The Ballerina Baby Boom: Three Dancers on Being Pregnant During a Pandemic
Mathilde Froustey has always wanted to be a mother. “I never saw myself just as a dancer,” says the San Francisco Ballet principal. “Backstage, onstage, even when I was getting ready for a show, I knew something was missing. And I knew what it was.”
Now almost nine months pregnant with her first child, Froustey already says she’s more whole. “I can’t wait to get back onstage and feel more full,” she says. Froustey is not the only ballerina who took this last year as an opportunity to have a baby, and many seem to agree: Being a ballerina, becoming a mother and living through a pandemic all at the same time is bound to make for an interesting journey. Here, three new dancer moms share their stories.
Mathilde Froustey, San Francisco Ballet
I first started trying to get pregnant four years ago, but I was working so much and eating so little that I wasn’t having a period. I was in denial about how unhealthy that is. I started IVF treatments, but I also kept working. I was dancing Études onstage and then injecting hormones three times a day. It was hard to manage both. Then, COVID-19 came and the theater closed. My husband is a chef, so his restaurants closed too, and it didn’t feel like the right time to transfer an embryo—we didn’t know how much money we’d have in a year.
In quarantine, I started eating more and I felt more relaxed with my body. Then, I got pregnant without IVF. I had a miscarriage shortly after, but I was just happy that my body could get pregnant at all. Plus, losing the baby pushed me to realize I needed to treat my eating disorder, and I had time to do it because of the pandemic. I went to a hospitalized center for six weeks, and that saved my life.
I felt really healthy coming home from the center, and I got pregnant soon after. Then, I lost the baby again and this time was much harder. It was at the height of COVID-19 and the ballet was far from reopening. I couldn’t be a dancer anymore, and I wasn’t able to be a mother—I had nothing to grab on to.
Five weeks after that, I got pregnant a third time. I was terrified I would miscarry again, but this one has been healthy. I am due this month!
I know that going back to work after having a baby is different for everybody, so I am trying to just focus on myself and not listen to too many people’s stories. I’ll just do my best and not worry how my experience compares to others.
After this pandemic, I hope dancers will say ‘Why did we try to be so skinny and not healthy?’ As dancers and people, we are healthier now. Let’s all just stay like that!
Ingrid Silva, Dance Theatre of Harlem
I always knew I would be a mom, but I never had a plan on what the right timing would be. But, honestly, the right timing never shows up. I found out I was pregnant at the end of February 2020, and I was scared because I thought, The whole world is dying and I am pregnant? But it turned out to be the best timing because I was able to enjoy myself fully. I didn’t have to worry about rehearsals or what I was eating. I got the experience of being a mother without the little worries of a dancer’s day.
Dancing while pregnant was a puzzle, but it was a cool puzzle. When I was 20-something weeks I remember saying, “Oh, legs in second can’t happen anymore, so what can I do?” And then I started finding different ways that I could move, exploring my new body’s possibilities.
I had my daughter in November. Coming back was also a challenge. As dancers we say we know our body, but I feel like I’m actually getting to know my body now. There were so many changes in finding my center, finding my stability. It will never be the same, but I feel stronger now. I feel a sense of power that I didn’t have before.
The first day I came back to the studio I brought my daughter with me, and I put her little blanket on the floor while I was doing floor exercises next to her. It was a really beautiful moment. It’s always been such an obstacle for female dancers to have a family and also keep working. I was so happy that my daughter and I are getting to experience both.
Jordan Nicole Tilton, Diablo Ballet
I got pregnant in April 2020, right when the shutdowns were starting. I definitely had to learn to listen to my body and rest when I needed to rest, but the pandemic made that a lot easier—since we were on Zoom, I could just lie on the couch until I needed to get up and take class or teach.
Pregnancy itself can feel really isolating, and then on top of that, everyone felt isolated during the pandemic. Finding ways to stay connected became really important for me. When things started to loosen up around October, we started going back to the studio in small pods and I really felt like the other dancers became my family. I don’t have family nearby, so until then no one had seen me pregnant. Their excitement made me feel really supported. My artistic director even threw me a virtual baby shower and also let me work as a ballet mistress when I couldn’t dance anymore. Then, after I had my son in December, I brought him with me to the studio to stage two more ballets. I’m planning on continuing to help with staging as I come back, and I’ll start next season dancing part-time as I learn to balance it all and work on finding childcare.
I’m in a WhatsApp group that’s full of about 40 other dancers who are moms from all across the country. There are dancers from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, all who have kids and can answer questions for each other about anything. I already know dancers are really busy, and as moms I know people are extra-busy, so the fact that this group will take the time to respond to other moms is so helpful and makes me feel less alone.