Pregnant in the Circus

Morning sickness sucks.

Anyone who has experienced it can attest to that. Whoever thought of the name anyway? It’s a lie, it should be called all day and night and any inconvenient time sickness!

Unfortunately for me when I fell pregnant not only was it a whole new experience but I was hanging upside-down for a living. I was at the start of a 10 month contract working as an aerialist on a travelling circus. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job, but this was about to take morning sickness to a whole new level.
Like most women I chose to keep the pregnancy quiet until the 12 week mark. Only my husband and a couple of close relatives new to start with. So everyday, sometimes two or three times a day I would head out into that circus ring and perform my routine. Before anyone panics, I was exceptionally careful, I knew the risks, I knew my act, as did my husband. We made sure that he was watching from the side at all times and should he notice even the slightest change to make him suspect something was wrong, he would be right there bringing me down.
I can still remember a certain move where I was hanging upside down spinning rather fast and the nausea was creeping up, worse and worse. I was terrified that any second I was going to spray the poor unsuspecting audience with that mornings breakfast. Thankfully it stayed down.  It did become difficult to hide my pregnancy from co-workers when quite often I had to run out of the ring-doors and could be found retching in a hedge, desperately trying to get myself under control as the music was playing and the ringmaster was introducing me.

Then would come buildup. If you have ever seen a tenting circus arrive in your town, you may have seen a clear field one day and then a fully functioning show the next. I can assure you, its not magic and its not quick. The staff and artistes would have been up bright and early, rain or shine, hammering stakes in to the ground, setting out kingpoles and cables and all sorts. Its a group effort and everyone has their own role in getting the job done. So when one is feeling a constant need to heave and having to make a mad dash back to the trailer several times it starts to get noticed which brings me to the less than lovely subject of the chemical toilet. For those of you who have ever stayed in a trailer (touring caravan) you will know all too well that as clean and well maintained as you keep it, a chemical toilet or portaloo does not stand up against a regular household one. If there was any chance that I wasn’t actually going to throw up in the morning, one look of that thing and it was all over.

So basically I made it 9 weeks before I told the rest of the cast that I was expecting. They all took it really well and were very understanding. I was allowed to continue working as long as I felt safe and comfortable to do so. I later started to suffer from dizzy spells so stopped performing in the air due to safety. I continued with the show, assisting my husband with his act, luckily I didn’t show for several months so I was still able to fit my costumes.
There were many other complications sadly with being pregnant and on a circus. To start with there was the abuse that locals would think it fair to dole out. This was not every town and not everyone would do this, but every so often some locals would take a dislike to us and decide to make life difficult. We’d find people staring in at us through our bedroom window, we’d have stones thrown at our trailer and vehicles, people running around at all hours of the night making as much noise as possible, trying to wake us up. I remember being appalled once when I had spent all morning hand washing some delicate costumes, I had them drying in the sun outside our door when a man allowed his dog to pee all up my airer and covering my previously clean clothes. Once again, morning sickness creeping up, clothes covered in dog pee; not pleasant.
At the end of the day we were all just trying to make a living so it was always upsetting to get such abuse. We all have homes, bricks and mortar elsewhere, but travel for work and enjoy it (for the most part) We pay bills and our taxes just the same as everyone else, our job was just a little different. Another complication that I didn’t even consider until it came to it, was getting regular antenatal care.
Traveling up and down the country made getting appointments rather difficult. Thankfully the midwives in our hometown were very accommodating for our needs and would try and give me appointments when it was possible for me to get back there. Sometimes it was a 400 mile round trip so I’d try to make sure I had a day with no performances so could spend the night at home before driving back to work.

Other hospitals or GPs were not happy to see me, I did try. Everyone seemed adamant I should stick with my midwife at home despite the distance.

I had planned to stay with the show until I popped but due to unforseen circumstances not related to the baby my husband and I left the show and moved back in to bricks and mortar for the last month of the pregnancy. Oh how I had missed 24 hour electric and unlimited hot water. I gave birth to a healthy gorgeous baby girl and I very much look forward to teaching her how to perform, she’s already seen photos and videos of mummy and daddy in the ring and loves to try and copy us. The circus is a wonderful way of life but like any job it has its ups and downs, even more so whilst pregnant.

Images from TMMBAndrea MannRichard Anderson