Lactating on Stage

I was back on stage performing six months after my son was born. I had no business being on stage. I had had a two-year absence from dance at that point, and I was never a technically strong dancer to begin with, and I had no idea how to move my new body.

Plus, I did not have much time to recover. I had to return to work six weeks after giving birth. Adjunct Faculty at the UA did not have maternity leave, or benefits for that matter. And not only did I need the job to cover medical expenses, but I also needed the income to immigrate my husband.

So there I was, teaching six weeks after giving birth. Sleep deprived. Struggling with postpartum depression from all the large life transitions that happened to me in the span of a few months. My hubby was living in LA at the time and dealing with my brother-in-law’s bipolar manic episodes (although he was not diagnosed yet and we did not know what was happening). With my husband still living in another state, I was basically a single mother at this point in time. I depended on in-laws, such as my mother in law or my husband’s cousins, to watch my newborn child, or I would take him in with me when I had to teach because I could not afford childcare and living expenses on my measly adjunct salary. My few-months-old son attended my classes, and faculty and research meetings in his car seat carrier more than a few times. All of this drained me spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

So why on earth did I put myself on stage only six months after having a child and two years of not dancing at all? Because I was commissioned to create three pieces based on the experiences of undocumented students in the local community college. Not wanting the opportunity to pass me by, I said yes, figuring I could find a handful of dancers to work with me and I would not have to be on stage. I needed three dancers, preferably Latin@. I found one dancer, yet my husband, a recently retired professional folklόrico dancer, wouldn’t even commit to the project. No rehearsals every other weekend when he was in town. He just flat out said no. And I couldn’t find anyone else. I was so desperate for bodies, I put a visual artist on stage. And I felt I had no other choice: I needed to perform. Oh, a foreshadow of things to come…

The rehearsals, combined with work and mothering a nursing newborn, took a toll on my body. I came down with lactation mastitis, which is so incredibly painful, three times while breastfeeding. Feeding times often fell during class and rehearsals, I could feel myself leaking. The milk ducts were full, then they clogged, and I got the very painful infection. I felt like I had to suck it up and deal with it. Deal with the pain and the infections. I could not change my class schedule at the University. My schedule was at the mercy of sabbaticals and professors buying out classes. I had no agency to negotiate and I couldn’t breastfeed or pump as I lectured in front of 180 students. And for some reason, perhaps the exhaustion, the lack of a support system, or my inexperience as a mother, I did not even consider bringing my son to rehearsal and breast feeding him there when he needed it.

To add to the madness, the director who commissioned the piece had a hard time securing affordable rehearsal space…again a foreshadow of things to come…and got us free space 45 minutes across town. Which meant that it took 3 hours of travel time, round trip, to get to rehearsal (30-minute drive to my in-laws, 15-minute instruction time for the baby, 45-minute drive to rehearsal, then rinse and repeat to go home). There were hours away from my child that were physically painful.

I should not have done it but I did it anyway, and this performance was the catalyst for creating my company. (Read more about this here). Looking back, this performance was also the complete foreshadow of things to come. Seven years later, all these things — difficulty finding dancers, affordable rehearsal space, and child care — still plague both me and my organization. Seven years later, the same struggles, the same battles. Go figure!

All of this work, all of the physical pain I incurred, all the time away from my son, culminated with a one-night performance. I was standing on a table in black beginning the piece that was my solo. It was a small intimate theater with 120 seat house. Sold out. It was the first section of my piece. The beginning of the dance. My baby is in the audience, six months old. As soon as the lights start coming up, slow fade, I start to leak. I am lactating on stage before the dance piece even begins. I pray the pad in my nursing bra which has a sports bra on top, absorbs all of the milk and it doesn’t show. Prayers answered. It didn’t.

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