Last night, the phenomenal Renée Elise Goldsberry won a much-deserved Tony Award for her performance as Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton. And while I am one of the many unlucky millions who have not gotten to see the genre-changing musical live yet, her speech made me weep.
“I would just love to say that if you know anything about me, I have spent the last 10 years of my life—what some would consider the life blood of a woman's career—just trying to have children. And I get to testify in front of all of you that the Lord gave me Benjamin and Brielle and he still gave me this,” she shared from the stage, holding her statue.
I cried. So. Hard.
I cried because Goldsberry was not only accepting an award for her work in Hamilton, but giving voice to the struggle and challenge faced by so many women of reconciling work and motherhood—and what can sometimes feel like the insurmountable heaviness of merely openly wanting both of those things.
Goldsberry’s words validated so many feelings: That women shouldn’t be punished for prioritizing their careers during their biologically peak fertile years. That women shouldn’t be punished if, to the horror of women like Princeton Mom, they haven't met a partner with whom they want to have children while in their 20s. And that the work of infertility is as grueling as any professional pursuit—and that the wonder of finally becoming a parent, if and when and by whatever path one might be able, does not diminish the weight and struggle of infertility.
Goldsberry's words also, of course, validated that a woman's desire to build a family in no way diminishes feelings of pride in work pursued outside the home.
When I was 21 years old, I was diagnosed with both endometriosis and Crohn’s disease, and as a result, I worried long before I met my husband about what my prospects at motherhood might look like down the line. I remember telling a friend once that I felt pressured to accomplish as much as I could as early in my career as possible since I had no idea what might lie ahead when it came to becoming a mother. I told another friend when I was only 22 that, while I would love to be a parent, perhaps it wasn’t in the cards for me, especially given the amount of energy and focus that my career, already, required.
Goldsberry’s speech spoke to those fears, and that silent assumption carried by so many women that a choice of work or family might be required if success at either is desired.
Goldsberry has mentioned in past interviews how she struggled to become pregnant, and the difficulty in accepting new professional endeavors knowing that she might also be pursuing the work of IVF. And that, too, resonated with me: When the infertility diagnosis I had been waiting for for almost a decade finally came in my late 20s, it was coupled with the news that my husband and I were both carriers for a rare genetic disorder. To maximize our chances at having a healthy child, we, too, would need to pursue IVF. And to maximize our chance of success with IVF, this would need to happen sooner than later. Which is how I ended up beginning an IVF cycle shortly after my 30th birthday.
As anxious as I was about IVF itself, I was just as anxious about what this would mean for me professionally—how I would be able to sustain any kind of income, yet alone nurture a career, while I was pursuing a daily routine of doctor’s appointments, shots, and sheer exhaustion. I worried about losing—at everything—before I had even begun. When all was said and done, it took me almost four years to have my baby. And it was difficult work, all of it.
So when Goldsberry accepted her Tony last night, and gave the speech she did, it felt like not only a win for a remarkable performance in a world-changing piece of theater, but for women who—admittedly have the privilege to—choose a career and refuse to give up their pursuit of motherhood as well. That you can want a family and also feel desperation and heartbreak in that path, without apologizing for your pride in your professional accomplishments. And that you can, of course, want it all, unapologetically.
I still feel shocked and humbled and awestruck that my pursuit of motherhood somehow dovetailed with my greatest period of professional fulfillment to date. During IVF and a difficult pregnancy and the exhaustion of new motherhood, I have somehow produced the work of which I am the most proud and been challenged with professional opportunities that I only dreamed about at the age of 21. I am constantly overwhelmed with gratitude that, while none of it was easy—not infertility, not IVF, not motherhood, not juggling any of it with career—my pursuit of motherhood and professional success only further fueled and enriched one another.
Which is why when Goldsberry won, I cried. Why I felt pride by proxy for this woman who, at the age of 45, received such phenomenal professional recognition for her work—and in doing so was unafraid to admit how important her choice to concurrently pursue motherhood had been. I felt seen and represented in a woman who was proud to be a mother, unafraid to vocalize the importance of motherhood to her sense of self, and feel nonetheless compelled to develop the parts of herself that existed outside of the identity of bearing children. And I felt a weight lifted as Goldsberry gave voice and words to the truth that women should never have to apologize for wanting to work, wanting a family, and feeling exquisite gratitude for what can emerge from the trial-by-fire of never saying no to yourself.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.