‘Romy & Michele’ actress Cortney Wolfston on being fired while pregnant
“I was confused. Hadn’t I just been told this was a perfect time to be pregnant?” she questioned.
Last year, actress Cortney Wolfston sparked conversation over the treatment of mothers in the entertainment industry after she spoke of a time when she was fired for being pregnant… despite getting the go-ahead from producers first. And with childcare fees at an all-time high, the conversation has only gotten more pertinent.
Hired to partake in a Broadway-bound production of Romy and Michele: The Musical back in 2018, Wolfston said that it’s only recently that she feels ready to talk about the experience publicly. Admitting that she always wanted to be transparent when it came to motherhood and her career, the performer said that she had been upfront with producers about her hopes to start a family from the get-go.
In fact, they even gave her their blessing, with Wolfston alleging that they apparently said it was a “perfect time” for her to get pregnant. Sharing a lengthy post about what went down at the time over on Twitter, she begins by saying, “I’d like to talk about mothers in this business.”
I’d like to talk about mothers in this business. pic.twitter.com/PrUidI1urK
— Cortney Wolfson (@CortneyWolfson) October 15, 2021
“I’m mama to Ziggy – a wild, silly and exuberant two-and-a-half-year-old boy – and I’m an actor. When I first became pregnant, I wanted to be transparent when it came to my career. No hiding, no concealing, no shame. ‘It’s my right to choose to bring a child into this world and also have my job protected,’ I thought. That right was taken from me in 2018 when I was fired from my job, Romy & Michele: The Musical, for being pregnant.”
“I said nothing back then,” she continued. “I was anxious and scared for my pregnancy, for the health of my unborn son and for my own mental health. I sat in a ball, six months pregnant and hysterical, as my husband held me – worried for his wife, worried for his baby.”
Confessing that she “didn’t advocate for [herself]” because she didn’t really know how to, Wolfston said that she was too concerned with the opinions of others but she’s ready to talk now that her “journey with the show has come to a close”.
“When my husband and I made plans to expand our family, I reached out to my director for guidance on the show’s timeline. We had closed the pre-Broadway run of Romy & Michele in Seattle a few months prior and I wanted to make sure that our ‘baby making’ plans aligned with the show’s projected Broadway run.” All very professional of Wolfston, who clearly valued her role in the show and didn’t want to jeopardise that.
“My director gave me her blessing and wrote to me: ‘[Our lead producer] said that we will be targeting a reading in NYC in late Feb or early March… and it’s all good if you are pregnant then. :-)’,” she noted. Several months of trying later and Wolfston suffered a chemical pregnancy or what she says is “better known as an early miscarriage”. One month later she fell pregnant with her son, Ziggy.
I’ve never been more proud of my wife. Please take a moment to read this. Let’s change the culture of this business that does NOT have the backs of Mothers or families. I truly believe we can do this, especially if we hold those who act despicably accountable. https://t.co/1hfN0i8pAC
— Curtis Holbrook (@CurtisHolbrook) October 16, 2021
Letting both her director and producer know the good news and when her due date would be, Wolfston said that her producer responded with his congratulations, letting her know that there were plans of a presentation the following spring with a view to getting the show on Broadway soon after. “In regards to my pregnancy timeline, he wrote: ‘I’m sure we can figure it out’.”
The story soon changed though and the next interaction she had with her director was a phone call alerting her that she would be replaced due to her pregnancy. “I was confused. Hadn’t I just been told this was a perfect time to be pregnant?” she questioned.
“I collapsed at my computer as I read my producer’s response to my agents. While he appreciated my willingness to do the reading close to my due date, he ‘simply couldn’t showcase the show to maximum effect with [Cortney] in that condition’. My worst fear had just come true,” she told followers. “My pregnancy was a ‘condition’. The career-changing role I’d created was being taken from me and my choice to pursue a family was the cause.”
Ashamed for questioning her pregnancy but also embarrassed for “not being good enough”, Cortney said that she was also extremely angry at her “complete lack of choices”. Forwarding past email conversations to her agents as proof that her plans to get pregnant had essentially been “okayed” as she put it, it was ultimately to no avail and though Ziggy arrived three weeks early, the scheduled reading never actually took place anyway.
“When it came time to plan for the next presentation, my director reached out to tell me they were now looking for celebrities to replace me. Now that Ziggy had been born, my pregnancy could no longer be the focus. To me it seemed that possibly my ‘condition’ had never been the reason I was being replaced to begin with. Perhaps my ‘condition’ was just a scapegoat”, she hypothesised.
That said, Wolfston’s pregnancy should never have been used against her… even as a scapegoat. Playing Romy is still one of the performer’s “greatest honours” to date though. So much so that she still wishes the team well. “I wish nothing but the best for the show and those involved. I fully appreciate and support the recent efforts to diversify the cast, and I want to see my friends and cohorts succeed.” However, being supportive doesn’t mean that she agrees with what happened to her or how she was treated.
Why speak out now, you might ask? Wolfston knows that unfortunately, hers is not an isolated experience. Others have already gone through something similar and it’s likely that many more still will too. “Three years have passed and I’m still embarrassed. I still wake up in the middle of the night to write this story over and over again in my mind. And so – I’d like to talk about mothers in this business. I’d like us to better know how to protect ourselves when our careers, our mental health, and our rights are in danger.
“I’d like us not to feel alone when this happens to us and my hope is that together, we can all make it a little tougher to fire a mother for being a mother,” she finished.
— Michael Reed (@michreed0703) October 15, 2021
Wolfston has received overwhelming support since sharing her story online with several women resharing her original post and saying that things like this are the very reason that made them step back from acting. “The industry does not support pregnant people unless they’re a star,” one replied. While a former colleague said that she fully supports Cortney, describing her experience as “horrific”.
One woman sharing her story may not seem like it will make a difference, but Cortney Wolfston speaking out about how she was treated as a pregnant woman on Broadway is a big step in the right direction and hopefully the subsequent conversations it’s sparked will help change things for the better.