Filmmaker Amelia Hashemi writes a beautifully honest account of filmmaking and new motherhood
It’s 5am, my boobs are hard, swollen and leaking milk. I’ve somehow gone from looking like an androgynous girl to Jordan, and I’m in pain. My nipples are cracked and I wonder if I might have mastitis as I feel hot with fever and they’re rock hard.
I’m crying, a weird silent cry but the tears are unstoppable. Not because I’m in pain, but because I’ve barely mastered breastfeeding and I’m hurrying my little boy along. I can’t be late. The one thing I can’t do is be late. I wonder how the hell I’m going to get through the day… will I cry? That would be awful - directors can’t cry - and I wonder if he’s going to be ok… will he remember this… will he feel deserted… will this break our newly knitted bond?
I wonder why the hell I accepted this job. Whilst other new mothers are stretching in baby yoga, I’m about to get into a cab- still crying- that's waiting to take me to the set of my first paid directing gig. The irony of it all seemed so unfair. Why now? Why wasn’t I allowed that precious time, that space with my newborn? After all these years of slogging why did I manage to win my first job when I was nine months pregnant?
I scooch over in the car; the driver is nice and we start to chat. I’m nervous…this is the first time I’ve directed a crew as big as this and it’s the first time I’ve left my baby. I ask him if we can grab a coffee on the way. I’m not meant to have coffee, but I knew that I’d ‘pump and dump’ and I needed one to get me through the exhaustion lull.
I arrived on set and as the questions started immediately, a sense of clarity came over me, and in that moment I knew I couldn’t let my absence from my baby be in vain. I couldn’t let all my hard work be for nothing. One way or another I knew this was my chance and I just had to give it my all.
So I decided to do what I needed to do, both as a mother and as a director, and if that meant having a grip wait for me while I find my painful boob through the copious amounts of layers then that was how it was. If I then needed two people to help me heave myself onto the lowloader, as I was still post C-section, which was also ok.
I found the more I settled into this norm, the more I was able to relax into both roles. I’m not going to lie, I did go home totally exhausted and cry every night, questioning myself and whether what I was doing was worth it, but I also felt very lucky and very supported both by my family and by the production team. I knew this was a great opportunity and didn’t want it to pass me by.
I just kept on thinking about my son as a 16-year-old boy and how, naturally for all teenagers, he won’t want to spend any time with me. How would I feel then if I had given up my career because I didn't at least try and make directing and motherhood work together. It was an incredibly tough time, but I don't regret it for one second.
Then, last year, I had the opportunity to make a short film via BFI NETWORK’s London Calling Scheme. I was totally thrilled - I had applied a couple of times and hadn’t been successful, so this meant a huge amount to me, and I really wanted my short film to be a success.
Two weeks before shooting, I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. This short meant everything to me and yet again the timing just couldn’t have been worse. I felt sick, had weirdo cravings and just couldn’t stop eating sugar to keep my energy up. Nobody knew apart from the producers and our costume designer. I’d go from bawling my hormonal eyes out in a make-shift wardrobe to being sunny and bright for our amazing cast and crew, who put every ounce of themselves into our project.
It was a crazy time as I was making a film that I was deeply passionate about while physically, actually physically, creating life too. In low moments I would tell myself: ‘It’s ok to be tired - I might be making a tiny kidney right now.’
Looking back I think I should have been a little kinder to myself. I had to have an operation during some of the post decisions. I didn't want the project to be delivered late, and of course the only day all three actresses could get together for ADR was on the day I had to have an operation that would ‘save’ my pregnancy.
It was crazy. I really pushed to get the project in on time and looking back I wouldn’t have pushed myself so hard then. The film would have been finished anyway, but pregnancy makes you act in weird ways sometimes. I had a strong urge to nest, but I had a deadline in mind and I could not go past it. In my head the space after that deadline was for my baby and me.
Because of the nature of the industry, and due to when things started to move forward for me, I never experienced a maternity leave, and so this is all I’ve known as a director. I’ve learnt how to master writing scripts one-handed, how to squeeze three hours work into 20 minutes, how not to feel ashamed when you take your five-month-old to a meeting and they puke all over you while you’re trying to pitch the mis-en-scène. I never imagined that at the same time as navigating those all-too-important meetings with production companies, I’d also have to navigate how to change my baby’s shitty nappy and still appear engaged.
Of course this is just my little window of experience, but if I had to sum it up for any aspiring mother-directors, I’ve realised it’s not about dedicating your life to one or the other, it’s about finding the harmony between the two. Some days you’ll win awards, some days your kid will actually try the fish pie you spent hours making. Some days you’ll cringe as you watch your rushes, some days you’ll cringe as your son asks a waiter why he has no teeth. It’s tough, unpredictable, glorious, but it’s never boring.
Amelia's short film Night Out, pictured above, will play as part of BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival on 30th March