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ON STAGE | with Hilary Blake Firestone

DANCE - A wonderful image where Hilary is emerging from a fountain of bodies with a little bloated belly. Her story touches on training ambitiously soon after birthing, touring, international touring flexible childcare, collegue support, responsability towards work and many beautiful images...

What's your name and where do you come from and where were you born? Hillary Blake Firestone, I live in Amsterdam and I am from the USA. What was your occupation or what kind of work you did around the time you became a mum? I'm a dancer, choreographer and teacher in Conservatory of Dance Where do you live and work at the moment? The Netherlands When did you start thinking "I am ready to be a mum" ( or maybe not yet) ? 37 When did you find out you were expecting and how old were you? 38 How long did you work for during your pregnancy and after how long did you start again? I performed until almost 6 months.

I taught until 7.5 months, and was rehearsal director until 1 or 2 weeks before my delivery. I started training seriously (5 days/week) 6 weeks after delivery, rehearsing 7 weeks after, teaching 8 weeks after, and performed 10 weeks after, with some modifications to the piece. And how much control did you have over when you stopped working and started again? I decided when I stopped, and I chose to return to rehearsing/teaching as quickly as I did for a number of reasons, including a sense of responsibility to the work I was performing (which would have needed to cancel several shows if I did not return that quickly) and to the department in which I teach. Did you get support with maternity pay? Yes, from the dutch government. How was your pregnancy? Great! What were your thoughts about work and did you have something planned, did you stop, for how long? I had to turn down some work... international touring mostly, both late in my pregnancy and for several months after delivery. How was your post natal experience? I had a c-section, which was not planned and not wished for. I worked with a pilates trainer to recover, which was very helpful. However, I did awaken an old lower back injury that had been dormant, most likely because I returned to training so quickly and so ambitiously after my c-section (6 weeks, as soon as doctors allowed me to begin).

I did so because I knew I would have to perform 2 months after delivery, and felt pressure to be ready. The back problems subsided very quickly, thankfully, and performances went well. After the birth of your baby (babies) did something change towards how you were thinking about work or when to go back? I was happy to have something external motivating me to get back in the game. However, if I would do it again, I think I would leave myself more time if at all possible. When was the first training you did after birth? Tell us your experience leading to the first show post natal. I started walking for exercise around 4 weeks after. 5 weeks after I was going to the gym 3x/week where I cycled, walked inclined treadmill with hand weights and eventually also did elliptical trainer. At 6 weeks I added pilates privates 3x per week with a very experienced trainer who is also a mum. I continued this until 10 weeks, when I performed for the first time. Thereafter, I dropped the gym but kept the 2-3x/week pilates privates for several months, to prepare for a more physical process that began at 5 months post natal. I did get tendonitis in both my wrists and ankles, I believe from the combination of breastfeeding (hormones) and a very physical creation process. This was the most unpleasant part of returning to dancing, required cortisone injections, and still hasn't totally disappeared (now 1.5 years after birth).

What you did and how you managed, who helped and how? In the 1.5 years after my birth, I have toured with my daughter to several countries, and also sometimes left her at home while I toured. I have taken her on residencies, with and without a nanny that I brought along. I have been on faculty of a university to which I had to commute from the city where I live (and thus necessitated a regular babysitter in the city). And quite a bit more... Flexible childcare was very helpful. Production people who are willing to help coordinate child-related matters (like sitters in strange cities, the necessary equipment on residencies, tickets for travel, etc.) are also essential. And I needed a lot of stamina...

How much support did you feel like you had for combining motherhood with work? (From partners, parents, friends, colleagues, society at large, government institutions etc...) My employers have been very supportive. My partner struggles a bit with how much I work, and tour. My mother has been a huge help. I don't know many mamas who returned as fast and as fully as I did, so I had little role models, nor many mums to discuss with.

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