thing was so beautiful.. and had very awkward self conscious oh geez, heebie jeebies sex, like because it was the first, the only time we've ever really like consciously, you know, been aware that I was ovulating and it was unprotected, and then thought that's grand. Now, that's done. We've done that once. And so now we can just leave that okay, was the kind of thinking. I know that is illogical. And I understand everything I've just said about how forensically I was examining the issue. Why did I suddenly willy nilly decide to have sex for no reason? Unprotected sex for no reason? (laughter)


Margaret O Connor

Yes, yes (laughter)


Joanne Ryan

I don't know. That's just how it happened. Okay. And, and then we found out that I was pregnant.


Margaret O Connor

Oh wow really?


Joanne Ryan

Oh, really, very unexpectedly, which I did not think that we would get pregnant in a million years. But we did so then there you go.


Margaret O Connor

That's, so that's how it happened after all that..


Joanne Ryan

So there wasn't really this big moment of like, let's do it. Like it wasn't a huge decision. It was just, it had been shelved for a couple of years, it hadn't really come up. And that's how I remember that it happened. Okay, we will try once, and then we'll have some sort of an, I think, to be honest in a kind of a and then we can say we've tried, you know, and then we won't have, and if anyone ever asks, did you ever try? We can say we did. Actually, we can truthfully answer that question. We did this one time. And, and that was it. Because remember, the pregnancy was a shock, okay? There's a line I rewrote in the play of like, there's a line in the play where there's a smiley face. There was a smiley face on the pregnancy test, and it was the only smiley face in the room (laughter). It was a big shock yeah.


Margaret O Connor

(laughter) Yeah, that's really interesting. Because I think, you know, people always say, you see it in pregnancy test ads. Like it's always the happy, the happy news and the happy reaction. Yeah. And ever see the oh really (laughter)...,


Joanne Ryan

Right (laughter).


Margaret O Connor

Okay. Okay. And so I was gonna say, I think you had met your partner, like, kind of in the middle or maybe early enough in your process.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, at the start, so I had started writing the play. I was single in the beginning. And then we met on Tinder and, and then yeah, so I think like on our third date, and this is all in play. And later on I like on our third date, I said to him look, I'm writing this play about my eggs. And don't worry, you know, I'm completely sane or normal.


Margaret O Connor

Totally cool (laughter)


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, (laughter) everything's grand here. And his reaction was great because he was, and this became an important part of the show, because for me, although a lot of the issues around it are gendered because of everything we've talked about, like the biological clock and the time frame and the cultural pressures and all of that. But it's, I see the question as being a generational one, actually, more than a gendered one, because, and his reaction really kind of encapsulated that where he said, Wow, well, look, I'm in the same boat issue. I'm also in my mid 30's. I also don't know whether or not I want to have kids. I also have never really given any serious thought. I don't, maybe I don't have same pressures as you, biologically, but I don't want to be an old dad and I need to make a decision fairly soon as well. So he sort of, even though we had just met really, we didn't know each other and we weren't technically going out together, we sort of ended up going on this parallel process, you know, where I got my eggs counted, and he got his sperm counted. And, you know, we did all that kind of in parallel, though, you know, we're not we're not going out or anything, we're not a couple or anything geez. Get over yourself like (laughter).


Margaret O Connor

(laughter) oh right of course yeah.


But yeah. It was important for me to include that. Yeah.


Yeah, absolutely. Because I think the the conversation can get very focused on gender and it's the woman's decision and like, you know, it's not


Joanne Ryan

Not alone. We're a generation of people who have this choice, you know,


Margaret O Connor

Yes, absolutely. For both of you, was that helpful. So like, that was something you could explore together?


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, I mean, we're both disaster making decisions. So no, I mean, it's like, Oh, great. More circles to go around in. But, um, but I, but I thought it was important to include yeah,


Margaret O Connor

Absolutely. And it's lovely to hear. Yeah. Do you mind me asking that process of going to get your eggs counted.. because I know you say yeah...people sometimes talk about that, that they think it'll help a lot, they often aren't sure even if they can have children. You know that, it hasn't happened you know, accidentally or planned or whatever. And people go and think that that procedure might give them some clarity...


Joanne Ryan

Yeah that's why I did it. Yeah, I had this idea that I would have this gut reaction. At the moment when I was about, when the information was about to be revealed, I would have this gut feeling of what I wanted the result to be, and I didn't


Margaret O Connor

Oh right ok (laughter)


Joanne Ryan

It was like oh look, I'm completely average. Great (laughter) Thanks!


Margaret O Connor

All right. Okay no not helpful either way. And, okay. So, yeah, I was I was asking about, you know, the process as a couple. Yeah, so I suppose you've kind of told the story there. So not as much discussion later on. Just more of a..this just felt right I suppose?


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, like it had come up. I think we were like will we try one time. And then I was like, look, I'm ovulating now, will I come up or what will we do, and he said grand, and it was that it was really very unceremonious, you know? And I think it was genuinely just to be able, to have said that we had tried and now you know, and then move on all together.


Margaret O Connor

Okay. Did you feel any kind of pressure? Because I suppose having done the play and having talked to so many people, did you feel pressure from other people or did people, because I suppose sometimes people say, you know, that people can bring it up? Like really, you know, you mightn't know someone and they're asking you these personal questions. So you having kind of put some of the information out there, did it change maybe how people interacted with you or regarded you about this topic?


Joanne Ryan

In terms of getting pregnant you mean? Yeah... I don't know.. if it did, they kept it to themselves, but I did. I will say that I did. Myself, I did judge myself. There was definitely an element, if I'm honest. of where I realized I had a lot of internalized stigma around motherhood.


Margaret O Connor

Oh right ok, about what? What it would mean or look like?


Joanne Ryan

Um, it's hard to I, okay...I felt and it's something that I'm, you know, that I'm working through and have gotten over to a large extent. But I was really shocked to find it in the first instance. And it was my response was that the show I felt had... And actually my very close friends response to the news was that if I was doing the show again, I can't remember exactly was it around me doing it again, or changing the ending or something... Oh, yeah. I got pregnant. And then I was due to tour the show to Malaysia and Australia. So I had shows still to do and I was also bringing it to Liverpool I think, there was a number of shows anyway that I was doing while I was pregnant. And so the question came up about as to whether or not I should change the show to reflect the fact that I was pregnant, right, even though I wasn't showing. So I went back and forth about this in my head, in the end, I decided not to. But I wondered, was there a way to do that, to reveal the fact that I had become pregnant without undermining the show? And the spirit of the show and the politics of the show, which revealed in me a stigma, which meant that I felt somehow that having or getting pregnant was the less radical action. Do you know what I mean? Okay, and that I had ended up just doing what everybody else does, I'd ended up taking the path most trodden. And that would be a disappointment. Or, and yeah, that would be a disappointment to people in the audience. Who had, who had enjoyed the fact that the show challenged those norms. So and, and a friend actually now that you're asking me, I'm just really remembering one close friend who wouldn't ever hold back on her opinions about what she thought about what I was doing, for better or worse. She echoed that, she was the only person who did, I don't know if other people thought it and didn't feel comfortable saying it. But she said, well, you can't do that. Now she is, you know, a person in her mid 40's, who is childfree. And who battled with the decision for a long time. There was a lot of back and forth around it. And I suppose she was coming from a very personal place as well with those concerns of like, I won't be represented in this play anymore if you do that, or, you know, perhaps yeah, but yeah, no, it did.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, that's a lot of pressure on you.


Joanne Ryan

And it came up for me to feel that yeah. And I realized, well, I need to, I need to tackle these stigmas that I have underneath, to get over them because I'm, I'm about to become a mother, you know. And so it was interesting. Yes. In the end, I then toured the show after having Rowan, I did a national tour of the show in Ireland for the first time. And at the end of, the end of 2019 at the end of last year, so Rowan was eight months old and he came on the road with me, my little roadie. Rowan is my son's name, by the way, for people listening. And we did, I did reassemble the creative team at that point yet again, they're like stop changing your show, leave us alone (laughter), to redevelop the show, and we included the pregnancy and the birth of Rowan. We included everything up until the repealing of the Eighth Amendment, which actually was really great that I had the chance to do that because I felt like the show was ended up not being the weaker for having me having gotten pregnant and having had a child, but actually was stronger, it was more rounded personally and politically, you know? Because it began with everything that led up to the issues around repeal. But then we were able to include the resolution. So actually, I think it's a much stronger show as a result. Yeah. Yeah, I think so.


Margaret O Connor

Yeah. I had tickets for that and then I wasn't able to go which I was really annoyed about but yeah, okay. Yeah, that's really, really interesting. Okay. And it was, I was really interested to find out so maybe the things that you were worried or unsure about before you decided to have a baby, how relevant were they?


Joanne Ryan

Afterwards? All true. Everything I hoped and feared pretty much happened. So everything that I thought would be a problem in terms of like, oh God where would you start (laughter), there are so many problems! Like socially, personally, professionally, and physically, you know, I mean, you name it. All of those things turned out to be valid concerns. I've just actually, before I came out here tonight, this evening to the podcast, I was part of a panel for the Arts Council to feed into their policy that they're writing around inclusion, equality and human rights. Speaking as a parent artist, you know, because we are, I am now as a parent artist, you know, a marginalized, excluded member of the industry, so, but hopefully, like actions like today, like them inviting us into to discuss, it gives me hope that things will change. But I mean, there are real barriers, you know, there's very real barriers to working in any industry. As a parent, particularly, as a woman. Yes, the female parent, that is just fact, particularly in Ireland, and there was, you know, I mentioned in the show that there was a survey done by the UN in 2016 into unpaid child care around the world. And then Ireland was the worst in the world at that time, and 7% of unpaid child care in Ireland was done by men. So half as much as in the UK, for example, our nearest neighbor, you know, and so that's, that's just the facts of our society. And, and then, but then all the things that I hoped would be nice, are, you know, and so, yeah, I mean, it's, it's, for better or worse, it's as I sort of guessed or imagined or hoped or feared.


Margaret O Connor

Ok, yeah. And was it helpful to have had that thought process, to help prepare you in any way?


Joanne Ryan

Yes, I think so. Yeah. Because I wasn't surprised by anything and also in the course of my research, I had spoken to a lot of parents and a lot of mothers. And that testimony appears in the show, you know, in a kind of a snippet montage form, but they were long, extended conversations. And so I got a lot of insights them into the realities of parenting, for better and worse. And so I knew and I had done a lot of, like, huge amount of research. And so I, so I knew what I was going to get myself into. And it doesn't make the tough things easier. And yeah, you know, but at least, I knew to expect them I suppose, you know?


Margaret O Connor

Yeah ok.


Joanne Ryan

But there was no huge surprises. And I say one thing I was thinking of today is my I lost my mother recently, and I know where she is...She died (laughter). I didn't lose her, as my mother died recently. And I found breastfeeding. So one of the things I was most terrified of by becoming a parent, more than the labour, was the breastfeeding for some reason, I think I have really sensitive nipples..I was like, no, no, no, no, no hundred percent no. But actually, even though it was very challenging in the beginning, it was a long process, now that it's established and he's 18 months old, it's become a different thing, breastfeeding a toddler, and it's very grounding. And I found it really helpful with grief actually. It's just a very, it's a very, very grounding experience a number of times a day, you know. So I suppose that's positive, really positive experience that I'm having with breastfeeding now I wouldn't have predicted. Yeah, yeah, that's one of the surprises.


Margaret O Connor

And then, I suppose I'm curious because I think sometimes people have an idea of the type of mother they want to be, or hope to be and I think that's something you don't really have a lot of control over is it?. I don't know.. from my point of view in that you might want to see yourself in a particular way as a mother, but then other people might regard you differently than how you want them to, if that makes any sense to you?


Joanne Ryan

How do you mean?


Margaret O Connor

Well it was a little bit like the anecdote I was telling you about before. So I think as Limerick is so small, is that we were both in Tesco one day before, I think it was before Christmas. And you kind of walked around an aisle, and you saw somebody you knew. And I just happened to be there, oh, I wasn't lurking. I was just there and just observed this. And I was really struck by the fact that he didn't say hello to you or anything first. The very first thing he said was, Oh, where's the child? Or something like that, because your child wasn't visibly with you. And I was just.. I was just struck because I think I hear that maybe from I suppose just like parents I know or parents I work with in general counseling, they kind of feel sometimes they become invisible. So you don't feel invisible. You don't want to be regarded differently but other people may be actually projecting kind of their view of what motherhood should be unto you. Does that make sense?


Joanne Ryan

Hmm..Yeah, maybe? I don't know..Yeah, I'd have to think about that. I don't know. I don't know how other people regard me in my mothering. I don't know.


Margaret O Connor

It could be even in relation to the work like, you know, you want to still be regarded as an artist and be able to do your work, but then because of the poor state of the childcare system, that stops you maybe from being how you would like to be.


Joanne Ryan

I mean, as in terms of barriers to work. One of the things I mentioned today when I was talking to the Arts Council was the deeply ingrained stigma, disapproval and suspicion of artist parents in the industry, which I have definitely experienced. And even though I'm often a lead artist, I'm often the person, you know, responsible for the project. So who's employed everybody in the room actually, and is paying for everybody to be there. So you would think then that I would be in a more powerful position. And in the, in the room in the rehearsal room or in the, you know, and I still, I still do feel that stigma. And the assumption may be that I will be less professional because I am a parent or, you know,


Margaret O Connor

So like that your priorities would be elsewhere or not 100% in the room.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, yeah. Perhaps or that, you know, the schedule that I might have to keep as a breastfeeding mother or as you know, you might be inconvenient to the process or, you know, and so there's, I mean, there's a long we have to come, we have, we have a long way to go in terms of addressing those. Yeah, those barriers and stigmas, I think.


Margaret O Connor

I find that really confusing because on the one hand, motherhood It's portrayed as this amazing, wonderful thing that you know, everyone should, you know, in some aspects and then the reality of it can be quite different. And those things coexist. So you're kind of going, how do you figure out kind of where you fit into that or how much attention do you pay to it, and you know, because you still have to raise your child. That's your very personal part of it, but again, there's so many kind of anxieties, attitudes and projections, I keep coming back to that word. And because, I presume you regard yourself as being the same level of professional as you were a few years ago...


Joanne Ryan

Yes (laughter). I would like to be Yeah, yeah, and I have, yeah, I have had to think about it and the process of like, working with the Arts Council, and this has been really helpful actually, because it's has forced me to think about it and not, and break things down a bit and not and not take on those stigmas for myself. You know, try not to internalize them. And, and, and call them out and call out where change needs to happen.


Margaret O Connor

It's really interesting they're having that process even, it's really positive.


Joanne Ryan

Yeah, it is. It's great. It's great. And it's really exciting to see what will come out of it. Not just for parenting. Yes, for lots of our parenting artists, but for lots of people who are excluded for different reasons because of disability or ethnicity or, you know, sexuality, gender, whatever.


Margaret O Connor

Okay, and is there any advice? So I know, it's hard to put you on the spot. But any advice that you would give to people who maybe find themselves kind of very much caught in that uncertainty phase like, you know, and it's really valid what you said, you can find reasons for and against, and they have just been stuck in that phase of look, I don't know what the right thing to do is, is there any advice?


Joanne Ryan

Yikes. I don't envy anybody in that position. And it's not a nice place to be. But my experience was that, like I said earlier, that I was able to come to a place of peace around it. And I, I think it's true. I feel I know, it's true. That, that it isn't the huge make or break decision that it might feel like it is when you're in the throes of it. And, and yeah, that life will be.. will be brilliant and awful, either way, for all of us, for just different reasons. You know,and if that they can just talk hold on to that knowledge, may be that will give them comfort. That there may not be a right decision actually you know.


Margaret O Connor

Do you think it's possible sometimes to overthink it, because sometimes people, when they come to me, it's information overload, it almost paralyses them.


Joanne Ryan

Totally, totally. It's totally paralyzing. That's definitely where I was yeah. Of course. And so much of the information you will find, is conflicting, even from experts. I spoke to a number of doctors. Some of them told me hurry up. One obstetrician wrote me an hilarious prescription for a nice young man, because of my age when I told him how old I was


Margaret O Connor

Oh god...


Joanne Ryan

While others told me to just relax and not worry about it. So it's really hard to even, if you are looking for the right answer, it's really impossible to find it, it doesn't exist. You will hear conflicting things all the time. You can really get into such an awful state, where you can't make any useful decisions.


Margaret O Connor

And do you think by actually giving yourself that space, and thinking about it less, that some kind of natural ...


Joanne Ryan

It was helpful for me, even though we did have sex that day and I did get pregnant, and I do have a child (laughter), I also know that if I hadn't gotten the bus, and we didn't, that I would be fine. Some parts of my life would be better now. It's really hard having a kid. A lot of it is not pleasant. It's not this magical..you know people tend to..it's interesting, I was watching that Louis Theroux documentary on TV the other night, where he spends time at a mother and baby unit in Bethnel in London, with women who are suffering from postnatal depression. He speaks to women who have been sectioned, legally sectioned because they are deemed to be a danger to themselves, or other family members or their children because they are so psychiatrically unwell, as a result of having a baby. And you look at their Instagram feeds and their social media feed, and it's all glossy images of them with their gorgeous bonny baby having the lols, having a great time. if you didn't know, you would have no idea. And I think that is an extreme example of the difference between portrayal and reality but it happens all the time. People are always throwing up the cutest pictures of their kids, having the best day ever in the woods or on the beach, or eating ice-cream and everyone looks like they are having a great time, hashtag blessed, most fulfilled time of their lives.


Margaret O Connor

Haha, yeah absolutely.


Joanne Ryan

The reality though is often very different I think, yeah.


Margaret O Connor

And actually, accepting that and maybe expecting that..it may not make it easier but does it take some of the pressure off, instead of thinking it has got to be like that and if it's not, I'm doing something wrong..so is accepting the reality, the good and the bad, does that make it easier?


Joanne Ryan

Ahm..I mean..


Margaret O Connor

No (laughter)


Joanne Ryan

Yes, and I mean my partner at the moment who is really struggling with our baby not sleeping, might say no, nothing makes it better (laughter) but yeah, for me it does. It's good to go in with eyes a bit wider open..but it's hard to imagine as well. you can tell someone about an experience, like any experience, it isn't just unique to having kids. It's very hard to imagine until you have gone through it yourself. Like grief or loss is the same, you can know what to expect but until you are actually experiencing it yourself you know..


Margaret O Connor

Yeah, absolutely. Is there any truth in that thing of you know, oh it's different when it's your own? Do some magic hormones kick in and suddenly everything is fine? (laughter) Because sometimes people think that, and maybe it will be alright..like I'm really really not sure but if I go ahead, it will fall into place..


Joanne Ryan

I'd be very wary..to a point


Margaret O Connor

Or do you think you discover, maybe you're being challenged in a way that you haven't heard before, so you discover capabilities and skills that you didn't know you had?


Joanne Ryan

I mean, I always knew I was capable of being a parent. I was parented brilliantly by my mother. It provided a good foundation. I never thought I'd be an unfit mother and I shouldn't. I mean, you can do anything when you have to have to...The hormones kick in to a point... I mean, I will say I had an experience in the hospital, where my bonding was interrupted because somebody in the hospital, a care assistant in the hospital, came and washed my baby, washed his head, with soap. So I think that's never going to happen in the regional maternity hospital again because of my experience and they took it very seriously. There was nothing we could do that then but I think it really interfered with bonding because I wasn't able to smell his head anymore so I didn't recognise him. I mean physically I recognized him of course, but I didn't, the hormonal instinctual level recognition wasn't there. I don't think it's necessarily the magical thing people make out. I love my baby and I grow to love him more every day. As I would with someone I'm spending a lot of time with (laughter).


Margaret O Connor

I suppose because they grow and change and develop so much. He's able to do more things now and be more interactive.


Joanne Ryan

Yes, especially now. Because he is 18 months, it's really interesting. It's much more fun and exciting and interesting.


Margaret O Connor

Well, it's been fascinating to talk to you Joanne, thank you. Is there anything else you want to add or have we covered it all?


Joanne Ryan

Nothing that I can think now.


Margaret O Connor

Well, look, thank you so much. It's been really interesting and useful and hopefully interesting to people listening. Thanks for sharing today.


Joanne Ryan

No problem. Thanks.


Margaret O Connor

I am going to add in an extra piece here as myself and Joanne kept talking after we stopped recording and she was thinking more about the 'is it different when it's your won child' comment. She said it is different because it is your own child and it is your responsibility to care for and respond to that child. It doesn't mean that you won't feel tired or wish that they wouldn't cry. She described it as being similar to the situation of the 'new normal' we all find ourselves in now. You adapt because you have to, you adjust according to your situation and it becomes your new normal. I thought that was important so wanted to add it in!


Thanks very much to my guests for taking part and to you for listening. I would love to hear your feedback and any suggestions you have for other topics you would like to see covered in the series. I would also love to build a community of like minded people so please follow 'Are Kids For Me' on Facebook and Instagram to find out more on this topic. I look forward to hearing from you. Watch out for the next episode soon.


Transcribed by https://otter.ai



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Margaret O'Connor MIACP      ©2018 by Are Kids For Me. 

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