Balancing work with pregnancy.

Navigating directing and designing while pregnant

The Chair and Vice Chair of Equity’s Directors and Designers Committee on balancing work with pregnancy.

Zoe Spurr, lighting designer

My experience whilst bring pregnant and working has been fairly good throughout, producers and production managers have been brilliant at checking in and adapting to my changing needs. I’ve been able to attend all my appointments by making sure they’re booked early in the day in order to then travel to work later on. Also an additional scan at 13 weeks was sensitively supported by all involved, so I felt relaxed with the appointment and could take time after to recoup and get back in the right headspace for work. 

The one big problem I faced was uncomfortable production desks- at a West End theatre I was working in you “can’t” take the seats out, or after investigation it costs a lot of money to do so, meaning a more ergonomic seating position wasn’t viable. The offer instead was a wooden board across the seats. There was a lot of embarrassment and apologies given from staff members and producers, but nothing changed. To try and avoid the inevitable bad back and neck, I bought an inflatable cushion for each of my team, and a back support for myself in the hope it’d extend the seat back just high enough for a bit more support. I should also add, you can’t get massage treatment until after 12 weeks, and I was already living in a lot of pain from frequently bad seating positions. The options I bought were OK, but if I’d be there any longer than a week and a half I would have really suffered.

So who’s responsibility is this? The theatres? The incoming producer? How much notice should be given for this to happen? I was only around 11/12 weeks pregnant at this point, so couldn’t have given any more than 8 weeks’ notice of a request for seats out, is 8 weeks enough? Can budgets, time and schedule be flexible enough to allow for this to happen? The ALPD have already had many members flag the serious implications of uncomfortable production desks, pregnant or not. In extreme cases I’ve known people be hospitalised with bad backs caused by terrible workstations in tech.

Something needs to change, so if you want to feed in/share experiences/help the change then please get in touch with either Equity via the committee email address, or with the professionals working group at the ALPD ( who are keen to tackle this issue.

My next step will be navigating working life with a baby. I’m keen to hear stories of successful practice and ways we as a committee can support parents and carers alongside PiPA. We also continue to support the need for change within our industry to better accommodate those who wish to have families (or just a life….! Very keen for everyone to benefit from positive change in future!). There are already exciting movements around a 5 day working rehearsal week, and as a committee we are feeding in thoughts to how this could extend into tech for the creative team without meaning more time away from home/families, and not financially crippling everyone with travel costs too. The louder our voice the more change we can encourage and inspire!!

Charlotte Peters, director

My pregnancy journey has generally been really well supported by my various projects - I've found as a first time mum-to-be, one of the biggest challenges has been knowing what to ask for as often companies have asked me what would be helpful.

If you're in a similar position, my top learnings throughout my pregnancy have been to ensure I'm well hydrated which means sometimes I've had to ensure water is even more closely-accessible and I've had to add more breaks to ensure I get it enough! Similarly, sometimes actually taking the tea and meal breaks in rehearsals (which I used to work through) has been really necessary to just take a little time out. Sitting in one place for hours just doesn't work for most pregnant bodies so when directing, I've just said to casts at the start of rehearsals that I may move about a bit and have tried to ensure padded seating with good back support where possible. Putting my body (and baby) before work has been a real adjustment as I'm so used to just zooming through but I've found if I let those around me know it's something I'm working on, there's been really useful support and reminders to drink/move/take breaks etc!

In latter weeks, I've also requested lift access or asked for meetings/rehearsals to only be one flight up. Similarly I've said I can only stay in hotels that are accessible.

There was a period of time where it looked like a show I was working on would transfer to the West End when Baby would have been 6 weeks or so old. This was the big challenge for me - the company were great with asking me what I needed but I just didn't know and I totally failed in reaching out to brilliant organisations like PiPA which I think would have really helped and which I'd definitely advise others to do. What did help though was being told by several parent-producers/directors what their experiences were postpartum and from their guidance and advice, we concluded that I would be relying very heavily on associates and shouldn't try to commit to being in any specific rehearsals in the immediate weeks after birth, but just see how I got on in terms of sleep patterns and brain fog. I would bring Baby to work and only go in when I could, and the producers were willing to find me a flat that was walkable from rehearsals and the venue to make life easier. 

I am very aware I was really lucky with the above and actually am so relieved that this particular production is being postponed so I won't have to juggle being a brand new mum with work, but having that support from other freelance parents who understood and using that to know what to ask for without feeling guilty was really useful. It obviously also helped that the show would have been remounted - the above idea couldn't have worked with a new production - and certainly I wouldn't have had the headspace.

The tough part of pregnancy vs work has been trying to convince producers who don't have children that I am a viable option for employment in future. I can hear the hesitation when trying to get dates for the year ahead and projects booked in like there's an assumption I'll let them down. I also had a producer take a job away because they assumed I wouldn't be able/wouldn't want to do it. Unpicking this with them recently has boiled down to the fact they were too busy for a proper conversation which they know was wrong and I hope they won't make the same error with others.

Financially, I've also been much more upfront than usual, pushing projects that are yet uncontracted for at least a letter of agreement so we can get initial payments in place in advance, meaning I have some savings to top up what is the pretty poor statutory maternity money from the government.

If any directors or designers out there want to reach out with your learnings through pregnancy and parenthood or if folks want to talk through options that may relate to Zoe and my experiences or just to have people who get it, do reach out and we or one of the other parents on the committee will do our best to chat.

More advice