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I moved from Toronto to Los Angeles when I was 25 and became an agent when I was 29, representing writers and directors. The business was all-consuming for me. I loved my job and was happy to completely immerse myself in it.
Like many professional women, it was difficult to find a healthy balance between my career and personal life. If I had the choice to go on a date or to a premiere, I always chose the premiere. Somehow, men do not seem to face this same challenge. While my male counterparts were equally committed to the job and devoted the same hours, relationships and family for men did not seem to involve the same amount of effort.
I had been raised to think I could have it all: the fabulous career, a loving husband and wonderful children. At 38, I woke up with a very successful career but was missing the family. After much thought, I decided to have a baby on my own. Once I made the decision, I was introduced to several women within the industry who had been down this road. I was reassured by the fact that they each had a wonderful experience.
So began my search for an anonymous sperm donor. With each potential donor, you are given a specific profile: statistics and family health history but no picture. I wanted someone who was tall, athletic, smart, good-natured and came from good, healthy stock. I could only laugh when one potential donor noted that he had received a master’s degree in English from a prominent university, only to have misspelled “university.” I realized the perfect man did not exist and that if I were actually having a baby with a husband, he would probably be short, balding and have several health issues, so I compromised on a few things. I went for height, athleticism and a good attitude — I figured I was smart enough for both of us.
When I started to share the news, I felt a tremendous amount of support at work and from my friends. Of course, there was some negative feedback about being a single parent, but for the most part, people thought I made a very brave decision.
Flash-forward nine months, and I am the mother of a beautiful son. I took a three-month maternity leave, and because I have partner agents on all of my clients, I was able to really focus on my baby. It can be wonderful to be a young mother — you have more energy, etc. — but it can also be harder to devote yourself to your career. I was established in my career, had long-standing relationships with clients and had been running CAA’s motion picture literary department for several years, which allowed me the freedom to make changes in my work schedule that made it easier to balance it all.
But like everything in life, there are trade-offs. I made the decision to travel less, go out less and read much more efficiently. I focused on excavating material that was not set up, projects that I would need to spearhead from scratch and, as a result, discovered many gems that benefited my clients. At the outset, I believed that my career would suffer when I came back from my first maternity leave. But because I now work more efficiently, these past 10 years have been the most productive of my career. When my first son was 2, I decided to have another child.
As far as the challenges of being a single mom, I’m not sure it is that much more difficult than if you have a husband or partner who works outside the home. Most of the working moms I know plan the lion’s share of their children’s schedules, from schooling to doctor’s appointments. Unless you are a working mom with a stay-at-home dad, you are probably facing the same challenges I do.
My family has been with me at every step: My sister was in the delivery room and the first person to hold both of my boys. I also was fortunate that my two best girlfriends, who are both married, had children within the same month as I did. We spent every weekend together. Once my children started school, my circle continued to grow, and I found another network of families that shared my values.
My boys have had wonderful male role models in their lives. Husbands of friends go out of their way to include my sons in their activities. I made the decision to hire a “manny,” and he has been a terrific influence. He coaches all of their sports teams (both of my boys are extremely athletic!).
There is not a day that goes by when someone doesn’t say, “I don’t know how you do it alone!” But the truth is, we have never felt alone. We have a loving community and a strong support system.
This is a very difficult business. I believe that if you don’t find balance, it will break you. For many women, finding that balance is a challenge, but it’s important to stop and make the effort to find it in whatever form works for you. For me, it was having children. It’s the best decision I ever made.
Risa Gertner is co-head of CAA’s motion picture literary department; she reps Ron Howard and Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, among others. She has two sons: Theo, 8, and Jackson, 11.
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