The new Lifetime movie "Other Women's Children" dramatizes a longstanding issue that may feel more relevant now than ever: Can a woman "have it all"?
In "Other Women's Children," based on Dr. Perri Klass' acclaimed novel, Dr. Amelia Stewart (Melanie Mayron) finds it tough being a modern superwoman. A successful married pediatrician, with a 4-year-old son, she struggles to find a balance between her personal and professional lives when faced with the needs of her own family and those of a 4-year-old boy dying of AIDS.
As soon as she read Rama Laurie Stagner's script, Mayron knew she had to do "Other Women's Children." The film, which premieres Sunday, reminded Mayron of her old ABC series, "thirtysomething," in which she played yuppie photographer Melissa.
"I was knocked out by the potential of the piece," Mayron says. And for the first time since the 1978 feature "Girlfriends," the TV movie would afford Mayron a leading role.
"I think the real message of the film, the big reason I wanted to do it," Mayron explains, "was that it says, 'Yes, women can have it all, but not without a price. You can do it all, but you run around like a chicken.' "
Klass, a married pediatrician with two young children, maintains women can have it all in the sense that "you obviously can have a job that's worth doing. You can have a family and other things in your life, but none of those things will be actually in the same form. You will not have the same existence as a parent if you are doing nothing else in your life. If what you are measuring yourself against is some ideal of parenthood, which is based on that being the only thing you are trying to do, or some ideal of medicine, you will always feel you are not doing enough or giving enough."
Women pediatricians with whom Mayron spoke agree with Klass. "They said that's why a lot of women in med school don't choose to be obstetricians-gynecologists, because nine times out of 10, babies are born in the middle of the night," Mayron says. "They want to have a life. They want to have a home life."
Klass wrote "Other Women's Children" during and soon after her residency in pediatrics. "That's a very intense time," Klass explains. "It's a time when all of those issues are very close to the surface of your life, so in that sense it is written out of my life."
Though the character of Amelia has a difficult time juggling her life, Klass says she's discovered over the years that she naturally gravitates to a state of chaos. "I am not somebody who was cut out to lead a well-ordered life," she says. "I am not somebody who is cut out to lead a life where you do one thing perfectly. I think those are perfectly valid lives. I watch with some admiration people who don't have loose ends and are completely committed to one thing. That's obviously not the same kind of life I am leading and not the kind I am cut out to lead."
Most of the pediatricians she works with also have children. "It's not a unique scenario," Klass says. "People do it with more kids and kids closer together. People do it under all kinds of difficult circumstances. People do it who are both doctors, which I can't frankly imagine because they do it coordinating two medical schedules. We can barely coordinate one."
Klass, who was not on the set during production, is pleased that one of the major points of the novel survived the transition to the small screen. "The medical profession has been set up for a long time on the assumption that one medical career requires two lives," she explains. "There's the doctor, and then there's the doctor's wife who will keep things running smoothly and take care of the kids. If you talk to people whose fathers are doctors, especially in the last generation, and you ask them about growing up the child of the doctor, what you generally will find is story after story about a father who was never there."
The goal of female doctors, Klass says, is not to have someone run their lives. "That's not how we want to live and we generally don't have the options," she says. "Life is not full of people who want to fulfill that other role. So this is a new idea. It's certainly not unique to women, but it is also true of the men I trained with and work with in pediatrics who care very much about their jobs but don't want to be remembered as the father who was never there. Men who are going into medicine generally don't have a full-time spouse who is devoted to making their lives run smoothly."
The film, Klass believes, also accurately depicts how pediatricians become emotionally attached to their young patients. Pediatricians, she says, generally are not very well "defended against death and terrible disease because children are not supposed to die. If you work with adults, you have to recognize a certain number of your patients are at the end of their lives. But with kids, obviously you can go into this with the attitude that all of your patients are going to live. It's one of the things I wrote the book about. No one is really prepared for it or defended against it. You wouldn't want to be."
"Other Women's Children" premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. on Lifetime; it repeats Wednesday at 9 p.m.