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Marlee Matlin: Actress, Author, Mother

Not many people make history in their lifetime, especially when doing something they’ve never done before. But that’s exactly what Marlee Matlin did when she received the Academy Award for Best Actress in her motion picture debut, Children of a Lesser God. At age 21, she became the youngest recipient of the Best Actress Oscar. Perhaps most significant about this accomplishment is that Matlin, who has been deaf since childhood, did not speak in the film.

Since then, Matlin has continued to work on significant film and television projects, most of which have powerful messages. She has stared on NBC’s award-winning series The West Wing, and NBC’s Law and Order. Matlin will appear on the Baby Einstein series of videos teaching sign language to babies and toddlers. The series is scheduled to hit stores in July 2005.

Public service is important to Matlin: She visits with hearing-impaired children; she is an inaugural member of the American Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet; she serves as spokesperson for closed captioning; she serves on the boards of several charitable organizations; and she currently serves as a national celebrity spokesperson for American Red Cross, encouraging people to donate blood.

Another professional role is that of author. Matlin’s book Deaf Child Crossing (Simon and Schuster, 2002), is a children’s novel about friendship that is loosely based on Matlin’s childhood in Chicago. Simon and Schuster will publish two more sequels in 2006 and 2007.

In December 2003, Matlin and her husband, law enforcement officer Kevin Grandalski celebrated the arrival of their fourth child, Isabelle, who joined big sister Sarah, brothers Brandon and Tyler.

Matlin revealed her thoughts on life as an actress, author and mother in an interview during her sixth month of pregnancy with her third child.

EA: Congratulations on your pregnancy! Since this is your third, how does it compare with your first and second?

MM: My first pregnancy was a big thrill for both my husband and myself – how else can you describe the first time being pregnant?! It was fun for the first week when I got the news and then the morning sickness kicked in. I was sick for three months, and there were certain foods that just the smell or thought of made me nauseous. But it was all quickly forgotten the second our daughter came into our lives.

EA: How did the delivery go?

MM: She was four days past her due date, and I had to have an emergency C-section because I just didn’t dilate enough, even though I was in labor for an entire day. I must say it was a bit disappointing at first to hear the news that I wasn’t going to get to push but as it turned out, the surgery went well, and I was wide awake the whole time. We had absolutely no idea if we were going to have a he or a she (we purposely didn’t want to find out) and neither did our friends and relatives in the waiting room. When we finally found out, I sent my husband out with a big grin on his face and a button on his hospital gown that said, “It’s a girl!” You should’ve seen how long it took for everyone to figure out what we had because they were expecting him to tell them but all he did was grin and wait for them to look at the button!

EA: How did your second pregnancy go?

MM: My second pregnancy was exciting because our daughter was able to participate in getting ready to be a big sister. She was 4 years old when our son was born, and she couldn’t wait for the baby to arrive. I was sick for three and a half months, and I gained considerably more weight than I did the first time. Fortunately for me, I was able to lose it all five months later.

This time the baby was 10 days past his due date. I finally had to be induced, and I had Brandon vaginally. Unfortunately, it was a horrific experience because I hemorrhaged quite badly. I nearly had to have a blood transfusion, and I ended up staying in ICU for five days. But like the first time, all that didn’t matter as soon as Brandon came into our lives. Another surprise, just like the first time, since we chose not to find out the sex until the baby was born.

EA: How is this pregnancy going?

MM: This pregnancy has been tough because I was sick beyond the first trimester – four months. I must have visited the bathroom four times at least each day, throwing up everything that I put in my mouth. But when I was sick and could not do much, all it took was a smile or pat on my belly from my two kids, and I felt better. Finally, it all subsided a few weeks into the second trimester, and all my energy returned, and I was able to do more things with my kids. Unlike the last two, this baby moves much more. And guess what? We still weren’t interested in finding out the gender of the baby. I guess you’ll just have to call us old fashioned!

EA: What does your birth plan include?

MM: Because of the difficulty with the last birth, my husband and I consulted with my doctor, and we decided to have a scheduled C-section. It just seemed the best way to go considering how much I went through the last time.

EA: How is your husband, Kevin, involved in the pregnancy and birth?

MM: My husband is absolutely, without comparison, the best father anyone could ask for! One reason that my husband is such an angel is that he intuitively anticipates and understands my many changing moods (actress, mom, expectant mom – who wouldn’t be moody?). He’s a great help around the house, is great with the kids and helping out when I’m working. Best of all, he eats whatever I feel like eating. How’s that for good husbanding? Ha! Seriously, he was there for both babies being born and for me, he was there 500 percent.

EA: How are you preparing your children for the new baby?

MM: Our daughter is very excited about the new addition and doesn’t seem to care if the new little addition is a boy or a girl. She has been an incredible help when it comes to explaining to Brandon and teaching him the ropes since she’s already been through this before. Every day, I tell her how much I appreciate her help and her love for her little brother. She just smiles right back at me. Then I joke with her a little and tell her that she has to give this baby even more love than the last and that she has to pitch in a bit more as big sister. She just puts her head down like, “Oh, my goodness.”

Brandon loves to pat my stomach and exclaims “BABY!” I thought he was too young to understand that there is someone growing inside of me, but who knows? He does understand that Mommy’s fat belly is special and that it’s referred to as “Baby.” Unlike the last two, we haven’t made any big preparations at all for the new baby, not just yet at least. I guess it’s getting to be old hat for us!

EA: What are your biggest fears for pregnancy and childbirth?

MM: Our biggest fear during pregnancy and childbirth is simply an assurance that Baby will be born healthy. All we can do is make sure all goes well with checkups and tests, and the rest we leave to praying that the baby is born with 10 fingers and 10 toes – and maybe some dimples! Our kids have dimples on both sides of their faces.

EA: What is the hardest part about parenting?

MM: I have to say that being a parent is the hardest thing anyone can go through. I’ve discovered that you must be mentally and physically ready to be a parent – well, as best as you can. It’s just impossible to anticipate what being a parent is going to be like until you have that little one in your arms. Suddenly you find your own anatomy has changed, because your heart is so much bigger and is able to be filled with the love that you just could never imagine. Along with the love comes a patience and a sense of nurturing that even surprised me.

EA: What do you now find the biggest challenge?

MM: The responsibility that comes along for caring for another human being plus being aware of having to teach all that life has to offer is just unbelievable. I know for me, there are days that I wonder how I could be a better parent; it’s sometimes so overwhelming. All I can say is that it all comes to you, and when you see your child’s first drawing or you are told how accomplished your child is in whatever he/she does, you know you’ve done it right and have done a wonderful job of parenting.

EA: How do you balance work and family?

MM: Work and family are entirely two different areas for me. I love my work, and I love what I do. At the same time, I also love being a mom, and I cannot imagine trading motherhood for anything else. I think it’s important for mothers to do whatever it is they love doing. Identity is very important, and it’s easy to fall into being a “mom.” I show my children that I have things to do other than being a mom so they know my life is varied. When it comes to work, I try to be sure I am not away from my family for too long. But if I do have to go away for a while to make a movie (I don’t want to take my daughter out of school), I miss them terribly and think about them constantly. I brag about my children to anyone who would listen to me.

EA: Will you take maternity leave?

MM: I am currently not on maternity leave right now. Better to say I am on hiatus along with everyone else in Hollywood. In this town, it’s known as perfect timing. Ha!

EA: Will you breastfeed?

MM: I will most certainly breastfeed but I really cannot tell you how long I will breastfeed. It really depends on the baby! The first time I breastfed our daughter, it was for nine months. She actually weaned herself, against my protestations. Very Miss Independent and definitely an MIT: Marlee in Training. With our son, I breastfed for only six months because, unfortunately, I had to make a movie out of the country (I didn’t want him to travel to a foreign place just yet). I did feel badly about stopping it but he was just fine with it and took to the bottle from day one.

EA: How are you staying fit during pregnancy?

MM: I am watching what I eat, or shall I say I have been better at watching what I eat. I still do eat food that I should not. Chocolate and cookies are two treats that I love, and I will eat them once in a while. I just cannot deprive myself of food that I love to eat. But I am proceeding with caution, as I happened to have gotten too big last time.

As for exercise, I take walks, and I make sure to take my kids with me. With two kids to run after, it’s quite the cardio workout! Ha!

EA: What is your best advice for pregnant women and new moms?

MM: The best advice I can give to pregnant women is NOT to listen to pregnancy advice or to pregnancy horror stories. ALL pregnancies are different. Women’s bodies are different, even though we may have some similarities. Make sure you treat your body as a temple and take good care of yourself, eat well and get some activity in there.

Spend as much time with your husband as you can before the little one arrives. A date, a weekend away or just some time off is a great way to have fun and relax – God knows you won’t have much time after the baby is born! But most importantly, the best advice I can give to new moms would be to just cherish all your moments with your little one. Time goes so quickly that they’re out of the house before you know it.

EA: How has motherhood changed you?

MM: Motherhood has taught me to appreciate life and not take anything for granted. I’ve also developed an uncanny sense of patience and empathy, one I never knew I possessed!

EA: What is the best part about being a mom?

MM: The best thing about being a mom is hearing your children yell out “Mom!” It just sends chills through me. I am an actress, a wife, a daughter and community activist but I am most proud to be “Mom.”