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Opinion 'I wanted to pursue my acting dreams - but having kids was a huge risk. What should I do?'

Actress Sarah Carroll held off on expanding her family because of her job – but writes about how she eventually managed to make it work.

ALTHOUGH I’VE BEEN a Mum since I was 18, it was only in my 30s that I really started to consider expanding our family.

In my early 20s, I juggled lots of odd jobs while I was in college and trying to get by as a young mum.

Even though it’s not what I studied, I started a job in childcare. It suited me as I could bring my daughter to work every day, not to mention the fact I loved looking after kids.

I ended up staying in that job for most of my 20s but somewhere along the way I finally got to thinking about what career I really wanted to pursue, and acting stood out for me.

At first, I dabbled mostly in student film and learned on the job. Gradually, as things gained momentum I got some great roles in independent films, as well as commercial, online and TV parts.

I was nominated for, and won a Best Actress award in 2011, and was nominated again the following year in 2012. 

Taking a risk

At that stage, my partner and I had been together for seven years and were engaged. We always knew we wanted to have more kids and discussed it regularly.

But as an actor, it feels like a huge risk to step away for a period of time so we’d always decide to hold off a little longer.

As an actor knows, if you want your next job just book a flight. An audition never fails to land in your inbox on the dates you’ve planned to be away.

In 2013 we got married and at that point knew it was our time to grow our family. Stepping away from acting was a huge concern but I had begun to find the roles available to me were limited by age and gender, so the timing felt right in those terms and I hoped I could return to acting later.

I left my agent so as not to be lured back by temptation and I was happy with my decision.

By early 2014 I was expecting and we were looking forward to welcoming our second child. Sadly, at 13 weeks pregnant, I miscarried. My husband and I were beyond devastated, and the fear and heartbreak stopped us from trying again. We needed time to heal.

It was during that time that Alan Mulligan first got in touch about his feature film The Limit Of. To say I was reluctant would be a massive understatement. I was on a hiatus, it was Alan’s debut feature, and as it stood there was zero money in the pot to make this movie.

Pregnancy put on the back burner

Untitled_1.595.1 copy B Sarah in a scene from The Limit Of.

But I had previously worked with Alan and knew him well enough to know he had a determination capable of pulling something extraordinary off.

So after a little back-and-forth discussing the script, I was committed, and my plan to have more children was put on the back burner.

The next stage was to begin working on Alison’s character development. Thankfully Alan was writing the role with me in mind and he was happy to take my input on board. There were many cups of coffee, long discussions, and late night light-bulb moments that contributed to Alison’s journey to the screen.

Pre-production was well underway and the shoot dates were fast approaching, but fate had other plans. Alan’s brother Anthony was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had to have emergency surgery. Understandably Alan’s priorities immediately changed as he made himself available to care for his brother.

The shoot was off the table for the foreseeable future.

Some time later I got an out of the blue phone call from Alan to say that Anthony’s recovery had progressed much quicker than expected. Unbelievably, they were both eager to get back to business and see this project come to fruition.

I was thrilled to hear the news and wanted nothing more than to resume working with Alan, but this time it was my turn to break some news.

Yes, I was expecting.

It was early days so the health of my pregnancy was still a concern, plus I suffer from hyperemesis – an extreme form of pregnancy sickness – and was virtually unable to get out of bed at that time. Alan was completely supportive and adamant that no one else could play the role of Alison – even though it meant shooting would have to take place before my pregnancy was showing.

I’m certain we were both equally as panicked as we were excited. I was grappling with the thought of pulling a performance out of the bag when in reality I couldn’t even get out of my pyjamas.

It’s incredible how the timing worked out in the end. Cameras started rolling just days after I emerged from the bleakest few months of early pregnancy.

I was by no means feeling fantastic, but I was upright. I kept my pregnancy relatively under wraps while on set, but I had some incredible support from the crew who really looked after me and saw me through some seemingly impossible moments.

Filming was condensed into an intense few weeks. It was a challenge to balance the time pressure against giving our best performance, but Laurence was fantastic to work opposite. We managed to steal quiet moments to focus when we needed but also knew when to lighten the mood and laugh through the sleep deprivation.

Once filming wrapped I retracted back into my own world and focused on my pregnancy. We welcomed our baby boy in September 2015 and following another miscarriage we had our third child (a baby girl) in 2017.

My IFTA nomination came as a wonderful surprise in 2018 and now, another year on, we’ve just premiered in the cinema.

It’s been a journey and a half but the outcome has been life-changing. We’ve been so lucky to have grown to a family of five and now, following the success of The Limit Of things are looking set for a return to acting just as I turn 40.

Of course, a bigger family means lots more juggling, particularly if demanding acting roles come my way, as the schedule can be unpredictable.

Thankfully I have the best support from my husband – and when you want something badly enough you just find a way to make it work.

Sarah Carroll stars as Alison Murphy in Alan Mulligan’s debut feature The Limit Of, which was released in Irish cinemas on Friday, 5 April 2019.

Author photo by Laura Fitzsimons.

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