I don’t know when it became a rule I lived by. It was a rule to keep me focused on my career goals. An eye on the prize, so to speak. The rule was we couldn’t have a child until a feature-length film I had written had been made. The film could be living in post-production, but it had to have been funded, shot, and brought to life. I lived by this rule and used it to shut down conversations about when we were planning to have a child. That grating question that slithers its way into conversations, asking you to spill your guts. To justify your reproductive choices that are no one’s business but your own. Yeah, that question.
In 2020, along with almost everybody else, I started spending a lot of time at home. Ironically, 2020 was my most successful year on paper. I got more “yes’s” than “no’s”; I wrote with conviction. I worked myself to the bone, I burnt out. As I slowly pieced myself back together in 2021, I was the one saying no to projects. I became pickier, I started cultivating a world outside my career. I started to ground into my home life: we got a dog, more houseplants, I gave in and baked banana bread, finally. And then, we started looking for a home to call our own. It turns out, I like feeling grounded. I like the sense of home. To me it’s a place where I can exhale, where I can just be.
It was then I started to realize the life I was building outside my career was equally as rewarding as those small (and big) career wins peppered throughout the last few years. When we decided to try for a baby, in late 2022, I didn’t even think of my rule. It had slipped from my mind, forgotten, and in its place was a dream for a child, right here, right now. I was no longer waiting for the “right time,” I was choosing the right time, for me and for us.
As a writer I’ve had short films play at various festivals, short stories published, and scripts optioned, but I have not been credited as a writer on a feature film yet. I am still considered an “emerging” writer by industry standards. As a factual producer, I’ve made commercials, worked on documentary series, but that work is very much my day job, the passion, the goal was (and is) to be writing and working as a writer more and more.
The opportunities for funding are few and far between in this country. Both emerging and established filmmakers are clamouring for the same spot atop the funding mountain. And though the industry has made strides to be more inclusive, many opportunities are still afforded to cisgender men: they can leave their baby at home, they’re able to go to work, they’re given a choice, one that society doesn’t make them feel guilty about. There needs to be changes not only to our funding structures and systems, but to how we support those with children in this industry.
I wonder what will happen after my child is born. I worry that the invites will dry up, that the world doesn’t value mothers, especially in a world where fathers aren’t bombarded with questions about how they juggle work and home life or how they’re managing to “have it all.” I worry that someone won’t be able to see that I can juggle motherhood and a career, that most likely motherhood will make me an even stronger writer and creator. One of my biggest fears is that the industry will decide I’m not valuable anymore. That my voice isn’t relevant. That I’m not relevant.
And yet, I wonder if I’ll want the same things, if I’ll have the same drive, if I’ll be able to hustle in the same way. Most importantly, will I want to? Will vying with other writers for a spot in a room have the same appeal? Will writing things on spec, for free, still be a priority? Will I want to get ahead in the same way, meticulously planning and plotting, making moves, and writing films, with the goal that they see the light of day? I could, quite simply, opt out, but I don’t write scripts for them to sit in a drawer gathering dust. I write to be heard, to be seen, for the joy of it, because I have to: there are these voices in my head that are begging for a release, a reason to scream, yell, laugh. Will those voices be muted after I have a child?
The rational part of me knows I’ll still be me; I’ll still be in there somewhere. Buried under milk-stained sweaters and unwashed hair. Perhaps I’m most anxious about whether I won’t care anymore. There are other things that need tending to. A diaper needs changing, my child needs to eat; other things will command my attention. Their first fit of giggles, a sneeze, the way they look at the world. Can I find equal importance in that as I do in finishing a draft on time? Can this stage of my life help fuel my creative one? Can I allow myself to take a scared pause, exhaustion and all, and trust that this is all for a reason? To create a life beyond the page in front of me? I hope I can wrap myself in the beauty of it all, no matter how difficult, and that I can trust that, at the end of the day my laptop will still be there, whenever I decide to open it again.
It wasn’t until recently that I remembered my rule. Remembered the prize that I so desperately wanted. And I still want it, I do, but now, months after abandoning said rule, I let my mind wander. Instead of dreaming up the perfect cast for my feature film, I think about holding my child, witnessing their kicks with my own eyes instead of imagining them. I think about how different life will be, how much it will change, how much I will.
I hope the phone calls continue to come, that the invites and collaborations still roll in. But similar to how a screenplay changes during (many) rounds of rewrites, life changes; we change — for me, the prize changed. I’m more than what my resume says I am. I’m more than a funding body telling me yes or no — I am more than what this industry allows me to be. I’m a person outside of it too, and now, finally, I’m okay with that.
Julia Rowland is a screenwriter and factual producer, whose writing has appeared in Toronto Life Magazine, The Antigonish Review, and other online and print publications. She’s a graduate of the Canadian Film Centre’s Writers’ Lab, where she developed two feature films. Despite disliking camping or any vigorous outdoor activities, she gravitates towards stories where landscapes and nature play an integral part in the narrative. She is always highly caffeinated (except during pregnancy; she’s begrudgingly switched to decaf).