Motherhood as a Work of Art

0

In my twenties, I wanted nothing more than a thriving career in the film industry. Without stopping between degrees, I graduated from one of the top film schools in the country with an MFA in Cinema, had a newly formed non-profit company Cinefemme, and the world ahead of me. I felt like a force of nature and nothing would stop me from my dream. Then, life intervened and took me on another path. Instead of fast-tracking it to a studio position or production job, I instead entered the terrifying realm of motherhood. Everything else took a backseat, especially my dream career. My neurologist at the time advised me to embrace the experience fully, and so I did.

I went into the delivery room like a champ, but the newborn glow was short-lived. The doctor soon discovered our baby had a heart condition called TGA, which meant her two great arteries were transposed. All the stressful prenatal testing and two fetal echocardiograms missed this important diagnosis. My little one was rushed to a cardiac NICU in a nearby hospital. I spent my first night as a new mother alone, feeling powerless to protect this innocent little soul, and checked out the next day. I ended up recovering from the birth in public restrooms, pumping milk wherever possible, sleeping in elevator lobbies and on waiting room couches, while my daughter was hooked up to tubes, breathing masks, and all sorts of squid-like apparatus. We were thankful she had the best care possible, but attempting to understand all of the medical terminology described to us at the time is a blurry memory, at best. This was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. Seven days later, my daughter had open-heart surgery.

openyourheart2.600x900

We were on cloud nine when we finally took her home. Then, we entered a cocoon for a few years as our new family gelled together. I wanted nothing more than to be totally devoted to her. This meant working from home when she napped (as a work-from-home paralegal in asbestos law, a job I got shortly after grad school), making time for my artwork (she inspired a lot), taking over as Executive Director for Cinefemme, and living each moment of life with her to the fullest. She wasn’t the type of kid you could easily drop off to day-care at a young age, and spent the first day of pre-school crying for me, comforted only by a box of sand and seashells. I am naturally independent and wanted my daughter to feel the same sense of freedom, but knew that she needed help with acclimating to it. I took my time with her, because that’s what she needed. And what I needed, it turns out, was to fully experience these early years with her. It was right for us. It’s not the right decision for everyone and one size does not fit all.

I work multiple jobs, with maximum flexibility, and have often worked for free when it wasn’t in my best interest because I felt so far behind in the game. I’ve occasionally wondered if I screwed my career up and can be hard on myself. Then, I remember to have faith. I know plenty of other mother directors who continued working full-time, or left the field entirely, and they and their children are happy because they tailored their lives the right way for them. And there are many for whom motherhood is not the right choice. It’s gratifying to see work environments slowly change to accommodate families better. There is no secret recipe to this type of success. You are the architect of your life. I do not fall into the judgmental mommy camp and believe most mothers are hard workers who do their best. It’s a difficult job, and nobody likes to be judged; I am by no means perfect. Each path (family, career, etc.) has its benefits and downfalls, and your instinct is your best guide. My daughter was born wonderfully unique, an incredibly sensitive soul with (as I see it) an evolved way of thinking and seeing the world. As an artist, I see her as my greatest creation. Each emotional connection, discovery and memory we make together is a treasure. Our lives feel like a beautifully messy work of art.

favorite_work_of_art_1.200x300Now that she’s older and more independent, I can fully focus on my original dream (not that I ever stopped working, creating or running businesses this whole time). I never wanted to be a mother who used their kids as an excuse to not pursue their dreams. The only thing I regret was missing my nephew’s birth for a film school awards ceremony in college. I learned from that mistake, vowed to always put family first, and consciously try to make big decisions with this in mind.

Right now, it’s about bringing the story of my parents to the big screen in RED STAR. I’ve worked hard to get this far. It may not have been the picture I had in my head when I was younger, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Through the exhaustion, I feel only gratitude for my blessings. I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband and can’t stress the importance of this enough. Sometimes, you have to change your dream. And sometimes you have to go back to the original dream, and remember who you were before you started the journey. You need tremendous patience and stubbornness with your endgame. It’s not easy, whichever path you choose, but since life is an adventure anyways, you might as well go all in. Open your heart to possibilities. Never forget who you are, but don’t be afraid to change your definition of success. Your priorities might shift, but if you stick to your dreams, you will get there…. eventually. Just like bringing a new person into the world, the beauty of love is worth the pain.

MJKmontemartre.200x300

Michelle Kantor

About Michelle Kantor

Michelle Kantor co-founded Cinefemme, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization for women directors, while studying at San Francisco State University. She is the youngest daughter of political refugees who fled Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1960's, and is currently producing two films about her family's historic escape from behind the Iron Curtain: RED STAR, a feature documentary following her father's return on the 50th anniversary of his escape, and THE REBEL, a narrative feature film screenplay written by Michelle, based on their lives. She also directs performance art videos for painter Tara Savelo, former Haus of Gaga member and writes the blog www.ultra-luxurious.com. Michelle's body of work includes short films, experimental narratives, documentaries, and live work for circus performers at San Francisco's Teatro Zinzanni. Her music video "Highway To Yodel-Ay-Hee-Huuu," starring America's Got Talent's Manuela Horn, won Best Music Video at LA Femme Film Festival in 2014. Her production credits include work for HBO, FYI, The History Channel, Sony, Universal, and NASA. An advocate for epilepsy, her groundbreaking film "Bettina in the Fog" won the Thunen Award by the Illuminating Engineers Society. Michelle's other distinctions include the Goldfarb Award for Best Student Film and funding from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for Cinefemme. She holds an MFA in Cinema from San Francisco State University and BFA in Film Production from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Michelle is a certified paralegal, mother, writer and artist. An active member of the female filmmaking community, Michelle belongs to WIF, AWD and Film Fatales.