The place: West Middlesex Hospital
The person: Samantha Bond, actor
GIVING birth to my child was excessively painful. I just went into one major contraction so the labour was incredibly fast - just an hour and half! I can remember lying on the bed and feeling that my spine was slowly being pulled apart. All I could picture was myself as a small child peeling away the bark of small sapling and finding the white pure wood in the middle; that's the image I had of what the pain was doing to my body. There was no time for any drugs to help me and although I attended the classes and knew how to do breathing exercises, they rely on contractions coming and going. So I was on my own and screamed a lot. I was very, very frightened - I didn't believe that I could live through that level of agony. I was expecting my heart to stop. My husband was wonderfully reassuring and comforting, but because I was so afraid, his main job was to keep my senses alert.
When I talk to friends about to have babies who are terrified of words like episiotomy, I tell them they just won't care. If someone had said to me, "We're going to take you leg off," I would have shouted back: "FINE, CHOP IT OFF - JUST STOP THE PAIN!" But afterwards none of it mattered because I had reached the other side and held this beautiful child.
I remember the midwife announcing that the baby had arrived - "It's a Molly." I was wheeled upstairs and my husband went off to make all the phone calls. There was something magical about the ward; all the lights were dimmed. I remember looking at this angelically beautiful face, she was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. She had been placed in this plastic crib beside me and I just lay there staring at her. At about 5am, I had a sensation which was like somebody had poured molten gold into my body. It started at my feet and this wave of the most pure and perfect love swept up through me. By the time it got to my head I was crying and this was all for this little thing I didn't even know. The passion was huge and violent and that feeling has never ever gone away. I'm constantly astounded at the size of the emotion I feel for my children.
Before Molly was born, my stage fright was getting appalling. When I got on stage I would have a rush of adrenaline, everybody gets it. Normally after the first night it becomes more controllable and as long as I could ride the wave I was still in charge. Gradually the fear stopped working for me and was replaced by a huge, cold, stark white terror. Eighteen months after finishing my last stage work, I was still having recurring nightmares that somebody was going to make me do it again. My fear had completely overwhelmed me.
I went to play Rosalind in As You Like It for the RSC just 11 weeks after Molly was born. Going to up Stratford had been one of my greatest dreams but the miracle was that my stage fright had disappeared. Suddenly the terror was replaced by a rush of excitement. Becoming a mother had, of course, given me in a sense of proportion - but in a deeper way, that gruelling labour had told my psyche that to feel so strongly about something as relatively unimportant as a stage appearance was ridiculous.
After my great wave of love for Molly, I often found myself crying over articles in the newspaper - before I would have just felt distressed. For my work, this is a bonus because as an actor I believe that emotions are my palette to pull up depending on what the role requires. I found all of my feelings were much more accessible; what is also incredible is that motherhood's crescendo of emotions never goes away or calms down.
Later in that season I played a mother, Hermione in The Winter's Tale, although I'd played them before, I am certain that performance was vastly informed by my personal experience. I knew the colossal love and what it must be like when somebody walks in and says: "Your son is dead." There is now a much more vulnerable side to me and my acting than there ever was before.
My children have helped me discover new bits of myself. I didn't know how strong I could be for other people or how frightened for them, or how possessive. If anybody threatens my children I feel like a lioness. Molly was being bullied at school and the strength of my response to that situation was awesome. When my son Tom was three, he had appendicitis; it was very nearly peritonitis so he was in a lot of danger. We rushed him to hospital where they would cut him open. I would almost rather have performed the surgery myself than allow somebody else to do that to my child. It was the most strange feeling. I was in hospital with him for three of four days sleeping on a little bed beside him. All the time I was there, I didn't cry once. It was like what I imagine it must be like to be on speed: I was ultra alert, all my senses were functioning at 200 per cent. The staff were wonderful but finally we got him home and I put him in his own bed. I sat down and had a glass of wine to relax. I woke up a 3am and was violently sick. It must have been holding on so tightly for him, being there for his every waking moment - that when I could finally let go everything came out in a rush.
I'm amazed that David Hare, a man, could have written Amy's View, this incredible play about the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and in particular how a mother's protectiveness can become interfering. At the end of Act Three, my character, Amy, says: "I knew what I was doing, I went in with my eyes open and it was my choice. I'm an adult and I'm allowed to make that choice." I think one of the most important things I can give my children is the right to be themselves. It is terribly hard and I will always want to be there guarding them. I get jittery at the thought of Molly even walking to school on her own. But one of the advantages of being an actor is that I'm good at disguises, so I'll follow them around until they're 27 - they'll never spot me.
Interview by Andrew G Marshall
`Amy's View' is at the Aldwych Theatre until 18 April.