Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Tina Fey : Work or Family?

by Meredith O’Brien


Reading Tina Fey’s provocative New Yorker essay [1] about how much pressure she was feeling to give her 5-year-old daughter a sibling raised a number of work-life issues about which I’ve been pondering over the past week.


Fey’s chief reason for not having a second child was her workload, where she’s the executive producer, head writer and star of NBC’s award-winning 30 Rock, even though she knows that at age 40, she’s in what she described as “my last five minutes of being able to have a baby.” However the guilt about the disruption her having a baby would cause at work right is weighing heavily on her mind.


“Why not do both [have a baby and a career], like everybody else in the history of the earth?” Fey [2] asked in the New Yorker. “Because things that most people do naturally are often inexplicably difficult for me. And the math is impossible. No matter how you add up the months, it means derailing the TV show where 200 people depend upon me for their income, and I take that stuff seriously.”


As I thought about what Fey had written, it made a lot of sense. Given the pressing nature of her responsibilities, she obviously feels as though she can’t fit having another child into her life right now, something that men in her position, since they don’t have to physically have the baby, don’t have to contend with. They can have as many kids as they want without it affecting their day-to-day work.


With Fey’s words still rolling around in my head, I watched a recent episode of Parks & Recreation with Amy Poehler [3], 39, who stars in and serves as a producer for the show. Poehler was four months pregnant with her second child when the second season of Parks & Recreation wrapped last year and she returned to the set two months after giving birth. (She started filming the first season of Parks & Recreation four months after giving birth to her first child.) But while Poehler’s the star and gets producer credit, she’s not carrying the load that Fey is as the executive producer, head writer and star of 30 Rock.


Poehler, like many actresses have done lately, managed to camouflage her pregnancies (and post-pregnancy body) on her show, where she plays a single, ambitious, idealistic, somewhat nutty mid-level Parks Department bureaucrat. Writing her pregnancy into the show just wouldn’t work, so the Parks & Recreation folks did what many other shows have done when, to paraphrase Fey, an actress’s closing fertility window coincides with her professional success.


Take Grey’s Anatomy, where there’s been a veritable baby boom behind the scenes. Lead actress Ellen Pompeo had a baby in the fall of 2009 but writers didn’t think getting Meredith Grey pregnant at that point in her story would work, so they had her wear baggy scrubs and came up with a reason for her to be bedridden near the end of her pregnancy. (Ironically, Meredith’s character is now struggling with infertility. Go figure.) Chyler Leigh [4], who plays Lexie Grey, gave birth to her third child only seven days after wrapping Grey’s fifth season and her pregnancy was hidden for the duration. Similarly, Jessica Capshaw, who plays Arizona Robbins on Grey’s had her second child in October 2010 when her character suddenly up and left and went to pursue a project that took her to Africa while hiding her pregnancy. (Again, ironically, when Capshaw came back from her maternity leave, her character’s girlfriend was pregnant with another man’s child.)


But again, all of these women were actresses in their shows, not wearing a ton of hats like Fey does. If Fey getting pregnant was just a matter of hiding her neurotic single working gal Liz Lemon’s pregnancy and taking a leave of absence like the other actresses, she could do that, like with her co-star Jane Krakowski, who is due with her first child this spring, but won’t have the pregnancy written into [5] her 30 Rock storyline. But Fey is more than just a star in a TV show, thus her conundrum about taking any time off and what would happen to 30 Rock without her.


Saying that she feels a responsibility, as one of the few women producers who’s willing to hire “diverse women of various ages,” Fey explained, “That is why I feel obligated to stay in the business and try hard to get to a place where I can create opportunities for others, and that’s why I can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless I do, in which case that is nobody’s business and I’ll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.”


Sometimes things just aren’t as simple as you might want them to be.

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