“Lost in Living”: What Happens to Our Lives After Motherhood?

Lost in Living movie, impact of motherhood on careers, motherhood penalty, parenting, lean in, opt out, Mary TrunkWhat job wields the most private power on the planet and yet has no public face? Motherhood, the world’s most demanding, least compensated job. Where only perfection is acceptable and failure is certain. And who are these women who become mothers even when their creative compulsion tells them not to? My documentary film Lost In Living focuses on that very issue — a documentary I was compelled to make after becoming a mother myself.

As I approached age 40, it dawned on me that if I was going to have a child I had better hop to it. And yet the fear of what I was going to give up in my own life stopped me in my tracks. Could I still make art? Would I give up everything for my child? Would I resent the child? Was there “real life” as a mother? All these fears raced in my brain along with this intense desire to go for it. So I tossed my birth control pills and informed my husband I was finally ready. Then I had a miscarriage. Which somehow made my desire for a child deepen. Seven months later and two weeks after my mother’s death I finally got pregnant with my lovely daughter.

I fell madly and deeply in love with my kid but at times I also felt bored, lonely and afraid. How was I going to be a thriving, creative person when I had nights I barely slept and someone to care for who was too small to understand “mom is working.”  I kept asking myself the question, “Where is the life I have lost in living?”

When our daughter was one we moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. My husband worked long hours and I spent my days caring for my kid, trying to finish another film and attempting to keep up on the domestic chores that were quickly getting out of control. I joined mommy groups and play groups, met some other parents, commiserated about baby stuff and still felt lonely and isolated. I was drowning and needed a life raft. So I turned my video camera on myself. I videotaped ten minutes of my day, every day. Sometimes it was ten minutes of my daughter sleeping, other times it was me folding laundry, one time I was giving my screaming daughter a much needed antibiotic and another time it was my husband and I arguing. All moments that can occur in every person’s life. I did this faithfully for an entire year, every single day. Somehow by sticking to this routine it occurred to me that I was finding meaning and drama in the ordinariness of my life. I was redefining the mundane world of caring for a baby, managing a house and seeing it as art. Not only did this help me to finish the film I was then working on, it sparked the idea for Lost In Living.

By recording my own life, I began to question what it means for other women to be living in these times. How were other mothers defining and shaping their lives as parents and as artists? I eventually found four women who not only represent some of my own struggles and achievements but have also showed me how the richness of their lives enriches their art.

Kristina and Caren are two of the main characters in Lost In Living. When I met them they were best friends, both pregnant, and both artists. I was there when they gave birth and then as they moved through the transition to motherhood. I continued to film them until their children started kindergarten. To contrast these young mothers I chose two women, Margie and Merrill, who had already experienced the early years of motherhood and were now forging relationships with their adult children. Their stories offer insight and reflection about different generational choices regarding career and parenting. Having access to their spouses and adult children enabled me to gain deeper insight into the difficulty of how one does or doesn’t achieve the delicate balance between work and home.

I see myself in all four of these women and making this film has given me more strength and inspiration to handle this delicate balance of personal life and personal work. It is never easy or simple. I feared motherhood. When people told me things like, “It’s the best thing you’ll ever do,” I rolled my eyes. I didn’t believe them for a second. I was so afraid I would give up everything for the baby and never be creative again. Not realizing that I had cultivated and nourished my creative self for forty years and that wasn’t about to disappear quickly.

Caring for a child is relentless but it forced me to step out of my self-involved world and give to someone else without asking for anything in return. Being a mother has also taught me to get down to the business of making things I feel passionate about because that is the example I want to give to my daughter.

The process of raising a child mirrors what I feel I want to do in my creative work. We take on this role of mother knowing almost nothing of how to do it right (if there is a right way), having no clue what kind of child we will have, attempting to guide a person to become a responsible, productive, loving, caring human being in the world when we are still trying to figure that out for ourselves. We make mistakes all the time and constantly deal with the pain of learning from our mistakes and then never, ever being able to abandon the job – EVER!!! We venture into this exciting, frightening journey of the unknown. And isn’t that what making art is all about?

Motherhood is an endurance test that never ends. And after examining my own complicated relationship with motherhood, I was compelled to share the stories of these four women who revealed their unapologetic, unfiltered revelations about how they parent and how they create. The obstacles and rewards, the fear and the glory are all here within two generations of women. Mothers have at their fingertips the knowledge and experience of hard work, the inspiration of new life, the hard lessons of setting an example and the certainty of constant failure and resilience. We rarely get to experience the normally off-limits private lives of other women who struggle with the elusive balance between parenting and maintaining their own lives. The illumination of these extremely private experiences, events that happen behind closed doors, unveil some of the most personal, private and conflicted thoughts so many of us have about life, family, artistic expression and self-image. I hope that by sharing the stories of these women’s lives, all parents can understand the challenges of maintaining self and focus while doing the most important job of all – raising children.

This Holiday Season I am offering a free streaming opportunity for anyone who would like to view Lost in Living on-line. Beginning December 12, 2014 at noon until midnight on December 25, 2014, Lost In Living will be available to view for free at this link. No password will be required between those dates only. If you “like” the Lost in Living Facebook page I will also send you a free pdf file of the 23 page discussion guide for the film. This guide is great if you want to gather a group of friends together to watch the film and talk about it afterward. If you’d like to organize a larger group to see the film, please click on the screening guide link for suggestions on doing that successfully. And you can always purchase a DVD directly from the website too. Many thanks!

Mary Trunk started as a painter, became a dancer and choreographer and has been making films for almost 20 years. She spent seven years filming four mother/artists for Lost In Living. Her currently released short documentary The Past is in the Present is about the Pulitzer Prize winning composer, Gunther Schuller. Her newest hybrid documentary project focuses on memory, age and the desire to keep dancing in some form or another. Mary and her husband are founders of Ma and Pa Films, a video and film production company. Mary also teaches film and video at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. Find out more at www.maandpafilms.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at @maandpafilms .

To schedule an interview with Mary, she can be reached at marytrunk@sbcglobal.net

Image courtesy of Mary Trunk

  • I can’t wait to see it. I had my son at 41, and that really does turn you life upside-down, in good and bad ways. My dad died a month after my son was born, so I too know that feeling of grief and loss along with the love you feel when you have a beautiful child. I felt isolated, too, It was a crazy time. How wonderful that you turned your story into a creative output.

    • Mary Trunk

      Thanks so much, Lynne. Enjoy the film. -M

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