It was the beginning of my final year dancing at The Juilliard School, a childhood dream turned reality. Earlier that summer, I married my best friend, Daniel. As the only married undergraduate student surrounded by competitive dancers eager to join renowned companies after graduation, I was an anomaly.
A week before school started, we found out we were pregnant. The prospect of starting a family was something we looked forward to, but hadn't anticipated so soon. After the initial excitement, I faced the semester with tremendous anxiety. What would my classmates think? What would my teacher who invested so much time into me say?
As I stood outside of the Assistant Director's office waiting to share the news, I wondered whether my emotions were due to pregnancy hormones or my constant panic that I wouldn't be able to dance my final year—or worse, finish school at all. I had already grasped the unpleasant realization that my due date was the week of my senior showcase. My plans to join a company after graduation would have to change; everything would be different.
Her reaction was the turning point of my year. I spilled my announcement laced with so much uncertainty and, to my surprise, she was happy for me; she shared my fears, but was supportive. We discussed dancing while pregnant and mapped out a plan for the future.
With everyone so talented and driven to pursue illustrious careers, my classmates and I had quickly become a family in the previous years. When I shared the news with them, the only tragedy was that I didn't get a picture of their faces. In their stunned silence, you could have heard a pin drop. After a few seconds, a lone yell came from the back of the classroom: "Wahoo!"
That was the beginning of an eventful and joyful journey to our little Henry.
While many women report feeling less valued by society since becoming mothers, in my case, this couldn’t have been more opposite. My classmates choreographed pieces about pregnant dancers which enabled me to perform for our last show at the Lincoln Center. With gentle hands, my teachers pushed me until the very end, correcting my form and insisting I pull out my pointe shoes.
I was the first pregnant dancer at school, and I danced every day until Henry arrived. Two weeks afterward, we graduated and I danced in my senior showcase. Henry came onstage to bow with me amidst thunderous applause. My initial vulnerability had blossomed into gratitude for all the love I experienced from my peers, teachers, and the shocked audience. Henry was one loved little baby.
Looking back, I can see how being pregnant during this time was such a miracle. The hard times were outweighed by the valuable lessons taught by our little baby and everyone around me. The biggest was this: society might seem to propose an ideal playbill for the timeline of life, love, marriage and family. But in reality, there is not one way to do things. I am not in a dance company now, but I am raising a beautiful son with my husband. Our life has taken a surprising and delightful turn. When opportunity knocks unexpectedly, sometimes it’s important to answer the door with a hopeful and persevering heart.
Photo via Flickr John Spade
Hannah is married to Daniel Neeleman and a mother to a beautiful six month old boy, Henry. Last May, Hannah not only became a mother, but also a graduate from
The Juilliard School
with a major in dance. She currently teaches dance and plans to open her own studio in the near future.